Looking into the Career “Crystal Ball”

2. May 2013

Arti Agrawal  

Throughout our professional lives, we ask ourselves many questions: When and how will I get my dream job? Will I be as successful as I hope to be? Why haven’t I been promoted? Is my job secure? Although it may seem that only a fortune teller can provide answers, this isn’t actually the case.                             

I recently took an online class on strategic thinking, and it struck me that we’re probably asking the wrong questions. Rather than focusing on big, abstract ideas, we should be thinking about specifics that we can control. Below are some factors to consider when you are attempting to predict your career future. 

What are the goals of my institution, and how does my work contribute to them?

Demonstrating that you understand the long-term vision of your organization increases your job security and chances of promotion. For example, my university is currently making strategic changes. I need to be aware of where the organization is headed and figure out how my work fits into our new goals. If I can demonstrate this awareness to my department head, then I become a more integral part of the future of the organization.

What are the trends in the sector that I work in, and is my organization keeping up?

It is important to be aware of the state of your field, and how your organization is doing in the current environment. Are there new opportunities that you can take advantage of, or areas that your department could improve upon? You should be honest with yourself if you don’t like what you see. If your area of research is shrinking and funding is scarce, is this really where you want to be?

Am I prepared to adapt to change?

Consider the example of digital cameras: They completely changed the way we take pictures, and now almost no one uses film cameras. Could something similar happen to me? My expertise is in numerical modeling methods. Before the advent of commercial software, modeling was the domain of experts. Today, this is not the case—people don’t always need extensive training or experience with modeling methods to simulate devices. What does that indicate for my future? How should I deal with this change and ensure that my skills remain relevant?

Why me?

Even for a position for which my expertise will be very useful, I have to make the case for myself. Why pick me? Amongst the many applicants for this position, what makes me special?

These questions still require a lot of thought, but with some research, it is possible to come up with concrete answers that will help keep your career on track.

There are a number of tools that can help guide your thinking. The website mindtools has a very good collection of helpful resources (some of my favorites are the TOWS matrix, Core Competence Analysis, USP analysis and Scenario Analysis). There is also some fascinating reading to be found in The Economist and the Harvard Business Review.

I guess this means some homework for me—and maybe for you too!

Arti Agrawal (arti_agrawal@hotmail.com) is a lecturer at City University London in the department of electrical, electronic and information engineering at the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. To follow her personal blog, visit http://artiagrawal.wordpress.com

 

, , , ,

From Academia to Industry, Diversity Is Key

23. April 2013

Balint Horvath

As laser pioneer Herwig Kogelnik said in an interview, “[breakthroughs] seem to be happening at the interface between disciplines.” Indeed, the precursor to the laser—the maser—was itself born outside the realm of optics, in the field of microwave engineering. Such cross-pollination can happen on a smaller scale too, in a university or industrial research lab. Regardless of whether you choose to pursue a career in academia or industry after you finish your Ph.D., chances are that you’ll need a diverse set of skills to do your job well.

I chose to step outside of academia but to remain in research: I joined the corporate research lab of a large engineering company in Switzerland called ABB. Our ultimate goal was to make a profit rather than to “merely” enrich our scientific knowledge base—quite a departure from the philosophy of my professors in graduate school. The research topic was also foreign to me, as it was more closely linked to plasma physics than optics. However, my knowledge of optical technologies helped me to understand this unfamiliar subject area, and I found it both enlightening and satisfying to dig into a vast new field. My multidisciplinary team regarded problems as challenges that we could attack from multiple angles due to our varied backgrounds.

In today’s competitive environment, companies are realizing the necessity of hiring people with a multitude of skills. This diversity ultimately benefits the organization as a whole. Studies have shown that multidisciplinary teams provide three times more high-quality solutions to problems than non-diverse ones.

For a diverse team to work together effectively, its members must have “soft” skills, such as the ability to promote trust, respect each other and exhibit kindness, in addition to their core capabilities. Just as with technical abilities, these proficiencies will vary from person to person, and a team benefits from having a variety of personalities with complementary skills.

