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Building your Network: Advice from a PhD student

by Lorenzo Croce

Hi, I’m Lorenzo Croce, double masters graduate, eager science and business pitcher, EastBio Neuroscience PhD Student and Industry ambassador for Aberdeen University.

I met Dr. Towler when she was facilitating a networking session online at our induction day for the EastBio Doctoral Training Programme She highlighted the importance of building your network and how this can impact your career now, and several years down the line. Having already had an interest in the topic of networking, I’d like to share with you my now ‘patented’ networking strategy, and how this is leading to new professional and collaborative successes, including writing this blog post, and being included as a guest on Dr. Towler’s new podcast, ‘Opportunities in Science’, which features inspirational scientific career stories.

First off, the key to it all: My networking strategy

1. Ask a question

You need to make yourself noticed and stand out, so just speak up for yourself. If there is no chance to speak, try and answer questions which will be asked. This applies to university lectures, business meetings or charity webinars.Try not to just ask any question, but something stirring, something intelligent and critical. Even provocative questions can be a successful strategy if approached with an inclusive and curious mind. Look back at the philosophy you learned in school, or that commentary you read in The Economist, use your critical thinking and question any topic. If needs be, have courage to be defiant, but most of all: maintain a humble mindset. Don’t be afraid to be controversial, but do it in a non-conflicting way, with curiosity open-mindedness or even witty intelligence if necessary. Probe, critique and delve deeper. There is always a bias to be uncovered, or an interesting fact you would love to know more about: open the debate floor.

2. Open the conversation at the end: in person or on LinkedIn

Stay at the end of a meeting. Open the conversation after the lecture, or at the end of the webinar, make yourself noticed by staying longer than the others, by showing greater and deeper interest than anyone else. Go and talk to the speaker; every great mind, if truly great, is more open and approachable than anyone thinks. If there is no question/personal chit-chat time at the end, connect on LinkedIn. Whoever you are trying to reach, they will remember you from your smart question, add a short introductory note and the game’s won.The goal of this second conversation is to showcase intelligence and interest, if that works harmoniously with them, ask for a meeting or a coffee over Zoom. I’ve tried it, if you’ve asked your questions and carried out your conversations, 90% of answers will be a yes to a Zoom meeting.

3. Sell yourself and your ideas in the meeting

Now you’ve got the meeting. Show up for the third and final time. You usually have up to one hour of their time, which for some people can mean £500+ of their work, so think of this as a wonderful privilege and opportunity. During that occasion you will have the long-lasting and concrete chance to connect. Show interest most of all, share your ideas and as much positivity as you have got. Connect on the personal and affective level but even more so by discussing prospects and professional projects. Let the personal and professional harmonise in a concert of enthusiasm. Be daring but always maintain humbleness and respect towards who might well become your mentor soon. Showcase your skills along the way without making a list and most importantly offer them how you can be of help. If you showed positivity and credibility at the same time, your work is done, you are now connected. Through this connection you can propose a new idea/venture, delve into new opportunities or come back to that person anytime you wish, if they haven’t already offered a new opportunity themselves, at that point.

Explain with examples and anecdotes. Try to give different perspectives so readers with different backgrounds understand. Think about your audience. Are you talking to beginners or more advanced readers? Do you need to use a more professional writing style, or a friendly and casual tone that is more relatable?

This is how I got my PhD...

I answered a question out loud during a steroid hormone lecture. I talked at the end of the lecture and asked for a meeting which opened a great scientific and personal conversation with the Professor. One year later, when I applied to his funded project, he invited me for the interview. This is also how I made a connection with Dr. Towler during the EASTBIO induction day (my PhD funding body). I asked a few questions during her networking session, sent a connection and message on LinkedIn, and then seamlessly, we were having a coffee over Zoom where we discovered a shared interest in microscopy. The script is there to be trialled by anyone – it has always worked for me. Here are some examples. It allowed me to connect and exchange a few messages on LinkedIn with Dr Kris Meyer, who is a neuroscientist and director of the Climate action unit at UCL and also with Dr. Hannah Roberts, coach and speaker at her own firm and host of the Women in STEM podcast Career & Confidence (top 10 UK). A taxi driver the other day gave me his business card from his energy company in Senegal, I connected with him on LinkedIn to introduce him to my engineering friends. Then again, after telling basically my whole life story to the barber who did my last haircut, she revealed her partner is a venture capital investor. I connected with her on Instagram and introduced her to the sustainable winery founded by my old-time university classmates. Opportunities are everywhere, hidden behind the world of every single person you exchange a greeting to. Just be empathetic and positive, speak with kindness and generosity to everyone you meet. Try and see the teacher and expert in every person you encounter. Every person has passions, skills, expertise and a network. After embracing this ‘people-oriented opportunity mindset’ I started listening and always try to engage in inspirational conversation with whoever I meet. Networking matters, both in person and digitally. Keep opening doors, you never know which one will lead to the next success. But most importantly: People matter, see the bright and valuable side in everyone, you never know who might become your next source of inspiration.

Hear more about my PhD journey on the podcast 'Opportunities in Science' when I chat with Dr. Towler about my science career to date.






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