When Heather Armstrong moved to Texas for her clinical psychology internship, she also moved 30 boxes of paper she accumulated during her graduate training at the University of Indianapolis. All those business cards, studies, conference papers and notes made the organized student within her scream.
"I've learned after eight years of graduate school that the less paper, the better," says Armstrong, now an intern at Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.
Today, she keeps a digital copy of her important information. Much of it — including her contacts and calendar — lives on her smart phone. "I try to keep everything in one place," she says.
Keeping your professional contacts organized and easily accessible is especially essential for graduate students since those names may be the critical link between you and your internship, next job or future research collaboration.
Whether you use an iPhone, iPad, Microsoft Outlook or an old-fashioned Rolodex, create a system that will help you remember the names — and interests — of these key contacts.
How many contacts can one person have? The human neocortex can only juggle about 150 friendships, according to Robin Dunbar, PhD, an evolutionary anthropology professor at Oxford University. Historically, smaller communities allowed everyone to have the same network. "In, say, an Amish community, one person's 150 is everybody else's 150," Dunbar says. But today's typical student, who has traveled internationally, moved from state to state and had a series of jobs, has a far broader network than his or her ancestors.
Online tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can't replace in-person interaction, but they can keep tenuous relationships from evaporating. "Those friendships are fragile," Dunbar says. "The quality of our relationships can drop off quite fast" if we don't keep up through phone, email or meeting in person, says Dunbar.
While connecting across a wide swath of people is important — today's intern could be tomorrow's boss — in order to maintain boundaries consider separating your professional and personal contacts, says Rachel Dinero, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Cazenovia College. She uses separate email accounts for her work and personal life, and blocks status updates from her students on Facebook.
Professors "don't want to friend someone they just evaluated," says psychologist David Evans, PhD, of Psychster Inc., a Seattle firm that specializes in the psychology of social media.
In fact, many people reserve Facebook for social acquaintances and friends and use another site, such as LinkedIn, for professional contacts "On LinkedIn, when you accept a contact, you are able to say how you are connected," Evans says. "It is a living, breathing, de facto CV."
Diane Keyser Wentworth, PhD, professor in the Fairleigh Dickinson University department of psychology, is also a fan of LinkedIn, which she uses, along with Outlook, to store her contacts. Wentworth logs in to LinkedIn to look up where professional acquaintances and former colleagues work. "LinkedIn ... lets you learn more about people on the job, which is a plus," she says.
A benefit of using social media to manage your contacts is that when your contacts update their information, it's done automatically for you — no need to type in or scratch out in your own electronic or paper address books, Wentworth notes.
The downside of using social media to keep in touch with professional contacts? Reduced privacy, Evans says.
"We are living in an age where who we are connected to is public," Evans says.
A Paper Trail
Other students, including Armstrong, rely on a different technology to organize their contacts: the cell phone. "I can categorize people into groups, including 'personal,' and it's helpful that it's always on hand," says Armstrong.
But the risk of storing all that critical data on a cell phone is data loss, says Armstrong. She knows first hand, having crushed her Palm Pro with a lawn mower a few years ago.
"My first thought was, 'Oh, my goodness, how did that fall out of my pocket?'" she says. These days, Armstrong backs up her phone contacts to her home computer and uses password protection and antivirus software to keep hackers or malware from spamming her friends and professors. "Cell phone passwords also prevent 'butt dialing,'" she says.
Dinero is even more old-school than Armstrong: She uses a file cabinet to organize her contacts. When she meets people at conferences, she attaches their handouts to their business cards, then files them away. "I'll make notes on the back of the card about what we talked about, as it makes it easier to follow up and say, 'I don't know if you remember me, but we talked about this,'" she says.
Elizabeth Leis-Newman is a writer in Baltimore.
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