The Definition of ‘Networking' from Oxford Languages is: ‘the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.’
So networking is about building your professional – and social – community for mutual help and support. It's about reciprocity and about collaboration. It's really important to remember that networking is as much about what you can do for others as it is about what others can do for you. Always start by thinking about what you can contribute.
Vitae’s page on The Value of Networking as a Researcher is an excellent introduction to and overview of what networking is about and how important it is. This includes hints and tips on how to get started. See also Vitae's other pages and information about different aspects of networking:
Vitae hangout on How to Raise your Profile in and Outside Academia
Using Online Resources in you Research, which covers how to network using social media and other online tools and platforms.
NB you may need to create yourself a Vitae account / log in to access some of Vitae’s resources.
LinkedIn Learning have these online courses:
Building your networks / communities
The links above all provide good introductions to why networking is important, and ideas for how to do it. Nevertheless its' still understandable though that some people may feel uncomfortable with the idea of networking. If you do, try thinking about it as building your community rather than as networking.
Think about where you have already networked successfully, either in work or personal contexts. Here is a simple example of the kind of communities you probably already have. Have a go at creating your own map of the communities and networks you are already part of, including all areas of your life, not just work.
- Which ones are working well?
- Which ones are not working so well?
- Which ones need more attention from you?
- How can you contribute?
- Where are the gaps? What do you need to add?
Making connections and Your Elevator pitch
It’s still understandable that attending an event and having to talk to strangers – particularly senior academics in your field – can be somewhat intimidating. Here are some hints and tips:
- Be prepared to talk briefly and engagingly about what you do – have your ‘elevator speech’ ready – see below
- Be ready to help others
- Listen more than you talk
- Be honest, authentic and true to your personal integrity
- Be sure to do the things you say you will, but don’t over commit
- Only go to the events that you will find useful, interesting, exciting; go with a view to meeting people with whom you can build relationships long term
- And finally – think about what have been your most productive connections / relationships – how did you form them?
Your elevator speech: Imagine the person you most want to work with has just walked into the elevator with you. You have the time it takes for the elevator to reach their floor to tell them what you would like them to know about what you can do. Hence it is called your elevator pitch.
You should prepare and practice your elevator speech so that you have it ready when you need it. It shouldn’t be more than 1-2 minutes long, and should be designed to let the other person know what is interesting about your work, and how you might help them or contribute in some way. Think about the value of your work, and what you would like people to know about what you are doing. While it’s a good idea to have your basic speech ready, remember to craft it individually each time for the event or person you are talking to. Here are some questions to help you think about what to include:
- What are you working on?
- What impact are you hoping your work will have?
- Where does it intersect with theirs?
- How can you contribute / help?
- What are your strengths and achievements?
- How to contact you
This is a good article that takes a step by step approach to creating your elevator speech: How To Write an Elevator Pitch