Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Learning from Networking

Shannon Watt - Postdoc, University of Michigan

I have always been an outgoing person...except when it came to networking. I wasn’t sure why it was important, who to network with, or what to talk about.

That changed when I attended a career-related symposium at my first ACS Regional Meeting. During the break, I happened to talk with two industrial chemists and mentioned that I was considering starting a student committee related to our topic of conversation. They kindly asked all about it, encouraged me to go for it, and e-mailed me afterward with useful resources. A few days later, I realized I’d been networking! Several years later, I also realized that this interaction indirectly led me to my ideal career path.

In addition to finding my career direction, that experience taught me three things about networking:

• Even students need business cards—they’re the admission ticket to the networking club.

• It’s important to establish professional contacts both within and beyond your research area, so make time to attend talks and receptions on campus and at conferences in addition to the usual research presentations. The chemistry community is relatively small; you never know when a contact will lead to a valuable opportunity. Every job offer I’ve received came directly from networking.

• Networking doesn’t have to be intimidating. Most people are interested in talking with and helping junior colleagues. Be yourself, be professional, and practice—it does get easier!

And those two industrial chemists from my first conference? They’re still in my network.

Shannon Watt completed her Ph.D. at the Georgia Institute of Technology and is currently an NSF Discovery Corps Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan.

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