In addition to encouraging diversity in the teams with whom you work, you should cultivate it in yourself by developing a well-rounded portfolio of personal and professional skills. Here are a few suggestions for how to do that:

• Figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are. This will help you to recognize what you have to offer a group and identify areas for improvement.
• Get involved. I helped to set up the first OSA student chapter in Germany in 2007 and the IONS network shortly thereafter. These activities were a fun, helpful way to make new connections.
• Truly listen to others, regardless of their place in the hierarchy. Quieting your own thinking allows you to really learn from someone else. It also shows the other person that his or her thoughts are appreciated.
• Fully immerse yourself in different cultures by occasionally traveling alone. This independence will give you the confidence you need to actively seek new challenges and experiences.
• Read about other disciplines and attend conference sessions outside your field. This will help you to cultivate new interests and find different applications for your work.

Diversifying my skills and knowledge has opened many doors for me. I encourage you to do the same and keep an open mind about the direction your career path may take. Who knows—maybe we’ll bump into each other at a conference where we both learn something new.

Balint Horvath (balint.horvath@gmail.com) received his Ph.D. in physics from the Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics in 2009. Shortly afterwards he joined ABB Switzerland Ltd's Corporate Research Lab, where he conducted research related to switchgear devices. Recently, he has joined another energy company's R&D program in a lower management position.

, , , , , , , ,

The Elusive Search for Career Freedom

17. April 2013

Bob Jopson

A recent entry into the world of paychecks described his new job to me as “really fun,” but then added regretfully that he did not have the “freedom” he desired. Over the years, I have heard “freedom” used in this context many times, and the lack of it is almost always described in a wistful tone. A job might be challenging, fulfilling and well-paying, but somehow this is all for naught if the job lacks “freedom”– a code word for the sad fact that you usually cannot work on whatever strikes your fancy. Not surprisingly, the company, agency or university that is paying for your equipment, travel and salary expects something in return, and you can’t always choose the tasks required of you.

Our expectations of “freedom” arise in college or graduate school, when professors are our closest examples of professionals in our chosen field. We aspire to be just like them. They often encourage us to explore and pursue any wild idea we may have, so it may seem that they themselves are working without constraints. Well, hardly. The work day of most professors I know is consumed by committee work, teaching obligations, proposal writing and various support tasks. In their spare time, they can work on anything they want—so long as it does not require students, equipment or travel. Otherwise, they need to find someone to fork over the cash to fund the project. Once the contract is signed, the professors are obligated to satiate the person providing the funding.

Your job search will be easier and more successful if you seek an employer who needs whatever it is that you want to do, rather than looking for flexibility in the job description. This will allow you to do work that you like and keep your employer happy at the same time. Most people’s technical interests evolve in response to their environment, so your activities will tend to remain aligned with those of your organization.

You will soon be consumed by matters and problems arising in your job, which will stimulate new interests as well. You may even find that working under the constraints of a well-defined project unleashes your creativity in a way that you never would have expected. It is therefore important that you find employment that challenges your abilities and provides the opportunity to learn something. It helps when the work environment allows coworkers to discuss matters frankly without engendering hard feelings. 

Also consider which aspect of “freedom” is most important to you—is it the freedom to choose your hours, select your favorite tasks or projects, or create your own vision of something? Many people want to make a difference in the world: to make better devices, devise a better way of doing something, discover new effects, send forth well-educated graduates, etc. A number of my acquaintances have left comfortable situations for the uncertainties of startups, working stressful 16-hour days with very narrowly defined goals. Most find it to be stimulating, and if the start-up folds, they seek another one. They have almost no freedom on technical topics, but maximal freedom to make an impact. Many have told me that you cannot imagine the satisfaction you feel when a product on which you have been toiling for a year or two finally hits the marketplace, and you see it spreading throughout the country or world.

Many factors enter into a search for a position. Be wary of putting undue emphasis on the chimera of “freedom.” There are other factors that are more important and enduring.

