Oct 11, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

When you hear the term 'network', you probably think of those events specifically designed for that purpose. Networking is a lot more than that -- and a lot more organic.

Want to make it in academia? Besides becoming an expert in your field, building your network is tantamount to your success. However you do it, one thing is clear: the stronger your network the better off you are in your career. Let's take a closer look.

Start with your supervisor

Your supervisor is probably your ideal starting point to establish your network. As an academic with experience in the field, your supervisor has already established connections. Your job is to establish a positive connection with your supervisor, get the advice you need on which people to contact or not, and sally forth. 

Join an association

If your supervisor is not a good networking fit for you or you want to expand your options, join an academic association. Do your homework first, though. Ask yourself: does the group include members who have similar academic interests? Are membership fees reasonable, or are their discounts for graduate students and early career researchers? Are there training and personal development opportunities? Does the group offer publication or funding opportunities? Is this a network of people with whom you want to associate?

If you can answer these questions and feel good about them, then go for it! Just remember: associations have responsibilities. Make sure you put into them what you expect to get out.

Don’t be passive at conferences

You have to be willing to put yourself out there.

Remember: the whole point of conferences is to bring people together. You need to actively engage. Go to panels, talk to people, ask questions, get involved in discussions.

On coffee breaks and at receptions, socialize. Find people with whom you click on a social level and an academic one. 

And at the end, get contact information.

When you don’t know what to talk about, discuss publications

Feeling awkward? Talk about work. Or at least, use work as a way in. Find another awkward-looking soul, and strike up a conversation about their last publication, or the best paper they have seen so far on whatever topic interests you.

You never know -- this conversation could just be the tipping point in your academic career!

Go to guest lectures

If your department or supervisor -- or even another related department -- sponsors a guest lecture, go to it. 

You never know who you will meet. Try to ask a great question. If you can't think of one right there, email the lecturer afterward to thank him or her for coming. You can ask your question then and strike up an email correspondence.

Interested graduate students often receive invitations from their departments to take the guest lecturer out for a meal before or after the talk. This is a great opportunity to make connections with your peers -- and with the visitor.

Don’t forget to keep in touch!

Remember all that contact info you got? Use it. Send a follow-up email or ask to connect on LinkedIn. Ask about a paper, or ask a question you had about something. You will be surprised at who emails you back!

From conference connections to advisors, peers, and guest lecturers, the best way to grow your network is to maintain the connections you have. 

See if they're going to the next conference, or congratulate them on a new publication.

Over time, these connections will become part of your professional and academic network.

Learn more about earning a master's degree. 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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