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How PhDs Get Hired Through Loose Connections

Skip ahead to:

07:00 Show Me The Data
28:20 David Burkus
1:02:00 Disharee Nath, Ph.D.

Struggling to make networking a part of your job search? Feel like networking is awkward and doesn’t work?

Learn the science behind networking and how you can apply these teachings in your networking efforts. 

In this episode, we are joined by networking expert David Burkus. David is the best selling author of the book Friend of a Friend, he uses the science of human behavior to teach how you can grow your network and build key connections. We are also joined by, Science Writer, Disharee Nath who will share insight into this career track and how other PhDs can pursue a similar career. If you’ve been struggling with networking or you want to take your networking to the next level this is a must watch episode. 

About Our Guests

David Burkus is a best-selling author, a sought after speaker, and associate professor of leadership and innovation at Oral Roberts University. His newest book, Friend of a Friend, offers readers a new perspective on how to grow their networks and build key connections—one based on the science of human behavior, not rote networking advice. He’s delivered keynotes to the leaders of Fortune 500 companies and the future leaders of the United States Naval Academy. His TED talk has been viewed over 1.9 million times and he is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review.

Disharee Nath did her bachelors in Bio-technology from India, and then a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse NY, graduating Dec 2018. Towards the end of her PhD she realized that she wanted to go into communication-based roles. She joined Cheeky Scientist and made her job search a priority. Her current job offer came the day after her last day at graduate school. In February 2019, she joined as a Science Writer at the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). Her job lets her explore her inner creativity to explain science, and she says “I love every moment of it!”

Key Takeaways

1. Ditch your traditional definition of networking that makes you feel awkward and instead focus on investing in the network that you are already a part of. 

2. Start by reengaging with your dormant connections. Reach out to people from your undergraduate days etc, just send them a short note saying that you were thinking about them. Don’t ask for anything. 

3. There is someone in your network right now who can give you a job referral. You just have to do the work to warm up and re-ignite the connections you have with the people you already know.

How PhDs Get Hired Though Loose Connections: A Conversation With David Burkus

Isaiah: So can you help us understand why networking might be important and why it actually does work and matter even to PhDs?

David: Yeah, and here’s what I’ll say is the bad news is that you’re already in a network, but that’s also good news, right?  So let’s say networking feels awkward, and that is true and there is solid research that even says that people who were asked to think about a time when they have to make a professional connection are more likely to have subconscious thoughts of wanting to get clean. So networking literally does make people feel dirty. I get it. The challenge I think for a lot of us is that we’re, we’re narrowing down our definition of networking. We think it means just making new contacts, meeting total strangers. Go into that cocktail party, doing the hand shake, pressing flesh, trading business cards, that kind of stuff. And I mean that feels awkward, but the good news is, is actually pretty ineffective to. I think a better perspective is that networking is anything that we do to understand and navigate the network that we’re already a part of.

So you are already embedded inside a network. And the way that I say and a lot of times is that the best frame of mind is you can’t grow your  network, can’t improve your network, can’t build your network, all of those trite phrases because you don’t have a network. It’s not yours. You don’t own it. You exist inside of a network already. Your job is to figure out where you are in network and then how to go and be connected to the people that you want to be connected to. The best way forward to most of that is the people that you already know, or people that are one introduction way. So if those things make you feel sleazy, you have my permission to skip those events entirely from here on out. You just have to replace them with things that we know actually help people navigate the network.

Isaiah: I think warming up those dormant connections is a crucial first step. The second step you just alluded to was you said either gift giving or looking at the fringes. So where, where do we go next?

David: I would put the gift giving thing as part of that first step of rewarming. Right. And there’s other things that you can do to like it. So alumni, which is a great source. I actually tell a lot of people like if you already had great active on things like LinkedIn and Facebook, that’s awesome. We’ll have your list of connections and then scroll all the way down because most of those are sorted by frequently contacted to infrequent contact. Or if you use Gmail, if you’re like me, you never clear out your sent messages. Which means that there are sent messages from five or six years ago in there. So if you bothered to scroll all the way down, you’re going to see names and think , I haven’t thought of that person in forever.  So once you have that sort of target list, it becomes a gift giving as a way rewarm them.

