Networking: “Be bold and take the first step!”

12 Jun 2023

Staying in the conversation, sharing and developing ideas: Networker Anja Merl on the art of cementing career-boosting contacts in academia.

There are many opportunities for networking in everyday life. According to Anja Merl, networking also depends on trust. | © IMAGO / imagebroker

Economics graduate and business coach Anja Merl advises companies, institutions and the self-employed on developing and maintaining business contacts that last. At LMU’s Postdoc Career Dayon 7 July, she will host a workshop on “Starting successful networks”.

What do researchers need a network for? Isn’t it enough to present compelling expertise?

Anja Merl: An extensive network – to acquire third-party funding, issue joint publications and find jobs – is absolutely essential these days. There is a huge difference between working in isolation or acting in concert with others. A network is an important forum within which to be recognized, noticed and constructively criticized – all of which empowers the generation of original ideas and your personal development.

Where do young researchers start when they want to build a network?

You need an individual strategy to get started, and you then develop a network with the relevant people and institutions on a project-specific basis.

Your doctoral supervisor’s network and that of the chair and faculty lay the foundation. You have to grow into them. For example, it is important to accept dinner invitations among other doctoral and postdoctoral candidates in order to cultivate more direct dialogue. Networks can be forged anywhere and at any time, even across faculties. There will often be potential applications for a research idea in some other subject area or adjacent discipline; and this realization may only come to light by talking to people at congresses and conventions. It may also be advisable to communicate an idea to the outside world – at recruiting fairs such as Career Day or at business or expert symposiums, for example. Career-boosting contacts are usually established through specific recommendations.

#EXCELLerate and connect! LMU Postdoc Career Day 2023

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What do you do when you have identified a suitable individual?

The trick is to be bold and take the first step. Depending on personal preferences, different people would rather make a phone call, write an e-mail or speak to the person at an event. Social media too – including academic platforms such as ResearchGate, and Mendeley – are an elementary complement to personal contacts. Depending on the subject matter, researchers can also extend their reach on Twitter, use hashtags to make direct contact with others on Instagram or address an interesting individual directly on LinkedIn.

But networking also takes place on a small scale in everyday life. It doesn’t always have to be the one big catch that puts you in touch with a leading expert or gets you recommended for your dream job. It can just as well be a friendly smile and a wave to the caretaker, who a few days later might give you access to certain resources. Why? Because recognition and respect, building trust, give-and-take are the lifeblood of networking.

Business Coach Anja Merl

will host a workshop on “Starting successful networks”at LMU’s Postdoc Career.

And how do I get my idea across?

You need sensitivity, tact and good communication skills to network properly. It’s about working together, not getting higher, faster, further. The ability to explain your own research content in plain language is vital, too: Formulating issues in a way the person in front of you can understand is critical to good networking.

To build a network you need to build trust by demonstrating continuity and being reliable.

What pitfalls must be avoided?

You shouldn’t be too negative in your approach to others. The ability to formulate things positively is crucial to successful networking. Positivity makes it easier to get through to others.

Another mistake is to be excessively dominant. Networking is all about meeting each other as equals and showing an interest in the other person.

Has networking gained in significance in recent decades?

Definitely, yes. It is also becoming increasingly important – almost obligatory, in fact – in academia. People now think more along collective lines: It’s “we”, not “me”. In the past it was mostly old boys’ clubs that were closed off to outsiders. Their members used to help each other to advance. But today, networks are defined more broadly – and, to some extent, more equitably, because they allow more open access to certain individuals or groups, internationally and across cultural divides.

To what extent do intercultural differences exist in the context of networking?

The rules of etiquette vary according to ethnic background, and you can prepare for that. That said, don’t put yourself under too much pressure: Be authentic, be yourself. A respectful conversation between equals is always a step forward.

Postdoc Career Day: Registration deadline is 19 June 2023

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