Bob Jopson (virgin@alcatel-lucent.com) works on optical communications at Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent.

Academic Careers, Career Path, Consulting, Job Search , , , , ,

Making the Most of Your Ph.D. Experience in a Developing Country

9. April 2013

Angela Dudley

I like being different. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to pursue a career in physics is that there are very few scientists in South Africa, and even fewer female scientists. My thinking was that fewer people in the game meant less competition and more opportunities. Each year, there are only about 23 Ph.D. graduates produced per million South African citizens (and this encompasses all academic disciplines, not just the sciences.) Here, I provide a few tips for getting your Ph.D. in a country where high-level degrees are not the norm.  

Find a dynamic mentor.
At the end of my undergraduate studies, I chose the topic of my research project based not only on my interests, but also on the potential supervisors with whom it would put me in contact. Having a helpful ally is important for any graduate student, but even more so for those in a country that has fewer resources available for Ph.D. students. I had a checklist for the mentor I wanted. He or she needed to be:

• Available and approachable
• Able to provide me with the opportunity to attend and present at conferences (even if they were only local ones)
• Good at sourcing funding, and
• Well-connected in the South African science community.

While on vacation from university, I got a short-term position at the CSIR’s National Laser Centre that enabled me to test the waters for future opportunities. This was the ideal interview process: I got to see if I enjoyed the environment and the research, and my future Ph.D. supervisor was able to assess if I was a good fit for the group.

During this time, I saw that my mentor was ambitious and dynamic. He had an impeccable track record at securing funding and many local and international contacts. I could tell that, if I wanted to distinguish myself in my field, he could teach me how to do exactly that.

Be proactive. 
Where networks don’t exist, you must create them. Our student body formed local OSA and SPIE student chapters, which opened up many opportunities for me and other students, including travel grants, funds to bring in world-renowned lecturers, the possibility of hosting our own student conference (IONS) and discounts on publications. The OSA Recent Graduates program will also provide you with volunteer opportunities, so that you can gain experience and showcase your potential to science and business leaders from around the world.

Return the favor.
Admittedly, I pursued this field in part because I knew I would be a minority. But I hope this will not always be the case. I would like to encourage young people in South Africa and other developing nations to take advantage of the opportunities in the sciences and use their influence to help others along the same path. I intend to give back to the community by becoming as effective a teacher as my mentors have been for me.

Angela Dudley (ADudley@csir.co.za) conducted her Ph.D. research at the CSIR National Laser Centre based in Pretoria, South Africa. She received her Ph.D. in June 2012 from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and subsequently commenced her current position of Postdoctoral Fellow within the Mathematical Optics group at the CSIR National Laser Centre.

Academic Careers, Career Path, Graduate School, International Careers, OSA Student Chapters, Ph.D. Perspectives, Women in Science , , , , , ,

Do I Really Have to Go to All Those Meetings?

2. April 2013

Pablo Artal

OSA Fellow Pablo Artal has kindly allowed OPN’s Bright Futures career blog to adapt and republish content from his popular blog Optics Confidential. In his blog, Artal fields questions from students, colleagues and other researchers on science, society and managing a career in optics.

Dear Pablo: I have a faculty position and am rather active in research. I publish about one paper per year, but I never attend conferences or meetings because I hate traveling and I am not very good at giving talks. Do you think I will be able to further advance in my scientific career? Why do meetings still seem to be so important in this Internet era? Are there any alternatives? –Andrew, Canada

Many scientists wonder how important it is to go to different meetings: How many should they attend, and which meetings should they choose? I travel so often that I used to joke with my colleagues that I sometimes felt more like a traveling salesman than a professor!

Science is a social field, so getting acquainted with colleagues is a fundamental part of this business. I know some people who travel nearly all the time, some who go on a few trips per year and others who never attend any meetings at all. It is therefore possible to have a career without attending many conferences, but in my opinion one cannot be very successful (sorry!). The personal aspect is critical—everyone likes to put a face to a familiar name, and you will have more opportunities for collaboration with this type of exposure. You need to make yourself and your research known, and to take the opportunity to meet others in your field. There is no replacement for direct, face-to-face contact, although it is true that Skype and teleconferences can save you a few trips.