So what I like to do is actually you make out that list of what your targets are and then you just get in the habit of keeping an open mind, trying to keep them at the forefront of your mind. Can read an article that mentioned the company that they might work at where you read an article that reminds you of something that you talked to them three or four years ago. If you have nothing else, I will tell you this is the easiest way to jump start a conversation. If you have nothing else to do and you’re not a lot of money to give random gifts and lots of people send them an email that just says this, hey, I was thinking about you today and I hope you’re well, no reply needed and then just sign it now why does that work?

That works because only the most like awkward toxic people would be mad at you because you were thinking about them and wanted to send good vibes. The no reply needed sends a little signal that you don’t have an agenda. You’re not trying to recruit them into your network marketing thing. Like there’s no agenda here. You’re just, you’re just wanting to catch up it, etc. They will almost always reply like, and when I tell people to do this, eight out of 10 times, they come back to them and say, yeah, they totally, they replied and we had this great conversation, but people love to just hear that you were, you were thinking about them. If you act, if you’ve literally, we’re thinking about them instead of just thinking about them because you saw them on your LinkedIn list, right? Then it’s even better because you can tell them why and you can jumpstart that conversation.

Science Writer Career Track: A Conversation With Disharee Nath, Ph.D.

Isaiah: Why did you want to get into a scientific communications role? Why did you decide to leave academia?

Disharee: Yeah. So a year ago I was wondering the same thing, like what would I do, where would I go? And I’m a good point for me to start was to really understand what I wanted to do and what was I good at. So looking back, I did a lot  of inner reflection and trying to understand what I liked. And I realize that the part of my PhD that I liked the most was when I was presenting at the conferences, at seminars or just having people over explaining my work to them. And I talked to my committee members about going to a communication space career and they really encouraged me to it. And, doing those reflections, I realized that was probably the place for me to go. And then I started talking to people who were in those positions to kind of consolidate my understanding of them and my eagerness and wanting to go into those roles. So it was, it was a learning curve for me also. And also getting over the mental block of not being a scientist at the bench, but I kind of knew like towards the latter half of my PhD that I didn’t want to be at the bench anymore. I just had it in my head. It took me awhile to kind of accept that and go there.

Isaiah: So I want to dig into the networking piece again. I know networking helped you in terms of your career. What did you do networking wise? What, what actually led to you finding the position? 

Disharee: It’s funny me coming after the David Burkus today to talk about this because I did get my job through a friend of a friend. So that was, that was like when I saw it coming it was like wow. It was perfect. All right. So I actually focused a lot on networking and by networking I actually did what David was saying, to reach out to my loose connection. So I reached out to a lot of my alumni from my undergraduate as well as my graduate school. And I remember I reconnected with a lot of my friends from back in undergrad who are right now in the US in different industries. I remember one of the alumni from my current graduate school who helped me a lot with my resume, he is one of the reasons I got an understanding of how much I need to change my original before the job.

So I’m really grateful for it to those people. And the person that I got my job through, I have met her at my friend’s place once and my friend’s wedding a second time. I only ever met them twice in my entire life. And when I heard that she used to work at JoVe I reached out to her asking about the company and how she liked. She was an ex employee. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a referral. It just wanted to know about her and her work and the company. It turns out she knew the director of my department and she connected me with him. So I got a director referral to get into the job that I am right now. Going in I didn’t think I was going to get a referral. That wasn’t even my intention. I just wanted to know more about the people in my network as well as the work they do and and led to where I am today.

** to hear the full interviews watch the full episode in the video above.

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Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah is a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology and internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant. He is an expert in the biotechnology industry and specializes in helping people transition into cutting-edge career tracks.

Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.
Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.