Five steps for networking during a pandemic

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If you’re an academic researcher, you must work on building meaningful relationships, also known as networking. Over time, as you show that you are a trustworthy colleague and can share ideas, skills and expertise, opportunities beyond collaborations can open to you.

Building professional relationships can make the difference between staying professionally stagnant and ascending the career ladder. Expanding your network allows you to find principled and reliable mentors, peers to bounce ideas off and colleagues to write letters of recommendation for your future promotion. Your network can help you to find opportunities, including virtual talks, calls for papers and nominations for awards — all key elements of career advancement.

Members of our respective networks nominated us for awards, courses and promotions. We have paid it forward by doing the same for others. As a junior faculty member, Z.T. earned dual master’s degrees in business administration and health-care leadership. This training, together with the people he met in the process, helped him to boost his management skills and to develop a robust COVID-19-testing programme at his institutions while maintaining a thriving clinical practice. (He is a member of the liver-transplant, bariatric and regional anaesthesiology teams at the New York Presbyterian Hospital.) For nearly 30 years, R.G. has coached, mentored and sponsored students and staff and faculty members in her network for promotions, awards and co-authorship opportunities. She continues to do this in her role as chief learning officer in anesthesiology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

As we adapt to the overwhelming disruption of COVID-19, we have all been forced to use online platforms to stay in touch and to forge new relationships. The key to accomplishing both of these is to modify our social behaviour in a new world of networking through video chats, instead of in conference rooms, to make our connections both meaningful and long-lasting.

Networking is essential in identifying opportunities beyond collaborations, including job openings, calls for papers and invitations to speak at events. Our advice is to remain authentic and sincere by being truthful, showing empathy and simply being yourself. Do this whether you are approaching a member of your network or are trying to connect with a new contact. It is crucial to convey that you are a team player and a trusted, supportive and caring colleague.

Even in this stressful time of social distancing and missing communal meals, celebrations and coffee-room banter, we can still develop solid professional relationships and expand our network. Here are five ways to do that during a pandemic.

Leverage your current network

You are connected to more people than you think! Rekindle relationships with people you went to university and trained with: find out what they have been up to, which sets the stage for you to share what you have been working on. So many productive things can come from ad hoc, casual conversations. Those contacts might very well suggest a person who would find your work interesting. But you have to talk with them to reap these benefits.

Partner with other institutions

To be competitive for promotion, it is crucial for you to concentrate on your national reputation. Giving talks at other institutions is a great way to develop this portion of your CV. Ask your department’s leadership to leverage their academic network and develop partnerships to facilitate invited talks. Develop a pipeline between a few institutions where you recommend faculty members to each other to give talks on specific topics. This provides a two-way path for junior faculty members to give interesting, expert presentations, which enhances their CVs.

Now that many junior researchers can easily leverage videoconferencing platforms, talks are no longer restricted to formal departmental seminars, but are open to journal clubs and/or divisional presentations.

Reach out to authors

Did you read an article that piqued your curiosity? Do not be shy. Reach out to the author and let them know what specifically you enjoyed about the article and why. This can lead to a dialogue and possible future collaborations.

Engage in professional Zoom meetings

In-person conferences are cancelled because of the pandemic for the foreseeable future, but virtual meetings are the new networking tools. Interact with the speakers and attendees. Let participants know if a comment they made resonated with you and why. Connect with them on social media and continue the conversation.

Participate in social Zooms

Zooms are not just for meetings. Participating in social Zooms, such as virtual coffee breaks, happy hours, lunch-time sessions and exercise classes, can offer otherwise unexplored opportunities to meet new and interesting people in a relaxed setting. Build on these conversations, interact by typing comments into the chat and continue the give and take of these conversations long after the Zoom concludes.

Keep yourself out there. Maintaining and building relationships are investments in yourself and in your organization. Appreciate that the process takes time and effort and understand that your deliberate, carefully planned strategy will help to promote your strengths and all-important value. Start now to lay that foundation.

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