Your Complete Guide To Real Networking For PhDs (Not Just A Means To An End)

“Networking?” For PhDs?

The whole idea of networking always seemed strange…. Kissing up to strangers with small talk all for personal gain? No thanks. Wouldn’t people know I’m just trying to use them? 

Well, if the industry hiring manager can’t see my value through a resume and CV, then I don’t need them anyway. I’ll always have academia!

…Except I know those secure academia jobs are getting slimmer by the year (and never pay what we deserve to begin with).

Okay, fine, I’ll network—but only at a few conferences where I know I’ll run into people who can help me. 

…Well, that didn’t work. It’s almost like people knew I was trying to shoehorn my way into a position without making any effort to actually get to know them or care. 

Wait, that’s not the whole point of networking? 

Nope. Turns out I was approaching networking for PhDs from the entirely wrong angle. I had the wrong goals, the wrong attitude, the wrong approach, the wrong interpersonal skills—I was doing everything wrong. 

Now, you can learn from my mistakes. Here’s everything I learned when I turned into a networking machine:

Why is Networking So Hard for PhDs?

We’re independent people. We like working alone (or at least having control). When we need something, we take charge and get it—without asking anyone for help. 

Honestly, we can also be a little arrogant. 

“It’s not about what you know, but who you know.” Yeah, right! This is why we went for the doctorate and didn’t finish school until our mid-thirties or forties—for a resume that speaks for itself so we don’t need to ask anyone for help.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly where the problems with networking for PhDs all start. 

  • We assume everyone else approaches networking like we do, so we ask for things right away—and look selfish. 
  • We stay in our academic comfort zone where we’re automatically respected, so we never connect with people who have no reason to care about our title. 
  • We take rejections personally and we aren’t committed to the relationships, so we never follow-up or form long-term connections.

Breaking down that idea of networking for PhDs (and the ego) is the key to leveraging your experience into industry.

The Complete Guide to Networking for PhDs

The fact is: networking matters. 

82% of employers prefer to hire referrals from other employees. As a referral, you’re 4x more likely to get the offer too.

Networking doesn’t have to be as awkward as we make it in our heads. You might not believe me, but networking can actually be enjoyable—fun, even! 

I do know, however, that once you commit to the strategies below, you’ll be surprised at the long-term and expansive range of benefits. You might even make some friends! (No, seriously.)

Set Clear Short- and Long-Term Goals for Networking

You should have clear goals for each event you attend and, long-term, networking as a whole. 

For example, your goal isn’t to walk out of a conference with a job offer. That’s unrealistic. Instead, make it a goal to get contact info from three people and follow-up later casually.  

Broaden Your Idea of Networking for PhDs

It’s not your fault. PhDs don’t like wasting time. That’s why we have a habit of only attending conferences and seminars that relate to our immediate work. 

Unfortunately, this also holds back the potential behind networking for PhDs. Expand your horizons to other events that spark your interest. It will also serve as a nice reality check about how much you actually know. 

Play the Long Game with Networking for PhDs

Everyone at an event is there out of self-interest too, just like you. We have to indulge and acknowledge this as we connect with people. Become an excellent listener and make a genuine effort to care.

People are busy. If they ignore your first message, that doesn’t mean they’re rejecting you—it means they don’t know you. Always follow up and keep at it.

Don’t treat events like a means to an end. Focus on the value you’re building through friendships. 

Realize No One is Beneath You with Networking for PhDs

As PhDs, we tend to only network with people at an organization or company we feel can “do something” for us. Huge mistake!

No one is beneath your conversations or time.

Spend time getting to know people of all skills and titles. They all have unique insight and some might have the capacity to help more than you’d think.

Stop Taking Advice from Career Academics 

There’s a reason they haven’t gotten out of academia yet—no matter how much they project and deflect blame. Plus, let’s be honest… they’re bitter about the whole thing and don’t want to see you succeed. 

You need to connect with other PhDs who already made the switch recently, not decades ago. They understand the modern landscape of industry in your specific field, the dynamics, and the transferrable skills you need.

