22 March 2022

SECC networking tips

SECC members share their tips on networking.

Networking is a key skill not only in our professional career, but in life in general. For many, networking can be an intimidating task. The Student and Early Career Committee members share their experience, tips and tricks on how they approached networking. 

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Dr Michael Kenyon

What do I consider networking? I personally consider networking any instance where you are interacting with an audience in a professional capacity. This could include, attending a conference, meeting clients, meeting new students in your department, meeting other academic lecturers in your group, attending and contributing to webinars… the list goes on.

I have attended many different types of events during my current job in the metals industry and in my PhD. In the first year of my PhD, several conferences including a smaller national event designed to introduce PhD students to attending a conference for the first time, and a large international conference with hundreds of delegates. Both these events were equally exciting and nerve-racking as I had no idea what to expect. But all the events I attend with a networking aspect, I find that what I get out of in terms of potential new contacts and partnerships, depends on my willingness to ‘get stuck in’. What I mean by this is approaching all the people I want to talk to, even if it is the leading professor in the field, or a fellow PhD student from another university who I could potentially collaborate with. This can be daunting at first but with practice and persistence, it does get easier and more natural. When talking to anyone, I always try to be clear, confident, keep eye contact and often talk quite loudly… I don’t shout but networking events can be boisterous occasions! Additionally, even though this is not directly related to networking, I find if I practice and know my own content thoroughly (e.g., a conference talk or poster pitch), I do relax a bit and focus on networking with other delegates rather than worrying and constantly practicing my content.

It might not always be sensible, but also including some small talk about the event you’re attending, or other non-technical subjects can help break the ice. Some of the best partnerships I’ve built over the years have usually come from conversations that included ‘small talk’ as well as the technical discussions.

I think the best piece of advice I can give is repetition and practice (like with any technical or soft skills). I’m not saying go to any and every weekly event, but look for useful events in your field, sign up and try and contribute the best you can. Good luck!

Dr Aimee Goodall CSci MIMMM

When I moved from the academic environment of my PhD to industry I found it really tough. There were new people, it was a completely different environment and I faced challenges I had never encountered before. Gone were the days of long coffee breaks to socialise and get to know my colleagues! Now it is nearly 4 years since I moved to industry and I love it. On day one my manager said that people are 50% of the job and so far, it has been true.

My top networking tips would be to build up a good relationship with those around you. Introduce yourself and get to know the people, it is never too late to get started. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or for an introduction to somebody’s work, or to sit in on a meeting. Working from home has added some extra difficulties, I find it can be isolating, so each day I try to have a call or skype message with a colleague to catch up. And on that point, call somebody instead of sending an email. In my experience people are friendly and want to talk about more than just the work at hand, so make sure you ask how they are doing.

Miss Alice Robinson AIMMM

I’ve always hoped it’s not who you know but what you know, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that it’s very much the latter and who you know is really, really important. Networking is something I find really hard. Put me in a room with people I don’t know and expect me to talk to them and I am at a total loss. I’m the kind of person who won’t go back into a shop and ask for a refund if I’ve been overcharged, just to avoid the conversation. Or if I want some help at work, I’ll send an email rather than picking up the phone to ask someone’s advice. Neither of these are particularly helpful traits, and my approach to interaction and networking is something I’m really trying to work on. What I’ve learnt so far is to start small, I’ll ask the easy questions to make myself more comfortable - opinions on the weather or on the journey in and when I’ve built that initial rapport it’s so much easier to carry the conversation on.

My other favourite trick is to ask a lot of questions, you can learn so much about people’s careers and how they got to where they are without having to say very much at all! But be prepared they might ask the same back - speaking about yourself should be easy though, it’s a topic you know better than anybody else!

Ms Elizabeth Scoffins MIMMM

When I came off my company graduate scheme, I suddenly felt like it would be frowned upon to spend the time getting to know other people across the business. This couldn't be more wrong. I choose to get involved with the STEM outreach group, this is where my informal networking really began as I met people from all across the business. With the help of a couple of other Grads, we set up a craft social group and this further increased the number of people I came into contact with. Both of these informal settings help boost my confidence in how to get to know other people. My work is heavily project-based, so for each new project I would make the time to get to know the others better. My team also decided that we wanted to get to know others from around the business better, so we began inviting people to our team member for an ‘interview with’ chat.

Tips: try informal networking through social groups start small – get to know your team really well, then branch out; go with a question about work but also ask one that’s not, finally its ok to be scared, it will get better!

Dr Alastair Houston IEng MIMMM

I will start with an admission: I have always been apprehensive about the word ‘networking’. One of my main worries is a perceived lack of conversation topics. However, this anxiety is often set aside as soon as I begin talking to someone. The anticipation is the hardest part and I find that it is best to just start talking rather than worrying about conversation topics. A conversation can be started by a brief introduction and from there a discussion will flow naturally; people are willing to talk, and often have interesting stories to share about their work or other topics. If you are at a conference where people have delivered presentations, remembering one thing which interested you in their presentation can be a fantastic way to start a conversation.

Knowing my strengths when it comes to networking is also very useful. I find that I am more comfortable talking to people in smaller groups than in larger groups, so when looking to start a new conversation at a networking event I tend to find lone people or a group of two. In doing so, I find the experience far more worthwhile.

Miss Maitheya Riva ProfGradIMMM

Navigating a networking event is never an easy task, I know I have days I am more social than others. Especially when you are at an early career stage it can be daunting to participate in events with more experienced people, even more so if you are quite shy around new acquaintances and in a professional environment it is challenging to have the confidence to strike a conversation.

If I had to pick my top tip it would be to always be kind and polite and being respectful will go a long way. It is easy to get absorbed in our busy schedules but remember that on the over side of an email there is always a person, and a kind word is the best first impression and the foundation of a good relationship. First impressions are important and being in a good mood myself always helps me in being more open to others. There is nothing that helps me be motivated and focused in the moment than wearing something I like and I am comfortable in, there is nothing I find more distracting then wearing something I feel uneasy in!