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Why PhDs Should Stop Going To PhD Networking Events

PhD Networking Events
Written by Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

“What’s your research focused on?”

“Where have you been published?”

These questions used to make my palms get sweaty.

Just thinking about someone asking me about my research used to give me panic attacks.

I put off going to networking events in graduate school until my very last year.

Scratch that.

My last two months.

I started going to events once I realized that getting a job was harder than clicking the resume upload button on a company’s job-posting page.

Bummer.

I didn’t know where to find networking events at first. After all, I was in a small city in the middle of nowhere. 

Why does everything have to be so hard?

I eventually got the nerve to starting researching events online and found quite a few. I searched for keywords like “PhD networking events” and “biotechnology networking events.”

There were a few hits.

I went to one event specifically for PhDs and stood against the wall. I watched people talk awkwardly for an hour and left.

At the next event, I talked to two people. They were postdocs who wanted to become industry employees.

One was really smug.

He asked me how many papers I published and then asked me which jobs I was applying to.

When I answered, he smirked and nodded. It was like he was saying “you’re never going to get a job” and “I’m going to apply to the jobs you just mentioned” at the same time.

Why did I feel like he was competing with me?

I went to a few more networking events. The same people were always there.

Graduate students and postdocs looking for the same jobs I was looking for. I never once met an active hiring manger or recruiter.

One of the events I went to promoted the fact that they had a panel of past hiring managers and recruiters and then charged me over a hundred bucks to get in.

Everyone on the panel was a dinosaur.

Two of them had never used Twitter.

Not kidding.

They were all retired too. How were a bunch of retired recruiters over 50 going to help me get a job in today’s job market?

PhD Networking Events Are A Waste Of Time

Stop choosing to be a needle in a haystack.

If you want a PhD job in industry

You need to differentiate yourself from the competition, not congregate with the competition.

There’s absolutely no value in most PhD networking events.

If you’re a STEM PhD going to “PhD” “biotechnology” or “biopharmaceutical” networking events only, you’re wasting your time.

You might feel like you’re being productive, but you’re not.

You’re being lazy.

Do you really think you’re going to hear about an incredible opportunity for a PhD job in a crowd of desperate PhDs who are all looking for that same job?

Let’s say you hear about a great job opportunity at one of these events. Are you going to share it with the other people there?

Of course not.

Why should anyone else act any differently? Very few people actually talk about job opportunities at these networking events. Instead, they talk about the current work their doing, the jobs they want, the weather, on and on.

Useless information.

They ask useless questions too.

How To Counter Pretentious Questions

Many PhD networking events are full of snobs.

They’re full of bitter and stuffy academics who resent the fact that they don’t have a professorship or industry job yet.

They resent how little money they make and how unimportant they are to the rest of the world.

These are the same academics who jump on LinkedIn group discussion threads and spew their subtle negativity towards curious PhDs who post questions about alternative career tracks.

Instead of getting meaningful and high-paying jobs of their own, these academics sit online and write ironic comments.

Don’t be a snob. Don’t entertain snobby questions either.

If you bump into a snob at a networking event, politely excuse yourself from the conversation.

You’ll know when you’ve met one of these academics because they’ll immediately start asking you about your publication record or about whatever uncharacterized protein you’re studying.

Who cares?

You want a job in industry now, right?

Guess what.

Nobody in industry cares about your publication record or about your research.

At least not in the way you’re used to thinking about it.

Has your research been funded?

Has your research led to any products or patents?

Have you collaborated with any other labs whose research has led to any product or patents?

Do you have any industry or business experience?

Have you invested in any kind of industry or business training whatsoever?

These are the real questions you should be asking yourself. Don’t get distracted with trying to play up to other academics at networking events.

In fact…

Don’t go to networking events with these people at all.

PhD Networking

Stop Going To Red Ocean Networking Events 

In business, the phrase Red Ocean marketing refers to introducing products into highly competitive markets.

The market is full of vicious competitors so the waters are… 

Bloody.

Blue Ocean marketing, on the other hand, refers to introducing products into markets with little or no competition.

The waters are empt, or unknown. They are…

Wide open.

Opening and marketing a pizza shop in a college town that has ten pizza shops is Red Ocean marketing. Opening and marketing the town’s first fondue sushi shop is Blue Ocean marketing.

During your industry job search…

You are a product.

You are introducing yourself to a market.

That’s what networking events are—markets. When you go to typical University or PhD, biotech, or biopharma-labeled events, you’re introducing yourself to a Red Ocean market.

You’re going to get ripped to shreds.

At best, you’re going to just swim around looking for scraps.

It’s very unlikely that you’ll ever hear about a real job opportunity.

Also…

Snobs love Red Ocean Networking events.

Many academics go to events with other academics just so they can talk about how bad things are in academia.

