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Sustainable Networking for Scientists and Engineers
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Book Description

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Sustainability applied to networking is about treating professional support and assistance like a resource, and creating more of it than you take. Written for an international STEM audience, Sustainable Networking for Scientists and Engineers discusses how to create success and mutually beneficial professional relationships. This book addresses networking and careers in a holistic sense, considering subjects such as self-awareness, empathy, communication and conversational skills, and how to interact with the diverse people who form our global STEM community. It also addresses how to network in your hometown or office, at conferences, online, and how to find new employment. Exercises at the end of each chapter are designed to help readers apply what they have learned and create a sustainable networking strategy that is unique to their strengths and abilities.

"There are many bad ideas that circulate about networking. If you see networking as sleazy and transactional, this book will change your perspective. Sustainable Networking for Scientists and Engineers isn't just about giving you 'tips and tricks' to get quick wins when you need it, it's about developing networking as a core strength in your life and career."
David Giltner, TurningScience


Book Details

Date Published: 20 January 2020
Pages: 242
ISBN: 9781510629837
Volume: PM309

Table of Contents
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Chapter 1 Sustainable Networking, and Why You Should Do It
1.1 Sustainable Networking and Helping Others
1.2 What Is a Network, and What Makes It Function Well?
1.3 Motivations and Benefits
1.4 Communication, STEM, and Networking
1.5 The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Chapter 2 Networking and Strategy
2.1 Strategy Is Built on Goals
2.2 Networking Strategically
     2.2.1 Following up
     2.2.2 Personal branding
2.3 Kindness Is Imperative
2.4 Care and Maintenance of Your Network
2.5 Expanding Your Network
     2.5.1 Intentional relationship cultivation
     2.5.2 Other ways to actively expand your network
     2.5.3 Passive network expansion
2.6 Planning versus Serendipity

Chapter 3 Self-Awareness, Social Anxiety, and Communication
3.1 Knowing the Terrain
3.2 Fear, Rejection, and Anxiety
3.3 Introversion and Extraversion
     3.3.1 Sensitivity
3.4 Empathy, Self-Awareness, and Communication
     3.4.1 Improvisation
3.5 The Golden and Platinum Rules
3.6 Authenticity

Chapter 4 Conversational Principles
4.1 The Importance of Conversational Skills
4.2 The Qualities of a Good Conversation(alist)
4.3 Conversational Style
4.4 A Loose Guide to Conversational Etiquette
     4.4.1 Eye contact
     4.4.2 Physical contact
     4.4.3 How you speak
     4.4.4 Content, or what you say
     4.4.5 People you find boring
     4.4.6 Being a guest
     4.4.7 A special note regarding graduate students
     4.4.8 Cell phones
     4.4.9 Name tags and business cards
4.5 Grooming and Attire
4.6 Common Conversational Pitfalls
     4.6.1 Interrupting
     4.6.2 Being negative
     4.6.3 Being invasive
     4.6.4 Becoming offended
     4.6.5 How to address mistakes
4.7 Patience, Forgiveness, and Judgment

Chapter 5 Conversational Skills and Applications
5.1 From Theory to Practice
5.2 Starting a Conversation
     5.2.1 Before you speak
     5.2.2 Introducing yourself
     5.2.3 Being introduced
     5.2.4 The elevator pitch
     5.2.5 Introducing others
5.3 Names and Address
5.4 Maintaining a Conversation
5.5 Entering an Existing Conversation
5.6 Making a Graceful Exit
     5.6.1 Helping others make an exit
5.7 Language and Conversation
     5.7.1 Speaking in not-your-native language
     5.7.2 Speaking with a non-native speaker
     5.7.3 Both at once: two non-native speakers conversing
     5.7.4 Translation apps
5.8 Disagreements and Bad Behavior
5.9 Improving Your Skills

Chapter 6 The Strength and Challenge of Diversity
6.1 Why Diversity Can Be Hard, or Your Brain Is Lazy
6.2 The Importance of Diversity
6.3 Cultural Differences
     6.3.1 Taboos
     6.3.2 A brief note on American culture
6.4 Women, STEM, and Networking
6.5 The Negative Effects of Stereotypes
6.6 Diversity and Sensitivity
     6.6.1 Appearance
     6.6.2 Age
     6.6.3 Religion
     6.6.4 Politics
     6.6.5 Sexual orientation
     6.6.6 Gender
     6.6.7 Disabilities
     6.6.8 Industry, academia, and government
     6.6.9 Wealth and socioeconomic status
6.7 The Culture of Science and Engineering