The number of meetings that you should attend depends on many variables, including your field and where you are in your career. Lack of funding can be an obstacle, but even if you are short of money, remember that this will be a good investment for your future. In many cases, with good planning and low-cost airfares, you can stay within a reasonable budget. In general, regardless of other factors, you should always try to accept invitations to give invited lectures. Taking part in this “invitation” circuit is crucial for advancing your career. It is a part of the system and a way to promote your research and yourself.

In short, you should plan to attend and participate in at least some meetings. I assure you that I understand how difficult it can be to travel. However, in this case, it’s in your best interest to force yourself out of your comfort zone. Initially, go to small meetings rather than large conferences. You will have easier access to key people, and the social interaction is usually much better. If you’re worried about your presentation skills, check out my blog post for some tips on giving successful talks.

Pablo Artal (Pablo@um.es) is an OSA Fellow and professor of optics at the University of Murcia, Spain. He is an optical and vision scientist with an interest in visual optics, optical instrumentation, adaptive optics, and biomedical optics and photonics.

 

Academic Careers, Career Path, Communication Skills, Conferences , , , , , , ,

The Value of 360-Degree Networking

27. March 2013

Arti Agrawal

At conferences, well-known scientists and speakers are often surrounded by a group of eager attendees. Those who are perceived as powerful (directors of research centers, heads of departments, presidents of organizations and so forth) are in very high demand, because it is desirable to have an influential person in one’s network. People want to ask more about their work, get their opinions or advice, ask them for jobs, etc. There are numerous reasons why it is useful to make such connections.

We all attempt to create networks that will benefit us professionally, and good networking skills are highly prized (see my blog post: The Networking Connection). To this end, we diligently try to meet people whom we see as potentially useful. Generally, this means seeking out individuals who are well-placed or higher up in the hierarchy than oneself.

I wonder, though, if sometimes we miss half of the picture?

Naturally, we look to those at a more advanced stage of their careers to find mentors and sponsors. But for sustained progress, we need more than just these associations. I believe that we must network with our peers and those who are junior to us as well.

We generally consider our contemporaries to be on the same level as us, and so we may not think of them as valuable contacts. But instead of ignoring these people or seeing them as competitors, we should view them as potential collaborators and partners. With that perspective, we can build strong, supportive relationships that help us throughout our careers. The parallel growth of an entire generation produces the leaders for the future. It’s important to know the person who may head the company of your competitor or supplier, or help you recruit the best talent for your business, or work with you on the best research paper of your life.

It’s also critical to cultivate relationships with those on the lower rungs of the proverbial “career ladder.” These are the people who will still be working when we approach retirement. Although they are are the youngest faces in our teams now, they are our future! I think that it is eminently sensible to support and mentor them as we have been (or wanted to be), and to treat them as valuable colleagues and friends. The most wonderful thing that younger people offer is a fresh and unique outlook. That’s why I really enjoy meeting students at conferences (although I am not yet ready to think of myself as “old”).

Setting aside any career advantage, connecting with folks of all ages and career stages will enhance your life with new perspectives and friendships. Simply put, the best way to network is to realize the value of people, and not just the positions they occupy.

Arti Agrawal (arti_agrawal@hotmail.com) is a lecturer at City University London in the department of electrical, electronic and information engineering at the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. To follow her personal blog, visit http://artiagrawal.wordpress.com. 

 

Career Path, Communication Skills, Conferences, Job Search , , , ,

Designing a Better Boss: Applying a Consultant’s Mindset to An Academic Job

20. March 2013

Damon Diehl

I stumbled into my career. I started working as a "consulting scientist” while waiting to defend my Ph.D. thesis. I had a knack for helping customers distinguish between what they really need and what they think they want. The customers’ needs, not all of which are technical, become additional input and output requirements when solving their problems. I then give them technical advice in terms that they understand. My angle proved to be successful, and within a few months, my gig as a consulting scientist turned into a full-time job.

