For many students, the word "networking" evokes images of uncomfortable business suits and awkward small talk. But it doesn't have to. In fact, making connections that can advance your career is easier than you might think, say early-career psychologists and students alike. Follow their tips, and a potential research partner or future supervisor just might notice you:
Take it to the Net. While online networking will never replace in-person interactions, it can be a great way to make initial connections, says. J. Stephen Higgins, a third-year psychology graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He suggests that all graduate students develop their own personal Web sites. It's an easy way to provide information about your research interests, publications and current projects-and get your name out there, he says.
"If you publish something or if you're a speaker somewhere, the first thing people do is Google you," Higgins says.
As they gain ground, professional networking Web sites such as Linked In (www.linkedin.com) and Within3 (www.within3.com) may also help you make connections. On Within3-open only to physicians and researchers in the health sciences-users can list clinical and research interests, as well as link to their publications, says the site's co-founder, social psychologist Brian N. Smith, PhD.
"You know you're interacting with a community of health science professionals," says Smith.
Students who join APAGS are also invited to take part in listserv discussions, where they can connect with other students or find a mentor in their area of interest, says Brian J. Hall, APAGS convention committee chair and a clinical psychology student at Kent State University.
Hit the road. At conventions and conferences, students can scope out the latest research and build professional relationships, says clinical psychologist Jeffrey E. Barnett, PsyD, former president of the Maryland Psychological Association.
"There's not much networking going on in your classes or when you're at home studying or writing a paper," he says.
Some organizations even allow students to present their research at poster or paper sessions, giving them real-world experience and a chance to attract the attention of potential collaborators, Barnett says. And if cost is an issue, many psychology programs and APA divisions offer scholarships or subsidies to help students attend.
Going to your first conference alone can be intimidating, but using the buddy system helps some students overcome anxiety and approach potential colleagues, says early-career psychologist Amy Stapleton, PsyD. As a graduate student, Stapleton-now a clinical and sport psychologist at the Mississippi State University counseling center-befriended a fellow student who shared her interest in sports psychology, and the two pushed each other to network.
"I remember us coming back each night and saying, 'Tomorrow, we have to meet three new people and come back and talk about it,'" Stapleton says. "I don't think it was something either of us were extremely comfortable doing. But together, we challenged each other to get ourselves out there and meet people."
That anxiety can also be eased by linking up with student organizations. For example, at APA's Annual Convention, APAGS offers convention sessions on how to get the most out of convention, and a mingling session called "Flying Solo" for students who attend convention alone, says Hall. APAGS also sponsors sessions where you can meet eminent psychologists such as David Barlow, PhD, and APA President Alan Kazdin, PhD, at "Food For Thought" breakfasts, where about 30 students chat with the invited speaker.
Talk amongst yourselves. Learn from other students-especially those a few years ahead-to add to your networking bag of tricks, says Andrew Ekblad, a fifth-year clinical psychology student at Duke University. Since they're still early in their careers, they can be great people to learn the ropes from, he says.
"Ask them how they've navigated through some of their own career challenges," Ekblad says. "Their position and experience are close to your current position and experience; they can empathize easily with your concerns."
Give your time. Opportunities abound for student involvement in most professional organizations-be it as an editorial assistant for an APA division newsletter or a hospitality suite volunteer at a conference-says Barnett. Many APA divisions and state psychological associations set aside at least one seat for students on their boards of directors. Get involved with such organizations, and you may gain one-on-one access to eminent psychologists most graduate students only read about in textbooks, says Barnett.
That technique has worked well for Jennifer Rapke, a fifth-year clinical psychology student at Spalding University. She volunteered at fund-raising events and attended board meetings of the Association of Death Education and Counseling-activities that led to her dissertation topic and a conference presentation with a top expert in the field, she says.
"I know that when I go to prepare for the job world this year, my connections to these folks will be invaluable," she says.
Follow up. Every time you network-be it at a conference, state association meeting or social gathering-send a quick e-mail to people you met to let them know that you enjoyed meeting them and to reiterate the points you discussed, says Stapleton. This can be a great way to remind them of your meeting and to initiate further discussion or future get-togethers, she adds.
Keep in touch. Even if your initial meeting doesn't lead to much, check in with your contacts every so often-with e-mails or phone calls, for instance-and let them know what you've been up to. The networking Web site Within3 will automatically send updates to everyone in your network when you change jobs or make other updates to your profile. Students might even e-mail contacts before conferences and set up a time to meet.
Give praise when it's due. Everyone loves to know that someone is thinking about them and following their career. When you hear that one of your colleagues received an award or started a new job, send them a note to congratulate them. You might also consider making a donation-to the American Psychological Foundation (APF), for instance-in honor of a colleague or mentor. There's no minimum amount, and your honoree gets an acknowledgment card. It also helps show support for the field, says APF donor and early-career psychologist Jill Hunter-Williams, PhD.
"Giving to an organization that has helped you in your career is just a great way to give back,"she says.