Supporting Graduate Students' Academic and Professional Success
As the calendar year draws to a close, many of us will enjoy a break from classes as we reflect on the past year and anticipate the year to come. The holiday season is often a time to focus on relationships, as exemplified by the traditions of gift giving, service, and large, communal meals. The relationships that we hold with our family, friends, and community help to shape our cultural identities and to moderate our interactions with the world around us. This blog, however, will focus on a class of relationships that is typically neglected this time of year: business relationships. The hope is that readers may internalize the discussion that follows as a point of continued reflection in the coming year. Many of you will appreciate the importance of networking in graduate school. I think the holiday season is a particularly effective time to reflect on this importance. A new year may bring new opportunities and new professional relationships, a reality of which we are most acutely aware during times of transition and renewal. The best way to maximize the benefits of professional relationships is to be intentional about forming and maintaining them. Hence, the following discussion presents a few key ideas to consider while cultivating professional networks, in graduate school and beyond.
[Image Description: A blue figure representing a human stands still in a computer-simulated environment as many other blue persons emerge, forming a network]
Pictured: Networking with Others!
1. Talk to Professors
Research-based graduate programs are similar to the Master/Apprentice programs found throughout human history. Your professors are experts in their respective fields. If they are doing active research, they probably understand facets of their craft better than just about anyone. On the surface, professors teach classes and supervise research as a matter of quality control. A professor, however, is also a tremendous resource for networking. Professors often have academic contacts all over the world. If you have questions about a particular line of research, they can usually provide contact and literature referrals. Moreover, professors are industry experts, since they work outside the academic world to facilitate applications of their research. For those seeking careers outside academia, professors can offer tips for job hunting and may be able to connect you with colleagues or former students who work in your field. Thus, it is important to communicate with your professors. Try to build as many relationships as possible with the faculty in your department. This is particularly important when you are new to graduate school.
2. Get Involved at UCR
If this tip sounds a bit vague, that is because it will mean something different to each student. In the most basic sense, I’m encouraging you to interact in a meaningful way with your peers and colleagues. Most departments have social events throughout the year—try to go to them. Many departments also have a department-level version of the Graduate Student Association (GSA), which participates in the UCR GSA while running community engagement projects that benefit the department itself. If your department does not have a departmental GSA, perhaps you could be the one to build it! For more information on how to do this, check out the GSA website: https://gsa.ucr.edu/departmentalgsa/.
Getting involved also means networking with graduate students across the university. One function of the UCR Graduate Student Resource Center (GSRC) is to promote effective networking among students from all departments. The GSRC offers regular community events throughout the academic year including weekly coffee socials, a quarterly Stress Relief Fair, and more. For additional details, check out the GSRC website: https://gsrc.ucr.edu/community.
These events are a great opportunity to meet other graduate students and to build relationships, which may lead to collaborative projects, professional opportunities, and lifelong friendships.
3. Build your Online Presence
Some version of this tip is present in nearly every online resource about networking. Managing an effective online presence is more critical than ever before. You should create a LinkedIn profile which you can use to maintain professional connections—this also ties in with Point 5—and to advertise your talents to prospective employers. Many recruiters use LinkedIn to find and vet applicants, so it is important to have a robust profile with your resume, skills, previous work experience, and endorsements. It is also important to be mindful of your entire social media presence. Be prudent about the things you post online, since much of your online activity can be seen by others. Your online presence should be clean, active, professional, and friendly.
[Image Description: An individual films themself by a window with a mobile phone. Across the bottom of the screen appear the words “Online Presence”]
Pictured: Build your Online Presence
4. Do Pre-Event Research
When you attend an event as a graduate student, try to develop a general idea about who else will be there. The term "events" refers to colloquia, conferences, classes, seminars, or any other gathering of industry experts. If an individual with whom you want an audience will be in attendance, it is better to know in advance. Departments will often help you out here by scheduling meet-and-greets for invited speakers. You should try to attend these if the speaker's research is remotely interesting to you. Consider the things you would like to ask the speaker about their work. If the speaker has a pre-event biography or abstract, read it. If they are employed at an academic institution, find their website and research some of their recent publications. If they are on LinkedIn or Twitter, find them and learn about their background. A demonstrable interest in their research through thoughtful face-to-face interaction is the best way to be remembered. Consider also how you would explain your own research concisely—i.e., in 30 seconds or less. This is particularly important at poster conferences, which may afford precious little time to explain your research to interested passersby.
5. Stay in Touch with Contacts
Networks are only useful provided that they are maintained. The internet makes network maintenance easier than ever before, and you should take advantage of the modern age. Connect with people on social media to retain relationships and contact information. Remember that the connections you make with others are also connections that others have with you. With this in mind, endeavor to be a dependable contact. Respond promptly to messages, emails, and questions if possible. It is important to develop a reputation for reliability in the professional world.
6. Be Yourself
This is arguably the most important tip of all! We often project some version of ourselves onto others based on cultural and situational context. This is common and perfectly understandable, but it too often leads to a splintering of our personality which makes us appear fashionably enigmatic at best and superficial at worst. When you network with colleagues, peers, academics, or prospective employers, you need not sell anything other than your genuine self. To be anyone else takes effort that can be tiring in the short term and unsustainable in the long term.
[Image Description: Against a purple background flash repeatedly the words “Be You”]
Pictured: Be You
In fact, this point is important in all aspects of your life and work.
As graduate students, we should embrace our unique personas which lead to more fruitful ideas and more satisfying professional relationships. During your Winter Break, amid any feasting, traveling, and socializing, take some time to meditate on the points above. Think about how you might incorporate them into your interpersonal relationships as we move into 2023. I hope you find them helpful as you navigate through your graduate studies. I wish you all a happy, productive break and resounding success in your continued work.