About networking

Field excursion for the bioinformatician: Burkhard Steuernagel, MECEA 2015 winner, looks at rust fungi in real life

So I was asked to write this blog for the Monogram page. What do I write about? In the last blog, Katie Baker wrote a brilliant piece about bioinformatics, pointing out important aspects. So, letís take one step back away from my expertise, which is bioinformatics as well, and think about what is important for a scientist in general. What makes a good scientist? Immediate answer is easy. Be a genius. Then it is easy. Few of us are geniuses; I have not met one yet. Be intelligent, work hard! Yeah, heard that. Might help. I cannot influence that. Be a team player, be someone others like to work with. That is certainly a good one! So letís write about that!

Why is it good if others like to work with you? Apart from the fact that it is a nice feeling to be liked (in the real world, not the thumbs-up on Facebook), people who enjoy a good experience collaborating with you will approach you again. So if there is an opportunity to do a favour for someone, DO IT! Donít expect anything for that, just do it. (Of course, be careful to get your own stuff done and make sure you donít get overworked). But next time people whom you have helped might invite you to join a project proposal or next time they might be hiring when you are looking for a job. Maybe they will just tell their boss about that good experience. Also good. Maybe most of the favours you do for others lead to nothing, but if only one of them leads to the new job or project, thatís enough.

So how can you start this thing? Usually, people do not approach you out of nowhere. This is where the social aspect comes in. Do your networking! Donít eat your lunch in front of your computer every day. Go with your colleagues and have lunch together. Make sure you have a chat with someone during your coffee break. Donít spend the evenings at a conference in your hotel room. Come out of your lab/office once in awhile and join in with some social activity. That would be a good start.

Generally, I find networking quite hard. It is a nightmare for me to go to a conference and not to know anyone. If it is the same for you, donít worry. Take it easy, start within your comfort zone and slowly expand. Translated to real life, this means make sure you donít go alone to conferences: try to team up with a close colleague or bully your supervisor to drag you along. The only thing that matters is that you do not hide, however stressful it is in the beginning. Then, things will just work.

Burkhard Steuernagel

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