They show up to an event with a hundred other PhDs and blab about how there are no jobs.

Do you know of any job opportunities Jim?

No.

Do you know of any Bob?

No. But I think I’m going to get my name on another paper.

Great. 

Okay, have a good night.

Stop wasting your time at these events. They’re useless.

Instead, start going to events where you might actually meet someone new.

Start going to events with people who have jobs you’ve never heard of and know things you can’t imagine.

3 Benefits Of Blue Ocean Networking Events

1. You stand out (people are impressed with your PhD).

Remember what it felt like the first time you told your family and friends that you were going to graduate school to get your PhD?

Wow, you’re going to be a doctor.

That’s what they thought. That’s what you thought. Now, no one cares.

Now, you’re surrounded by PhDs. Many of them with better credentials than you have.

Why would you choose to network with these people?

You might as well paint yourself lime green and stand in front of a green screen.

No one can see you.

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 this kind of doctorate is practically unheard of.

Don’t overthink it.

You don’t need to be a manager to go to a managers networking event and you don’t need to be an investment banker to go to an investment banker’s networking event.

You just need to be interested in learning more about these positions.

As an academic who wants to transition into industry, you’re in the perfect position to tell anyone you meet at any event that you’re looking to move out of academia and into management, or banking, or any other field.

You don’t need to explain yourself beyond this.

2. There’s no competition (people want to help you).

Hi, nice to meet you, my name is Jim. 

Hi Jim, I’m Jane, what do you do? 

I’m a doctor.

Oh, wow, what kind? Tell me more.

Now, when Jane’s friend at Baxter or Pfizer or Genetech randomly tells her of a PhD-level job opening, guess who Jane is going to think of?

Jim. Or…

You.

Jane’s going to remember the only PhD she met in the last month and tell that PhD about the position.

You might think that the odds of this are exceptionally rare, but they’re not. This exact scenario recently played out with one of our Cheeky Scientist Associates.

Many of our Associates have received personal referrals for scientific positions from non-scientists they met at Blue Ocean Networking events.

This is very different from what happens at Red Ocean Networking events.

Think about.

Why would a scientist at a Red Ocean Networking event ever refer you for a job?

Odds are, he or she is at the networking event to get a job. So, when they hear of an opportunity, they’re going to keep it for themselves.

They’re going to see you as a competitor.

It takes a very special environment for academics to support each other without being competitive.

If you look at most LinkedIn groups for PhDs, public or private, they’re full of snide comments from insecure academics.

Other people in other professions don’t feel the need to put you down. They’re not competing with you.

Start networking with these people.

Start going to events where people are impressed with your degree.

Go where you’re different, not the same.

The people you meet will remember you and refer you.

3. You learn more (people share real industry knowledge).

Business is business.

Whether you’re working for a startup or a Fortune 500 company, a biopharmaceutical firm or a confectionary corporation, the same rules of economics apply.

You’re not going to learn these rules, or any other business knowledge for that matter, at most PhD-only networking events.

But you will learn them at an entrepreneur’s networking event, or at a business manager’s networking event.

You’ll learn about investing at an investment banker’s event and about interior design at an interior designer’s event.

Over time, you’ll pick up on key business themes.

You’ll visit and revisit topics on salary negotiation, management, market trends, go-to-market strategies, profit, loss, on and on.

These topics might seem a little distant to your current career goals but knowledge is powerful.

Especially tangential knowledge.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

The fastest way to find out what you don’t know is to make radically new connections.

You can only make these connections at Blue Ocean Networking events.

Your network is your net worth.

If you’re only networking with other PhDs who think and act like you, your net worth is low.

But…

If your network includes powerful professionals in a wide variety disciplines, your net worth is very high.

Who is in your network?

To learn more about transitioning into industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association. 

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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.
  • http://www.finishyourthesis.com Dora Farkas

    Wow, this sounds just like my experience going to networking events as a postdoc. Every time I went, the same people were there, and they were all job hunting! I did not get much out of them – I got my jobs through contacts, but not from typical networking events. I grew my network through my personal contacts, alumni from my department, and online communities.

  • wickedest

    This advice is moderately useful. I have been to many industry conferences and networking events as a PhD student. While in academia even as a PhD student I was considered an expert in my field, I’ve found industry conferences very daunting.

    The thing is, most STEM PhD students are introverted and/or shy and socially awkward. It is very hard to network in itself, but when you have to network with people who are all there to make useful connections, it gets really hard.

    With a little empathy, I could easily read people I was talking to at these events, and it was absolutely obvious to me that they weren’t interested in making me their new connection. They were preparing to bail on me at the first opportunity, and often they bailed in a very abrupt and disrespectful manner, like I was mid-sentence when they saw someone and randomly ran off.

    There is literally no benefit for an industry person with 5-10 years experience in connecting with desperate PhD students trying to make a move into industry.