Chapter 7 Networking Activities for Anywhere
7.1 Networking Opportunities Abound
7.2 Volunteering
7.3 Meetings with Colleagues
7.4 Mentors and Mentees
7.5 Applying for Awards and Scholarships
7.6 Writing
7.7 Public Speaking
7.8 Sharing STEM with Non-specialists
7.9 Organizing and Hosting
7.10 Community Building
7.11 Accidental Encounters
7.12 Following Up

Chapter 8 Networking Locally
8.1 In Your Own Backyard
8.2 Your Workplace
     8.2.1 For remote workers and telecommuters
8.3 Professional Organizations
8.4 Local Alumni Clubs and Chapters
8.5 Science Museums and Other STEM Events
8.6 Local Science Fairs
8.7 Public Libraries and Community Centers
8.8 Festivals, Expos, and Trade Shows
8.9 Advocacy
8.10 Entrepreneurial Groups and Industry Clusters
8.11 Philanthropic Organizations
8.12 Maker, Hobbyist, and Social Groups

Chapter 9 Networking at Conferences
9.1 The World of Networking in a Nutshell
9.2 The Importance of Advance Planning
     9.2.1 Planning and self-care
     9.2.2 Conference content: what you attend
     9.2.3 Business cards
     9.2.4 Food, coffee, and advance scouting
9.3 Presentations as Networking Opportunities
9.4 Courses and Workshops
9.5 Receptions
     9.5.1 Cocktail-style events
     9.5.2 Meal-based events
     9.5.3 After-parties and other informal gatherings
     9.5.4 Special notes on alcohol and juggling food
9.6 The Exhibition
     9.6.1 Exhibiting, or working a booth
     9.6.2 Attending an exhibition
     9.6.3 Visiting a booth
     9.6.4 Attendees meeting other attendees
9.7 Meeting Famous or Important People
9.8 Other Opportunities for Sustainable Conference Networking
     9.8.1 Get to know the conference staff
     9.8.2 Volunteering
     9.8.3 Coffee breaks
     9.8.4 Personal meetings
     9.8.5 Poster sessions
9.9 Generating Serendipity
9.10 Following Up

Chapter 10 How to Network Digitally and Online
10.1 The Power of Digital and Online Networking
10.2 Following Up with In-Person Contacts
     10.2.1 A special note on bad first impressions
10.3 Maintaining Existing Contacts
10.4 Creating New Contacts Online
     10.5.1 Introducing yourself
     10.5.2 Being introduced
     10.5.3 Generating content as networking
10.5 Informational Interviews
10.6 Making Introductions for Others
10.7 The Divide between Professional and Personal (or Not)
     10.7.1 Privacy and permissions
10.8 Creating Your Online and Social Media Plan
     10.8.1 Profile design
     10.8.2 Digital networking and efficiency

Chapter 11 Networking Platforms
11.1 Know the Playing Field
11.2 Suggestions for Basic Etiquette and Use
11.3 Platforms
     11.3.1 Phone and video calls
     11.3.2 Email
     11.3.3 SMS and texting
     11.3.4 LinkedIn
     11.3.5 ResearchGate
     11.3.6 Facebook
     11.3.7 Twitter
     11.3.8 Google Scholar Citations
     11.3.9 Mendeley
     11.3.10 Forums
     11.3.11 Membership and alumni directories
     11.3.12 Personal websites and blogs
     11.3.13 Other platforms
11.4 Search Engine Optimization
11.5 A Special Note on Physical Mail

Chapter 12 Networking the Job Hunt
12.1 Don't Wait to Start
12.2 Planning the Change
12.3 When Change Is Thrust Upon You
12.4 Recruiters
12.5 How to Ask for Help from Existing Contacts
12.6 The Cold Email
12.7 Correspondence and Interviews
12.8 Helping Others


Appendix: Suggested Reading


The goal of this book is to help you understand what networking is and how to do it sustainably with a method and strategy that is right for you. It is intended to help you raise your self-awareness and communication skills, address relevant anxieties that you may have, and give you the tools and strategies to apply networking in your life and career, for your own success and the success of your network. It is part philosophy, part strategy, and part application.

But why should you listen to anything I have to say? What makes me, the author, an authority on the subject of networking? And what prompted me to write this book?

I've done a lot of successful networking, a lot of research on the subject, and I've got a message that I think is worth sharing. As a scientist, I believe in a databased approach, and so while my personal experiences have greatly shaped the content of this book, as much as possible I offer you, my reader, the supporting research and references to back up the statements made herein. This preface is also the only portion of this book written in first person; any personal anecdotes elsewhere are separated from the main text.

