8 Networking Tips For PhDs To Advance Their Careers

I went to graduate school because I liked working independently.

I liked having the time to think and study problems and form hypotheses and gather data on my own.

Sure, I enjoyed working with others in the lab and I valued (and needed) advice from my mentors.

But none of this changed how much I liked working alone.

There’s a certain appeal to having your own project and being entirely responsible for it. 

You get to determine your own fate and don’t have to rely too much on others to get things done.

If you want to set up a transfection at 6PM and come back at midnight to change your media—you can.

If you want to start running a gel at 4AM and take a nap on the couch in the library—you can.

It’s up to you.

A strong desire to be independent is present in every STEM PhD.

But sometimes, this desire can become a PhD’s undoing.

Sooner or later, everyone needs a bigger network.

This is especially true for PhDs.

Eventually, your project or career will hit a roadblock so big that you’ll need to dedicate serious time to building your network.

This moment might come at the end of graduate school when you realize you want to transition out of academia into industry.

Or, it might come after you’ve been in a postdoc position for 4 years and are struggling to provide for your kids.

Either way, having a larger network is the answer to your problems.

A larger network will help you see more options and solutions than you would be able to see on your own.

In today’s economy and academic environment, networking with more people is not an option.

It’s a must.

What Networking Is Not

I thought going to a conference and collecting business cards was networking.

I thought showing up to a seminar and telling the speaker “good job” afterwards was networking.

I was wrong.

Without realizing it at the time, I thought someone I met would like me so much they would just give me an industry job.

I imagined someone discovering me and finally giving me the industry job I deserved.

Of course, that never happened.

The false assumption I had was that networking is easy.

I assumed that I could just send people emails and LinkedIn messages and they’d rush to help me achieve my career goals.

But it doesn’t work that way.

Networking is hard work.

It’s like a second job you have to take on in graduate school or during your postdoc without pay.

Why Networking Is Important 

If you want a PhD job in industry, you must build a bigger network.

A key part of building a bigger network is improving your interpersonal skills.

These skills are important not only for networking, but for getting and passing an industry interview.

Numerous studies including these reported by the National Academies show that interpersonal skills are measurable and important.

Several surveys including those by the Workforce Solutions Group, Adecco, and the ManpowerGroup, reported here in Upstart Business Journal, show that interpersonal skills matter more than technical skills no matter the profession.

Improving your interpersonal skills is important, but it’s only the first step.

The next step is leveraging your interpersonal skills to grow your network and get an industry job.

Studies in the Academy of Management Journal show that successful industry professionals spend 70% more time networking than their less successful counterparts.

A report by the New York Times shows that almost half of all job hires at top tier companies are from networking referrals.

The fastest and most effective way to get an industry job is by getting referred for one.

This makes networking critical to all PhDs who want to move their careers forward.

8 Advanced Networking Tips For PhDs

Networking is a skill.

Like all skills, networking will become dull if you stop sharpening it.

All scientists need to practice connecting with other people, particularly with non-scientists.

This is especially true in today’s world. Academia is shrinking and the rest of the economy is being deindustrialized.

As a result, your interpersonal skills and the size of your network determine your worth more than the hard skills you’ve picked up in the lab.

Here are 8 advanced networking tips that will help you grow your network and advance your career.

1. Go to industry seminars and talk to industry salespeople.

The most important thing you can do in graduate school or during your postdoc to increase the size of your industry network is go to industry seminars and talk to industry salespeople.

Don’t write off the salespeople coming into your lab as uneducated and manipulative. Most of these people also have PhDs and were once in your position.

Many of our Cheeky Scientist Associates have gained referrals by building relationships with these people.

It’s all about trading value.

Industry salespeople want to ask you questions about your lab and your lab’s product needs. You want to ask them how to get into industry. Start exchanging information you both need.

Start going to industry seminars too. Industry presenters are another gateway to a career in industry.

If you’re willing to go to their seminar and learn about their product, they’ll be willing to give you attention and answer your questions in return.

Simply show up, engage, and stay after to talk with the presenter personally.

2. Go to networking events with clear goals in mind.

Showing up to a networking event randomly during the week is a waste of time.

Networking is not a random venture. Networking is a strategic venture.

Map out a list of events to attend in the next three months.

Next, call the organizers and hosts of those events and tell them why you’re coming and ask them for help in preparing for the event.

Ask them how you can get the most out of the event.

Finally, set a measurable goal for each event.

A good starting goal is to connect with three people (yes, just three) by getting their contact information and following up with them within 24 hours after the event.

Don’t just show up, walk out with 50 business cards, and then not be able to remember anything about the people on those cards.

3. Learn the art of following up.

Networking is all about following up after the meeting.

