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. 

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.

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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.

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