What follows here is my story and how this book came to be. It is a story heavily influenced by networking, and it illustrates some of the principles that are discussed in this book. It will give you some useful context about me and the perspective with which I have written this book. However, if you are not one for anecdote (and as a scientist, I would hardly fault you for it), then I suggest looking over the list of lessons learned at the end of this section before moving on to Chapter 1.

My personal story and the origins of this book begin when I was a junior studying physics at Wellesley College in the fall of 2004. One of my professors advised me to apply for a summer internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, MD. I took his advice and applied, and was accepted into the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF).1 This was one of my first major networking lessons: When a teacher or trusted advisor suggests you apply for something, be it an internship, a grant, or an award - do it.

As a SURFer, I spent the summer of 2005 living and working in Gaithersburg. While I was there, Dr. Katharine Gebbie,2 who was then the director of the Physical Measurement Laboratory, gave a presentation welcoming the summer students, and she encouraged us to make an appointment to meet with her. While I didn’t know much about networking at the time, I did know that (a) an important person was offering to make time for me and that I should probably take advantage of the opportunity, and (b) I needed to come prepared to the appointment with something to say. I knew that I shouldn’t just show up to say, "Hi! You said to come say 'hi.'" So I set up an appointment, and I prepared a question.

My question related to my plans after graduation. I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school but also that I wanted to do something else first. Something like traveling. When the time came to meet with Dr. Gebbie, I asked her what I should do if I wanted to travel and eventually go to graduate school. She gave me a great piece of advice: she told me that I should work abroad, because traveling without working would make it too hard for me to return to school.

Then she asked me if I knew anything about Japan. I admitted that I didn’t really know anything, except that sushi was my favorite food and I knew how to use chopsticks. But I said that I would love to learn more.

From there, Dr. Gebbie referred me to another NIST scientist who had connections with the Japanese standards institute, the National Metrological Institute of Japan, part of the Advanced Institute for Standards and Technology. I met with him, and he passed my resume along to his contact in Japan, which lead to an interview later that fall and, ultimately, to me spending a year living and working in Japan after graduating from Wellesley. That was my next big networking lesson: when someone important, established, or advanced in their career offers you some of their time, accept the offer. I never could have envisioned the outcome, but I never would have achieved that outcome without making the appointment.

Accepting that job offer was one of the more terrifying things I have ever done, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I got to learn a lot about physics, optics, and electronics. I made friends with my Japanese colleagues, as well as other researchers living in my apartment building. And I learned a lot about Japan - way more than just how to use chopsticks! This was another important networking lesson: some opportunities that offer a lot of growth and learning can also be very scary, and I would have missed a lot of life-changing experiences if I had let fear stop me.

If I hadn't taken my professor's advice and applied for the internship, I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet Dr. Gebbie. And without accepting her offer and setting up a meeting, I never could have asked her my question, and she never would have introduced me to her contact. None of the subsequent networking that led to an interview and a job offer would have happened either. And by accepting that job offer, I did something that pushed me far outside of my comfort zone and fundamentally changed me as a person and a scientist, in ways that have been very valuable to me. This is part of why networking is so powerful; it will give you access to career and life opportunities that you may not have known existed.

While I was in Japan, I applied for graduate school, and when my year was over, I matriculated at the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL), the College of Optics and Photonics, at the University of Central Florida. While at CREOL, I got involved in several student organizations, including student chapters for professional societies such as OSA and SPIE. I became the treasurer of the SPIE student chapter, and organized optics outreach and professional development events.

Then I made a mistake. Really, it was the entire Executive Board of the chapter that made a collective mistake. We were all senior graduate students, busy with research and dissertation work. After a year of solid chapter programming, we failed to hold an election for a new Executive Board. Then we ceased activities all together. I felt awful about it, and avoidant, and for almost a whole year I procrastinated. But as the time for a new election rolled around, I decided that something had to be done.

I took action and got in touch with the SPIE staff person in charge of Student Chapter relations at the time, Dirk Fabian. Fearing admonishment, I sent him an email, explaining, apologizing, and asking how to fix things. But instead of chastising me, Dirk was very understanding and helped me make the arrangements necessary to get our chapter back in good standing and hold the election (which we did, happily passing the torch to new leadership).

Dirk and I stayed in touch, and later when I needed additional support for conference travel, he helped me find volunteering opportunities. This was another important networking lesson: by staying in touch with a new connection and establishing a mutual understanding of needs (I needed funding to attend a conference; Dirk needed volunteers for the conference), we were able to create a mutually beneficial networking relationship. This is the heart of sustainable networking.