Making a connection means nothing. You have to connect, then give, give, give, and give some more before one day, when the timing is just right, you ask.

That’s how real networking done.

Either you make time for the giving or you’ll never receive and you’ll sit in some postdoc position for 20 years wondering what happened to your life and career.

Whether it’s a salesperson you met in the lab or a Research Scientist you met at a local event, keep the connection going.

Email them or send them a LinkedIn message every two weeks.

The key is to add value to them. In fact…

You should act like you’re their assistant.

Send them articles they might be interested in or anything that could help their career or help them build up their reputation or network.

Send them connections that will help build their network.

Focus on them.

You’ll only get what you want after you help other people get what they want.

Follow up until you start to build a real relationship built on trust.

Then, and only then, ask for something in return—like a job reference.

4. Stop worrying about getting a letter from your academic advisor.

These letters mean absolutely zero outside of academia.

Getting a recommendation from your academic advisor is simply not worth the abuse.

Stop crawling on your belly. Stop getting pushed around by cruel academic advisors in the hope that one day they’ll write something nice about you.

The truth is most academic advisors know very few, if any, people in industry, and can’t help you get an industry position if they tried.

5. Quit spending all of your time on your resume and CV.

Resumes and CVs are the least important aspect of getting an industry job.

The most important aspects are networking to get a referral and nailing the initial phone interviews you’ll go through.

Only then will your carefully crafted industry resume come into play.

6. Don’t just network with other PhDs.

If you’re a PhD and you’re only networking with other PhDs, you’re in trouble.

These people are your competition.

They want the same PhD jobs and PhD careers as you.

If a great opportunity comes along, someone you just met at a networking event is not going to give it to you.

They’re going to give it to their friend or colleague. Or they’re going to give it to themselves. Most importantly…

You’ll never be memorable at these events because everyone else there has a PhD too.

It’s hard to be a gold star in a room full of gold stars.

A better strategy is to start going to Blue Ocean Networking events without other PhDs.

At Blue Ocean Networking events, you’re the only PhD. You’re the only doctor.

This fact is very impressive to people outside of science.

Remember, less than 2% of the population has a doctorate.

It’s time you start leveraging this 2%.

You’ll never be remembered for your STEM PhD in a room full of scientists but you’ll always be remembered for it in a room full of painters, or authors, or architects, or a thousand other professions where having a doctorate is exceptionally rare.

7. Stop listening to networking advice from lifelong academics.

The biggest mistake that a lot of PhDs make when they start networking is looking to other lifelong academics for advice.

You’ll never learn how to transition into industry successfully from someone who has never worked in industry.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of PhDs getting on LinkedIn and other professional sites every day asking questions about how to get a job.

The problem is they’re asking these questions in groups full of academics, journal editors, and other people who have never held an industry job.

If you want a job in industry, don’t listen to an academic or a journal editor on how to get it.

Don’t listen to anyone unless they’ve worked in industry.

If you want to get into sales and marketing, applications, R&D, management, or anything else, focus on networking with people who have actually worked in those areas.

8. Join advanced networking groups.

Most people’s idea of networking is nothing more than talking.

These people shake hands in person or comment on posts online and that’s where things end.

The reason this kind of networking doesn’t work is because it’s too generic and superficial.

The majority of PhD networking events are full of people who are not serious about collaborating or adding value.

They’re full of people who are either only there to take or just there to just hang out and judge other people.

If you’re serious about getting ahead, you have to find a way to get around other serious people.

The problem is that finding worthy networking groups takes effort. But that’s the whole point.

You have to put in real effort and commit because you want to be around other committed people who are also willing to put in real effort.

Don’t just join the same easy-to-find, talking-oriented networking groups that everyone else is joining.

Take some time to find exclusive and action-oriented groups that produce results.

By following these networking tips and focusing on how to network in today’s economy and academic environment, you can put yourself ahead of the competition and get the industry position of your choice. The key is being strategic in your job search, following up properly, and surrounding yourself with the right people.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly

ABOUT ISAIAH HANKEL, PHD

CEO, CHEEKY SCIENTIST & SUCCESS MENTOR TO PHDS

Isaiah Hankel, PhD is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, DOW Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Isaiah Hankel received his doctorate in Anatomy & Cell Biology with a focus in immunology and is an expert on biotechnology recruitment and career development.