Making a transition.
Last year I made a career change from full-time scientist to full-time undergraduate professor. Some colleagues were concerned that I wouldn’t like the change in the scope of my work. However, I’m actually doing the same thing: I evaluate what my students need and then give them technical instruction in terms that they can understand. Sure, generating 15 hours of lecture material every week is demanding, to say the least, but it lines up with what I’m best at. I enjoy it immensely.

Adjusting to authority.
The culture shock came from an unexpected quarter: having a boss—four layers of them, to be exact.  As a professor, I have immediate responsibilities to the department chair, the dean, the vice president and the president of the college. Separately, I must also answer to the people who control the way the college uses its money, time and facilities. That all adds up to a lot of bureaucracy. For example, I discovered this semester that having pizza delivered to campus, while not technically impossible, requires a purchase order, two weeks’ notice, and a variance for not using the on-campus cafeteria. After a while, I started to feel like I was trapped in an invisible mesh of rules designed to stop me from getting things done.

Creating a customer.
My solution came from a change in perspective. I have learned to view the college as my customer. This is not a stretch—they are paying me to do something, which is the definition of a customer/vendor relationship. I am still mindful of requests and demands from folks up the authority chain, but now I  take a step back and separate what they request from what they need. I make sure I understand the real problem, and then I let my engineering brain solve it within the allowed parameters. This has two advantages: It is more intellectually fulfilling for me, and it produces more effective results. In learning to shift my view and cut to the heart of the matter, I have reduced extraneous demands on my attention … leaving more time to grade the four-inch stack of lab reports, homework assignments and exams on my desk.

Damon Diehl (ddiehl4@monroecc.edu) is an assistant professor and program coordinator of Optical Systems Technology at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., U.S.A. He is also the founder and owner of Diehl Research Grant Services.

Academic Careers, Career Path, Communication Skills , , , , , ,

How to Prepare for a Postdoc

12. March 2013

Yanina Shevchenko

Although a postdoc appointment might only last for a few years, it can have a tremendous influence on a scientist's career. A good way to approach the process of choosing one is to think about your long-term career objectives, identify your research interests and find a laboratory where you can leverage your strengths.

Like many people, I started my postdoctoral work right after finishing my Ph.D. I enjoyed joining a new lab and starting fresh research projects. Here I offer a few tips that could help current students to prepare for this important transition.

Plan ahead.

There is no such thing as preparing for your postdoctoral position too far in advance. I have colleagues who started planning two years before they completed their degrees, and it completely paid off. It takes time to choose a new research direction, identify the main players in the field, go through the interview process, and move to a new place. Last-minute arrangements might not be as rewarding as a well-researched decision.

Seek external funding.

There are generally two ways to fund postdoctoral work: through the research grants of a professor for whom you work, or with your own funding from an external source.

I highly recommend researching the scientific funding agencies in the country where you plan on working and applying for existing external postdoctoral fellowships. Having your own funding not only looks good on your resume; it also provides you with some flexibility in choosing an institution and a research group. Additionally, the application process is a useful exercise that allows you to polish your grant-writing skills and think about specific projects that you would like to work on. It is helpful to ask professors and other postdocs about available sources of funding as some of the fellowships are not very widely publicized or may be offered only within certain organizations.

Consider your long-term career objectives.

Are you preparing for an academic career and need to publish intensively in a certain research domain? Or are you thinking of broadening your research skillset in preparation for transitioning into industry? Depending on the answers to these questions, some people prefer to work in the area where they completed their Ph.D. in order to build a stronger reputation and deepen their expertise. Others choose to work in a completely different field in order to diversify their skills and learn about emerging research trends. Which direction you choose depends on your long-term career goals.

Choose a research group with care.

