How to Network in a Professional Setting

A group of us at Florida Tech had the opportunity to attend the Southeastern Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics this past semester. Similar conferences were held nation-wide the same weekend, and all of us were able to connect via the internet to watch the keynote speaker up at Yale. The rest of the conference consisted of various sessions with women in different fields of physics, including education, medical, astro, particle and others. It was a great way to not only meet a lot of other women studying to be physicists, but also to get advice from women who have already been there and done that. Conferences such as these are a great way to network.

What exactly is networking? Since coming to college I have heard the word’s use increase dramatically, and it usually comes up in some manner such as “If you want a job, you need good networking.” In my experience since then, I have come to understand networking as simply making connections with people who may become beneficial to your future career. When I put it like that, it sounds extremely Slytherin, but in practice it really is not as callous as it sounds.

The first step is to go out and do things on a more professional level, such as conferences specific to your major or career fairs. I got really lucky with this conference being so specific to my situation (I’m an undergraduate, I’m a physics/astro major and I’m a woman), but even something more generic like “the Orlando Physics Conference” should catch my attention and I would try my best to find a way to attend. For example, my freshman year I was able to attend the 100-Year Starship Symposium. The title does not specifically say physics or anything, but researching a little into it revealed many scientists and engineers would be giving presentations on innovating new research that could be geared toward spaceflight. So research an event a little before completely dismissing it as irrelevant to your education.

Once you are at the event, then the real networking can begin. Look out for people with careers or experiences that interest you — and then go talk to them. That is pretty much it! Personally, I try to strike up a conversation by thinking of a question I can ask them, either about their research or how they were hired to their current job. Asking for advice is also a great opener, or a great follow-up question if your first did not elicit a long enough answer. People presenting at conferences and career fairs expect to be asked questions, so don’t be shy about it. This next part should be a no-brainer, but just in case, I will say it anyway. After you ask a question, listen to the response; appear interested by nodding, making eye contact and other gestures to show you are engaged in the conversation.

Finally, get the person’s contact information. Whether it be a business card, email or website, you want some way to contact them after the event. Otherwise, more often than not, that person is going to forget who you are over time, and that is a networking fail. Meeting people is of no use if they do not remember who you are later when it really counts. So if there is a presentation and you like the research being discussed, jot down the presenter’s name and email (it almost always appears at the beginning or end) and go talk to them afterward. Then shooting a quick email later that month with a question is a good way to get a correspondence set up, and voila! Networking win.

These are just some basic guidelines I have tried in the past, and they have worked fairly well for me so far. Going to an event with networking in mind gets you talking to people you might have otherwise been too intimidated to speak to. It also helps hone your abilities to talk to complete strangers, since most likely you will not make connections with every single person you talk to. So in a nutshell: go to an event, talk to people, get contact info and use it. Networking can be as simple as that!

(Featured Photo: Florida Tech attendees left to right, front to back – Jessica Page, Brooke Adams, Laura Zamora, Jaskiran Behl, Danielle Hastings, Sailee Sawant, Deirdra Fey. Danielle’s and Deirdra’s research posters are in the background.)

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