Targeted Networking 101

How to reach out to people of interest?

- Networking is an essential part of building a scientific career

- Do not be shy to reach out to people you do not know with professional questions

- It is convenient to actively expand your network using professional social networks

Why networking in science is important?

We perceive reality through the prism or filter of our background and experience, and quite often the objective gets distorted. It can be the cinematography that romanticizes different aspects of our lives: professions (Archaeologist in Indiana Jones movies, nanny in Mary Poppins, chemist in Breaking bad ...), countries and cities (New York in Sex and the City, France in Emily in Paris, Italy in Eat, pray, love ...), etc. Random comments from family or friends also could be misleading ('Mathematics is for men, and women are not welcomed in such fields'). Let's call all those distortions of reality "assumptions". 

The power of networking for scientists can confirm or deny your assumptions about a specific company, the quality of life in a particular country or city, and your dream profession in general. 

How does it work?

Imagine you are about to finish your master’s degree and don't want to start a Ph.D. but want to transition to industry because you believe you will have more structured and organized work there. The assumption here is that "work in industry is always organized and structured". Another assumption is that "work in academia is always chaotic".

It is very important to notice those beliefs. It is quite challenging because these assumptions could live with us for a very-very long time and they become part of our reality. 

What to do next?

The task is pretty simple: find at least 3 persons who can discuss with you your assumptions from their experiences and points of view. Are you considering moving to France? Find at least 3 people who have moved to France (preferentially people from a similar background to yours) and talk to them about the pros and cons of relocation, and the pitfalls they had to deal with. 

Where to look for those people?

Start with your family and friends and ask them whether they have families or friends (or friends of friends) with suitable experience. Do you have a scientific community of like-minded people? Then you should definitely make a call for networking help there. 

Another very powerful approach for scientific networking is professional social networks like LinkedIn. It is very easy to find someone from a specific company or a person who holds a position that you consider for yourself. Ideally, if you have something in common with a person you choose to connect with - it can be the same university, mutual connection, or previous workplace. 

Isn't it strange to write to random people? Don't I look like I impose myself? I do not want to annoy people...

Nowadays there is nothing unusual about reaching out to people you do not know. In some countries, this culture is still not developed, while in European regions and North America, targeted networking is certainly very common and encouraged, especially among scientists.

Firstly, people like talking about themselves and their experience, so if you ask this, the chance of a positive response is pretty high (Compare: 'Could you tell me about France? Is it a good country to live in?' vs 'I am curious about your experience of relocating and living in France. What was the most difficult for you?')

Secondly, a lot of people feel good about helping others. This means they might be very happy to provide you with a piece of advice and share their opinion. 

Of course, you should be ready that not everyone will come back to you with an answer and some people will not be interested in helping. For this, take some margin when reaching out: you may text 5 people aiming at having 3 conversations. 

How to write the first message?

Here we propose a simple message structure to initiate a discussion. 

1. Introduce yourself and explain how you found the person you are texting ('Dear Anna, my name is Elisa and I found your profile on LinkedIn' or 'Chris shared your profile with me.')

2. Set the scene: what is your situation and how the person you contacted is connected to your story ('I will finish my master's studies in October as the next career step I am considering a consultant position.')

3. State very clearly the purpose of your message ('I would be happy to have a 30-minute call with you regarding your transition to McKinsey when you have time.'

4. If there is any similarity in your backgrounds, it is good to mention it ('As you also graduated from a technical university' or 'You also have an engineering background.')

5. Propose a time frame and be flexible about the availability of another person ('Would you have time in the next few weeks to share with me your experience?')

What else can you ask during the interview?

Work structure and supervision


Work-life balance and general satisfaction:

Additional activities

After the interview

Do not hesitate to write a follow-up email or message where you express your appreciation of a person's time and your interest in the discussion. After a few months, especially if you find a suitable job, you can also update this person and let them know about your achievements.

All in all

We encourage you to actively engage in networking. It's a dynamic and rewarding process that goes beyond just expanding your social circle. By connecting with fellow scientists, you tap into a vast pool of knowledge, experiences, and expertise. These interactions can lead to insightful discussions, collaborations, and even mentorship opportunities. When you face questions that can't be easily resolved through online searches, your network of colleagues can serve as invaluable resources. 

About Sci.STEPS

The Sci.Steps mentoring program offers invaluable benefits for networking within the scientific community. By connecting aspiring scientists with established professionals in their respective fields, this program facilitates a unique opportunity for mentees to build meaningful relationships and expand their professional network.