Before selecting a specific research group, find out as much information as possible about their work. Everything is relevant: the group's research priorities, their size and dynamics, the principal investigator's management style and expectations, etc. It helps to discuss these issues with other students, postdocs or former lab members. Time invested in learning these details will pay off, as it will help you to find a lab where you will be the most comfortable and productive.

"Try to find a group, not a place," says Carlos Lopez-Mariscal, a research scientist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. "That is, get a postdoc at XYZ group because of its merits and reputation, rather than getting one with ZYX group at Harvard just because it is at Harvard."

Approach a potential supervisor.

Some postdocs meet their supervisors at a conference or through collaboration during their Ph.D. Others are referred by a mutual colleague or someone who knows a professor personally. However, soliciting people directly via email can also be a great way to find someone to work with. Before contacting a potential supervisor, it is important to spend time putting together a comprehensive cover letter. Showcase how your experience would be useful for that particular lab and include ideas for future research. Familiarize yourself with the group's current efforts, and make sure that the cover letter is personalized--not just a copy of a letter that was sent to another researcher.

Overall, working as a postdoctoral researcher allows you to learn new skills, broaden expertise and establish new connections. Even if you have not made up your mind about your ultimate career goals, doing a postdoc can help you figure out your next steps. It can also provide you with an opportunity to relocate to a different country or start working in a new field. Although a postdoc takes some planning, it is a very rewarding experience that is worth all the hard work.

Yanina Shevchenko (yshevchenko@gmwgroup.harvard.edu) is the NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Whitesides Research Group, department of chemistry and chemical biology, Harvard University, U.S.A.

 

Academic Careers, Career Path, Graduate School, Job Search, Ph.D. Perspectives, Postdocs , , , ,

Breaking into Academia: OPN Talks with Audrey Ellerbee

7. March 2013

OSA member and Stanford assistant professor Audrey Ellerbee talks with Optics & Photonics News about her path into academia. Thanks to OSA member Brooke Hester for working with Audrey to gather her insights.

What is your background prior to becoming a professor?

My background is pretty typical for someone in my field, but two things stand out. First, my appointments spanned several disciplines. I received my B.S. in electrical engineering, went on to graduate school for my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in chemistry and chemical biology. Second, I took time off to do other things between career transitions. Before I started my Ph.D., I spent a year teaching math and computer science in the department of infocommunications technology at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore through the Princeton-in-Asia program. Immediately after completing my degree, I did a year-long fellowship working in public policy as the 2007-8 OSA/SPIE Arthur H. Guenther Congressional Fellow. Although non-traditional, these career choices were very helpful in broadening my skill set and experience.

How did you enter academia?

The beginning of my career was a little unusual in that I was offered a position directly out of graduate school but did not actually begin my work until three years later. It was during that time that I did the policy fellowship and postdoctoral work.

What are your current responsibilities?

I can categorize them into five areas: research, teaching, mentoring, service and administration. Of these, research is the broadest and most difficult to define because my progress is intimately tied with that of my graduate students. Research tasks include writing proposals and papers, conducting experiments, analyzing data and giving talks. Teaching encompasses everything from generating new content for a course to preparing lectures and homework assignments to managing teaching assistants. My mentoring work involves tracking the progress of my graduate students and any other students or mentees to whom I play an advisory role. Service includes any work for university committees, my department or my professional communities. Finally, my administrative responsibilities are day-to-day things such as managing budgets, hiring people, planning travel, ordering equipment, etc.

How does your role differ from the one you had as a grad student or postdoc?

The major differences are the volume of responsibilities and the authority to manage people. As a graduate student, I did some work in all of the areas I just described, but most of it was optional and limited in scope. For example, my decision to serve as student body president meant that I worked on many university committees, but that was a voluntary extracurricular activity. The teaching I did (apart from my work in Singapore) was as a teaching assistant, and I only gave one lecture as a graduate student; I never had to design a new course. Now, I have a much greater number and broader range of tasks that I am expected to do.