This type of networking with other PhDs is invaluable. 

Boost Your Interpersonal Skills and Let Your Guard Down

We must accept that not everyone is going to like us—and they don’t even have to respect us just for our doctorate. 

Let your interpersonal skills do the talking. Your PhD knowledge is just the foundation. Try letting your guard down; displaying some vulnerability encourages others to trust us.

That’s how people make genuine friendships beyond sharing surface-level interests (and PhD fields).

Stop Self-Sabotaging: Understand the Networking Basics for PhDs

Look, it’s not easy putting yourself “out there.” Networking is uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and totally out of our element as PhDs. 

However, that’s exactly why networking is so important for PhDs too. We need the connections we build to keep us down to earth and understand our own limitations too. 

And I promise: networking isn’t something you “just can’t do.” I thought that too. I just needed to realize how I fit into the situation, boost my interpersonal skills, set real goals, and take it easy. 

Once you do that, you can stop self-sabotaging every potential connection. 

Ready to set aside the ego and do some real networking? Download the Cheeky Scientist eBook, 40 Networking Scripts Proven to get PhDs Hired, for the ultimate inspiration.

Join Cheeky Scientist Association
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to 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 is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

Similar Articles

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, June 12th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, June 12th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

The PhD’s Guide To Picking The Best Industry Data Scientist Jobs

The PhD’s Guide To Picking The Best Industry Data Scientist Jobs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When I started the long road toward my doctorate, I never would have put “PhD” and “unemployed” in the same sentence.  Nevertheless, that’s the reality 60% of all PhDs will face at some point in their career. You might even be living (or soon facing) that reality right now. With more universities scaling back in-person classes in favor of virtual learning, you can expect those secure full-time professorship jobs to grow fewer by the day, too. Why offer a tenured position when you can just hire low-paid adjuncts – especially with online courses becoming the norm? Fortunately, PhDs in data…

3 Fears That Are Strangling Your Career Options

3 Fears That Are Strangling Your Career Options

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Fears destroy your poetntial. I don’t understand why anyone would get their PhD and stay in academia anymore. Logically, that is.  Logically, any PhD can see how postdocs and PhD students are exploited by the system as cheap labor.  Many of them go as far as working for free once they get their PhD, or they get into postdocs that don’t allow overtime, don’t contribute to their retirement, and pay them peanuts.  That’s when self-justification occurs … “I’m doing noble work”  “I’m doing important work”  “I can still be a professor”  “An adjunct professorship is a real professorship”  “Everyone is…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, June 5th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, June 5th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, May 29th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, May 29th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

16 Motivational Job Search Quotes (Or, In PhD-Speak: “The Rationale For Transitioning”)

16 Motivational Job Search Quotes (Or, In PhD-Speak: “The Rationale For Transitioning”)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I have plenty of time to look for a job before I defend my thesis.”What’s the rationale? “I’m struggling to find time for my industry job search with everything I have to do in the lab and at home with my kids.” “My postdoc doesn’t get over for another year so I’ll start my job search later.” Famous last words.  I’ve heard thousands of PhDs from all around the world tell me many reasons why they haven’t taken their job search seriously.  If you’re not spending at least 2 hours of focused effort executing on your job search every day…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, May 22nd 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, May 22nd 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

The R&D Career Track Versus Clinical Career Track For PhDs (12 Jobs Compared)

The R&D Career Track Versus Clinical Career Track For PhDs (12 Jobs Compared)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

How can you hit your career goals when you’ve never defined your target? R&D career or Clinical, business and finance, marketing or information aggregation roles? Every PhD, regardless of where they are in their job search, eventually admits one thing …they all admitted that they had waited way too long to take their job search seriously. One of the biggest time sucking mistakes that PhDs continue to say they make is that they failed to correctly consider which job titles were right for them. Many never thoroughly reviewed their industry options until they were about to defend their thesis, lose…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, May 15th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, May 15th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

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.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 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.