How to Make Networking Less Awkward.

Contrary to what many academics believe, success and recognition cannot be accomplished alone. Networking provides information, ideas, opportunities and emotional support needed to meet our goals. A full and rich social capital not only provides people with better jobs, more money and influence, but it’s also fundamental to happiness, health, and a more meaningful life.

Academics have small, homogeneous and internally focused networks that favor trust and cooperation. The social quotient of a typical academic rates high on quality and size, but scores low on diversity compared to people who work in other industries. That’s why networking is often a traumatic experience for academics who are thinking about transitioning out of the ivory tower.

We’ve all experienced the pain of being desperately looking for things to talk about with someone we just met at a social gathering. And we’ve all experienced the angst of looking at the door while wishing we could escape the inevitable awkward silence that comes with running out of things to say.

As Wayne Baker writes, “we can’t avoid managing relationships: our only choice is how we manage them.”[1] If so, then, is there a way to make this necessity, if not pleasant, at least tolerable?

PhD Networking Tips In A Nutshell: Networking is about giving

Turns out, that the discomfort we often experience and the awkward silences we dread might have to do with the way we look at networking. Networking is often represented as something we NEED to do. It also emphasizes the reality that we depend on others.  This emphasis on want often puts us in a vulnerable position, as it implies that other people have all the power and we have none.

The best way to network without anxiety is to move away from the idea that we are lacking something. According to Baker,we should embrace networking as an opportunity to play an important role in providing a common solution instead of focusing on the fact that we have a problem that others can fix.  “If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won’t succeed.”[2] They key to happy networking starts with seeing yourself as a giver, not a taker. “The goal of building networks is to contribute to others. Doing it the other way around- to help oneself- is ultimately self-defeating.” [3]

That’s why it’s important for Ph.D. students who want to expand their network to get involved in extracurricular activities with the end goal of helping others. Here a few Phd networking tips to help you expand your network.

  • Volunteering is an excellent asset to any résumé, especially for someone with minimal work experience. It’s a great way to show that you want to impact the world, and a great opportunity to explore interests and passions. In addition to diversifying your network, helping others and being selfless will have a positive effect on the way you feel about yourself.
  • There are many clubs and groups on your campus that might meet your interests, passions, or convictions. Join one! Contribute! It shows you can manage other commitments outside the classroom, and that you possess strong beliefs and values that often lead you to challenge the status-quo.

By getting involved in extracurricular activities and pursuing your interests with the idea of giving in mind, you will not only build relationships, avoid the pain of feeling like a supplicant in a desperate situation of need in social settings, and most of all, you will have something to say. Who doesn’t want that?

[1] Baker, Wayne E. Achieving Success Through Social Capital, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Business School Management Series, 2000, p. 100.

[2] Ibid., p. 265

[3] Ibid., p. 704.


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