Managing people is also very new to me. It takes time to learn to hire the right people, to help students stay on track, and to build a work culture that is consistent with your vision. This last goal is the biggest challenge that I face. I believe that my lab will run much more smoothly if the culture is right. Although it is not always that simple, I make an effort to be systematic in my approach to the work environment so that it is easier for people to connect with and work well in my lab.

What advice would you give to others looking to break into academia?

Develop a clear vision for what you would like to do and begin planning before you start your postdoctoral work. If at all possible, choose a postdoc that will complement your current background, broaden your experience, and allow you to move into a new area.

Audrey Ellerbee (audrey@ee.stanford.edu) is an assistant professor of electrical engineering in the department of applied physics at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., U.S.A.

Academic Careers, Career Path, Graduate School, Job Search, Nontraditional Science Careers , , , , ,

Science Networking Made Easy

20. February 2013

Marcius Extavour

Most scientists I know would do almost anything to avoid “networking.” They think of it as a horrible, shallow ritual that takes place at cocktail parties and sales meetings, and is anathema to the intellectual and meritocratic pursuit of science. Right?

Not so fast. I would argue that most productive researchers are actually great networkers, but many people have a misconception of what networking actually is. Networking is sharing your ideas and passion, listening to your colleagues as they do the same and introducing people to one another to make ideas and projects grow. In other words, all the conversations in the halls at CLEO, FiO or the AAAS annual meeting could fall into this category. Many scientists network without even realizing it.

For young scientists trying to launch their careers or seasoned professionals looking to move in a new direction, honing networking skills is a must. Here are a few methods that have served me well.

Be open and honest
The “sliminess” of networking comes from the feeling that you are being exploited. No one wants to feel used, nor is it pleasant to try to manipulate an acquaintance or colleague. To avoid this discomfort, be open and honest about your intentions. If you approach someone for advice, a favor, or an introduction to a third party, you should avoid trying to “game” that person. Instead, be straightforward about your request. This is the surest way to build trust and get the help that you need.

Offer to help
Networking is a two-way street. Sharing, give and take, and reciprocity are all basic networking principles. If all parties benefit from the relationship, then no one feels used or manipulated. Think about what you have to share that might help or interest a new acquaintance, not just about what he or she can give you. People are much more likely to respond positively if you start by offering help or value rather than just asking for something.

Network during low-stress times
We usually think of networking when we are job-hunting or looking for resources at a critical point in a project. Not surprisingly, it is much tougher to be open and natural when under that type of stress, and easier to come off as desperate or needy. A better time to build relationships is when you are confident and relaxed. Try to meet new people during the quiet periods after giving a conference presentation, submitting applications, or completing a major project. You can talk about your recent application or project as a lead-in, and then learn about new ideas from your acquaintances.

Use online tools
There are many resources available about networking online, including Bright Futures blog posts on using LinkedIn and other social media. I would also add that these online social networks can be especially useful for making contacts in fields peripheral to your own. Asking a LinkedIn contact to introduce you to someone who works in a completely different area can be a great avenue into that new direction.

Exchange business cards
Some say that the use of printed business cards is dying out, but I have found them to be more valuable than I ever expected. If nothing else, they can be a handy way to start a conversation with someone new. Keep in mind that different people and countries have their own business card styles, so be flexible. For example, in Asia the exchange of cards can be very formal, with each party taking time to carefully study the card as it is presented to them, while in the United States cards are passed out freely and widely with little ceremony.

Go slow
Walking up to a stranger and asking for a job takes huge nerve, and in my experience, almost never works. Instead, try taking a step back and committing to the relationship itself before going for the “big ask.” Offering more modest support or asking for a smaller favor – e.g. an introduction, an informational interview, or feedback on a piece of writing or project – are good ways to get to know someone, build trust, and establish a working relationship.

Marcius Extavour (marcius.extavour@utoronto.ca) is the Director of Corporate Partnerships at the faculty of applied science & engineering, University of Toronto, Canada.

Academic Careers, Career Path, Communication Skills, Job Search , , , , ,