It was also how I discovered that I loved volunteering and organizing, and so I kept looking for more opportunities. I found that the more I volunteered, the more volunteering opportunities became available to me. I call this phenomenon Opportunity Momentum: the more you participate in an activity, the more skills you build and the more people will associate you with that activity, which results in more opportunities to do that activity. As I gained Opportunity Momentum by volunteering with SPIE, my roles expanded to include conference media coverage, panel moderation, and facilitating at the Student Chapter Leadership Workshop, which then led to sitting on panels, judging the Optics Outreach Games, and serving on several SPIE governing committees. Then something amazing happened: I was put on the ballot and elected to the SPIE Board of Directors! As I write this book, my term as a Director is coming to a close. It has been an immense honor to serve SPIE in this manner, and I have learned so much.

Which brings us to the book.

I won't say "never," because I am a physicist, but I will say that the probability of me deciding, on my own, to write this book was negligible. Which rounds down very easily to "never." So I was surprised when I received a message from an SPIE staff member, asking if I would be interested in writing a networking book for scientists and engineers. This person knew that I enjoy writing, and about my volunteer work with SPIE, and thought that I might be interested. In considering that idea, I saw that I would not have gotten to where I was without a lot of networking and that I (probably) would never have received that message. This was another valuable lesson: if I hadn’t shared my passion for writing with this person, they probably wouldn't have thought of it either. Sharing about my work and interests had brought me a wonderful opportunity without even asking for it.

I also know how hard-earned some of my basic networking skills are, such as social interaction and conversation. They are a huge part of networking, and I used to be terrible at them. Really terrible. It resulted in a lot of social rejection during my childhood, and I still regularly battle social anxiety relating to the acceptance or rejection of my peers. Learning how to cope with that anxiety has been a big part of my networking strategy, especially at conferences, where the socializing can reach a frenetic pace. But over the years I have learned a valuable networking lesson: I am not alone when it comes to social anxiety. Many people have it, and there are many strategies that I can use to mitigate its effects.

Growing up, I remained a socially awkward, nerdy kid, but I gradually got better at socializing and making friends. As my self-awareness developed, I began to realize something else: I was pretty terrible at making conversation. I saw that I was missing out on getting to know other people, because I spent so much time talking that I never got to listen to what they had to say.

So what does a nerdy, twenty-one-year-old physicist do when she realizes that something needs to be fixed? Study it. Do research. Experiment. I got on the internet and looked up how to be a good conversationalist. I found articles and forums, and took notes. I read books, such as Emotional Intelligence and The Art of Civilized Conversation, making highlights and writing in the margins. It opened up a new world to me. I practiced the principles I learned and slowly got better at being a good conversational partner, asking questions, and sharing the spotlight. This was another valuable networking lesson for me: social skills are trainable, like any other skill, and I can change myself through practice and concerted effort. I've told you this story about myself to give you some context about who I am and why I wrote this book. My story illustrates some important lessons about networking that are discussed in this book:

  • When a trusted advisor or mentor suggests you apply for a fellowship or award, do it (see Section 7.4 on mentoring relationships and Section 7.5 on applying for awards and scholarships).
  • If someone talented or important offers to give you some of their time, take the opportunity and ask questions (see Section 7.12 on following up and Section 8.2 on networking in your workplace).
  • Opportunities that offer a lot of growth and learning can also be very scary, but don't let fear stop you from taking advantage of them (see Section 3.2).
  • Staying in touch and establishing a mutual understanding of needs is key to effective and sustainable networking (see Chapter 1).
  • Volunteering is one of the best things you can do for your network and your career, and it is a path to leadership (see Section 7.2).
  • The more you do of something, such as volunteering or working on a specific topic, the more of that something you will get - something I call Opportunity Momentum (see Section 2.2).
  • Sharing your work and interests with your network connections will bring opportunities to you without you asking (see Section 1.2).
  • Social anxiety is a common problem that you can develop positive strategies to address (see Section 3.4).
  • Networking, conversation, and self-awareness are learned skills, and they can be improved with study and practice (see Section 3.4 and Chapters 4 and 5 for ways to improve your self-awareness and conversational skills).
  • A diverse network that includes people outside your subfield can lead to opportunities you couldn’t have imagined - such as writing a book (see Chapter 6).

In addition to my own experience, I have done a lot of research to prepare this book so that you don't have to simply take my word on it. References are listed at the end of each chapter. The appendix contains suggestions for further reading. I wish you all the best in your endeavors, and I hope you enjoy the book.

Christina C. C. Willis
August 2019

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