Networking in Microbiology

April 25, 2018

You've heard it several times - the graduate student in Dr. Krebs' lab who made a significant finding with a newly-acquired collaborator. Or Lisa who started a blog after she met Steve, a program coordinator in science communication, while in cross-fit class. Networking creates new opportunities and therefore is very important to your research and to your overall career.

So, how does one network in the field of microbiology? To learn more about this, we reached out to microbiologists to ask for their advice on networking. The main take-away: do not limit your network to the people in your field. 

Here are other great pointers:

  • "Value the diversity, we can learn from each other despite our differences," said Dr. Jose Perez-Jimenez. Dr. Dayle Daines added that "networking should be considered an important way to learn about the latest science, both in your own field as well as others. An interesting discussion with someone in a completely different field has the potential to spark new ideas, and possibly new collaborations, in ways that you may not have predicted otherwise."
  • Always treat others the way you want to be treated. "You really have one chance to make a first impression so manners matter: listen well, do not interrupt and send a 'thank you' email after the encounter. The world is very small and it is likely that your paths will cross again, for example, as a peer reviewer on your manuscripts or grant proposals, or being invited to speak at a conference," commented Dr. Amy Cheng Vollmer.
  • Open doors for other people. Dr. Amy Cheng Vollmer suggested that networking is a two-way relationship, so be a "connector" for others. If someone has opened a door for you through a special opportunity, be grateful and work to get to a point so that you can open the door for others.
  • Start small with networking. Dr. Stephanie Fiorenza suggested that "if you are at a conference, talk to individuals presenting posters and follow up after the conference if their work especially interested you. At breaks, talk to vendors in the exhibit hall; they are there to meet people, so it will be easy to converse with them. At meals, sit at a table where you don't know anyone and introduce yourself."
  • Finding a connection can happen anywhere. As Dr. Stephanie Fiorenza pointed out, "Contact your alma mater and classmates, join alumni associations, become involved in professional societies, use LinkedIn and get involved in activities." To build collaborations and make himself known to a wide network, Dr. Marcos Pileggi started a blog on Facebook about the latest news in environmental microbiology. He commented that the blog was "essential to achieve more supporters in environmental microbiology," which naturally led to more contacts.
  • Make connections with people prior to attending a conference or through mutual contacts. Dr. Fernando Ontiveros recommended 2 approaches for connecting with people: 1) If you are attending a conference and would like to meet a particular person there, send a brief e-mail introducing yourself. Mention that you will be attending the conference and would love to chat at some point. You are likely to get an invitation to find them between talks or during meal breaks, and because they will be expecting you, all you have to do is present yourself to them at the appropriate time. 2) Find someone who knows the person you would like to connect with, and have them introduce you, either in person or by email. Having the "target" meet you through someone you both know really makes the initial approach feel more natural and logical.
  • Do your research on the person you want to connect with. Dr. Thomas Hanson said, "My networking is primarily done through reading literature and emailing someone with a question, a request based on the publication or at conferences during the poster session and going up to a speaker after a talk. The best advice I have is to ask good questions and share observations based on what you have seen. They are the best lead-in to a substantive discussion that is the start of potential collaborations or other relationships like postdoctoral positions." Dr. Beth Lazazzera added, "Talk to people you know and see what their recommendations are because people who are good collaborators will gain a reputation and others will suggest them."
  • Present your work well.  Dr. Mostafa S. Elshahed reminded us that "Networking is certainly important but not a substitute for hard work, so well-written manuscripts and good presentations of your work at scientific meetings will make you stand out to potential collaborators." 

Dr. Dayle A. Daines - Old Dominion University
Dr. Mostafa Elshahed - Oklahoma State University
Dr. Stephanie Fiorenza - BP
Dr. Thomas Hanson - University of Delaware
Dr. Beth Lazazzera - University of California, Los Angeles
Dr. Fernando Ontiveros -  St. John Fisher College
Dr. Jose R. Perez-Jimenez - Universidad del Turabo
Dr. Marcos Pileggi - Campus Universitario de Uvaranas
Dr. Amy Cheng Vollmer - Swarthmore College

Author: Shilpa Gadwal

Shilpa Gadwal
Shilpa Gadwal is the Career Resources Specialist at ASM.