Networking – we all know it’s necessary in our field. Particularly if you are in a smaller specialty area like neuropsychology, everyone knows everyone so you need to start networking as early as you possibly can.
But how do you network as a graduate student?
First, when networking as a graduate student, I find it helpful to have a goal in mind.
What questions can you ask that person that will help you with your training? What guidance can they provide you? What training or research opportunities can you get from their site?
Don’t just go in with a plan to say, “Hi, I’ve been wanting to meet you. That’s really all.” Having a meaningful, intelligent direction to go with your conversation makes you much more memorable.
Networking takes effort on your end. From what I have found, the best approach is to allow your networking opportunities to double as strong CV material. Ask yourself a very important question: “What are the holes in my CV that I want to fill before internship or before I graduate?” Then go from there.
Networking will be most worthwhile for you if it relates to your goals.
For example, after realizing that consult/liaison experience was something that would be a helpful addition to my CV, I reached out to a current supervisor to find someone to shadow.
Conferences, Conferences, Conferences
Conferences are the easy, obvious answers to how to network during graduate school.
Large, national conferences are perfect for this, but don’t forget smaller conferences. I always attend larger conferences and recently I have found that the best way to network (besides supervisor/supervisee training hours) is to contact people beforehand and try to schedule a time to meet. This makes the conference itself a little less stressful because you don’t have to stalk training directors to try to get some face time with them.
Small conferences are underestimated in many ways, and they can be the best resources! You aren’t just one of thousands of faces that will be forgotten in a matter of hours, and you often can make a much more lasting connection at these smaller conferences.
I personally have made many excellent connections by attending conferences. While conferences are extremely important, I want to focus on some other approaches that are less utilized when we think about networking.
Previous School or Work Experiences
Don’t forget undergraduate connections or connections made through work if you took time off between earning your undergraduate degree and beginning graduate school. Basically, you want to stay in touch with people from your past! You never know who will know someone down the road.
Try shooting an email to a former research advisor every so often about your progress in graduate school. You could also contact former professors and see if there is an opportunity for you to speak to undergraduate students about your training experiences (this also looks good on your CV).
Staying in touch with these people doesn’t take a lot of effort and it may end up helping you when you apply for internship and postdoc positions, or it could lead to job opportunities. I’ve already been asked when I’m graduating and if I might consider a faculty position at my undergraduate institution.
I feel that this is a very underutilized area of networking for students, and I don’t really understand why. Professionals you work with at externships are the individuals who are actively practicing. If you plan to do clinical work after you graduate (in any capacity), this can be the most essential networking you can do! The best advice I’ve ever gotten was to go “above and beyond” at my practicums.
Chances are that your training sites are full of students who are adequately meeting expectations. Let’s face it: at this level we’re all competent. Make yourself memorable so that you can foster a long-term relationship with your supervisors. This is the absolute best resource for a future job or internship recommendations.
Reach out for additional opportunities at your site. If you are adult-focused, ask if you can get some pediatric experiences. Ask to observe sessions, groups, and testing cases outside of your current training area – in other words, pursue things with which you are unfamiliar.
Seek out research opportunities through your practicums. For example, I am currently involved in research at two previous practicum sites. One had an established database that I volunteered to help out with and I created the research database at the other.
Ask the doctors you are working with if they do journal reviews and, if so, volunteer to help out. If you are further along in your training, finished with classes, and have the free time, seek out resources or part time job opportunities at your sites. This is an excellent way to stay in touch with supervisors, to meet with and network with more people at the site, and to make some extra cash.
Don’t forget about your fellow students!
Everyone from your program has had vastly different experiences prior to beginning graduate school, and they are all at different points in their training. Use this to your advantage.
For example, ask them about their jobs, what they like/dislike about them, or other questions that could help you learn about their experiences. If you are interested in where someone is working, ask them what it’s like to work there. It is possible that the site where this person is working might need additional staff. Even if they don’t, if that student is graduating soon, the site might need a replacement for him or her.
I obtained one of my jobs in this way, and I was recently able to help a fellow student get the position when I was leaving.
If you have to complete an internship prior to graduation, start looking into sites you might be interested in early, then seek out current and past interns from the site and pick their brains. It will be enormously helpful to have some inside information about the site before interviewing, and it never hurts to have someone on the “inside” who knows you.
Sites vary in how much they rely on feedback from current interns when making ranking decisions, but having a professional, positive relationship with interns can be a very helpful networking opportunity.
I’ve heard people say that the person is JUST an intern and reaching out to them is a waste of time. Really? JUST an intern? This is the position that we are all hoping to reach, and if a person is an intern, it means that they have made it through the match successfully. This also means they are much more knowledgeable about this process than we are and therefore can be an excellent resource.
One way I have been able to track down interns at various sites is by using Facebook. Look for interest groups relating to your specialty, and then post on the group wall or message the people in those groups.
Don’t forget to network with interns at your own school! Ask around about people who have completed rotations at internship sites that you are interested in, or see if your school has a list of sites where previous students have interned, done fellowships, or currently work.
Be creative when finding ways to network and have fun with it!
Most importantly, always behave professionally and represent yourself well. No matter how much you dislike someone you work with, don’t burn bridges. They’re hard to rebuild and you might need to cross that bridge in the future.
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