Isaiah has published two bestselling books with Wiley and his methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah About Photo

Similar Articles

How To Get A Referral Without The Messy Emotions

How To Get A Referral Without The Messy Emotions

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Towards the end of my PhD, I felt like I was racing time. And time was winning. I was frantically trying to wrap up loose ends in my research, finish writing my thesis, all the while trying to find a job. I knew I wanted a job in industry. In fact, I knew exactly the job I wanted. I just didn’t know how to get there. I was sending my resume off into the abyss of the internet, but I wasn’t getting any replies. I couldn’t fathom what I was doing wrong. The whole thing felt pointless. Now, looking back…

5 Insider Rapport Building Tips (or, How To Make In Person Networking Non-Dreadful)

5 Insider Rapport Building Tips (or, How To Make In Person Networking Non-Dreadful)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Like many PhDs, I’m an introvert. That means my tendency is to avoid face-to-face interactions at all costs. But when it came time to search for a job in industry, my introverted tactics weren’t working. I was reaching out to people online, even getting a few responses, but in the end, all my efforts fell flat. After months of this, I was right where I started – unemployed. Then, I started noticing what my colleagues were doing; the ones that were getting job referrals and interviews at least. They weren’t just reaching out to people online, they were also attending…

6 Credible Networking Scripts That Make Employers Pay Attention

6 Credible Networking Scripts That Make Employers Pay Attention

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Just as “location, location, location” is the mantra of real estate, “networking, networking, networking” should be your mantra during your industry job search. During the final year of my PhD, I finally conceded – the only way I was going to get a job in industry was through networking. So, like many PhDs, I fired up my computer, hopped on LinkedIn, and clicked the blue “connect” button until my fingers ached. I sent out the same message to each new contact telling them about all my wonderful accomplishments before I asked them for a job. You know what happened after…

Master The Informational Interview (And How To Land A Referral)

Master The Informational Interview (And How To Land A Referral)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

By the time I started my industry job search, I was desperate. I was nearing the end of my PhD and I was consumed with what seemed like a million last-minute tasks – final experiments, last drafts, and defense presentations. I felt like I didn’t have the time to dedicate to my job search. And what little effort and time I did put into it was haphazard. My attempts involved repeatedly clicking the LinkedIn “Connect” button and uploading the same resume to any online job posting I could find. To make matters worse, I wasn’t even sure what job I…

6 Ways PhDs Waste Their Time At In-person Networking Events (And What You Should Do Instead)

6 Ways PhDs Waste Their Time At In-person Networking Events (And What You Should Do Instead)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Networking in person is key to getting a job in industry. Despite knowing this, I avoided doing it at all costs during my PhD. I tried it a few times at scientific conferences, but nothing happened. It seemed pointless. Not only that, but it was down-right scary. And so, like many PhDs, I gave up. I allowed myself to make excuses. I thought “I’m way too busy to attend all these networking events”… or, “I don’t need to network – if I just send out enough resumes online, I’ll surely land a job”. But boy, was I wrong! I can’t…

5 Cheesy Networking Gimmicks To Avoid

5 Cheesy Networking Gimmicks To Avoid

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

During my PhD, I knew that networking was the key to getting a job in industry. And so, I did what every other PhD I knew was doing… I went to conferences equipped with a copy of my resume and a handful of business cards. Then, during breaks, I would follow the crowd out onto the vendor floor. I would wander around aimlessly looking for a vendor that wasn’t busy. The problem was, so was every other PhD that was looking for a job. At the end of a conference, if I handed out all my business cards and shook…

7 Things PhDs Should Always Do When Networking Online

7 Things PhDs Should Always Do When Networking Online

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you want to get a PhD-level industry position, you need to set up a networking strategy and invest in your professional relationships. You can build rapport with someone else by networking in person, either at networking events, or over a cup of coffee. However, online networking is another powerful tool you can use to reach out to industry professionals and start a conversation. Do you know how to turn a LinkedIn connection into a job referral? If you don’t, you’re in trouble and are probably missing out on some great opportunities. Take for example the following story a member…

The Wrong Job Search Workflow Most PhDs Follow (& What To Do Instead)

The Wrong Job Search Workflow Most PhDs Follow (& What To Do Instead)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Many PhDs think that getting an industry job is similar to the academic process. They spend a significant amount of time writing peer reviewed journal articles and grants. So, it makes sense for them to spend large amounts of time writing and rewriting their industry resume. They probably had to give oral presentations and conclude their PhDs by going through a dissertation. So, they focus on what they think is the industry equivalent of this process, which is preparing for an interview. Academia teaches that if you go through the publication process, and an oral defense, you will be successful…

The 3 Components Of A Professional Job Search Profile

The 3 Components Of A Professional Job Search Profile

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

The components of your professional job search profile are important. If you want to transition into industry, you need to talk the language of industry and show that to potential referrals and employers. You probably already heard me say this, but do you know what it actually means? It means you need to know how you are portraying yourself from the very first moment you start planning your transition. Even before you start applying for jobs. If you are looking to transition into industry, but are applying to positions using an academic CV instead of an industry resume, you are…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.