How well do you know your graduating cohort? The other week I was asked to deliver a talk about using social media to help translate research into practice. The invite came from a Monash University alumna, who also happens to be a family member. In the audience were other Monash University alumna who were also part of my undergraduate cohort. At the same day and time (different location) a colleague I did my PhD with was delivering a similar talk to a different group of researchers.
My point – knowing the people you studied with will be important to your future work life. They will be your peers, your staff, and your managers. Get to know them now.
No matter where you look or what field you are in, it is pretty clear that PhD graduates will end up doing work outside academia. In Australia, 50% will look elsewhere for work immediately upon graduation. That’s a large number. There are more than 60,000 students enrolled in a PhD in Australia. So, there’s going to be 30,000 people looking for non-academic work over the next 3-7 years (depending on how long their PhD takes).
That’s a lot of people! And the job search could get very competitive. And sometimes it seems that way and sometimes not.
But this is a blog about networking – not about competing for jobs.
If we take the 60,000 enrolled students and divide by 7 – average years taken for a PhD, we get just under 9,000 students.
If we divide by 3 years – the ideal duration of a PhD – we get 20,000 students.
So that means there are 6,000 – 20,000 students who entered the workforce the year before you. And the same number again (roughly) the year before. And the year before that. And the year before that. I’m sure you get my drift.
Want to grow your network? Start by
getting to know the people doing research
in your department, school, and faculty.
Of course, you cannot hope to know them all (I wish I did!). But you could hope to know the students in the year you enrolled within your department or school. If we take that number (6,000) and divide by 40 (the approximate number of universities in Australia) we get 150. Therefore, 150 people graduate a PhD per university per year in Australia (roughly).
In fact, I reckon knowing your PhD cohort is a must – not necessarily on a personal or deep level. But well enough that you could approach them about work, and work-related activities
Beyond this group there are the people who started their PhD before you. The ones who were in second, third, and fourth year (and beyond) when you joined. Again, knowing them is important, too. As well as the people who start their PhD when you are in second, third, and fourth year (and beyond).
These people – the ones just in front of you – are the ones that can help get you your first job. They’re the ones who know what hiring mangers want. What they need. And what the process involves. They’ve just been through it. And, if you’re lucky they might be the hiring manager interviewing you. The cohort following you are the ones you will need to connect with. They will be the people you hire.
Then, of course, there’s all the PhD graduates your supervisor has ever supervised. Asking for an introduction is central to growing your network. And, you’ll have your supervisor in common – a nice little ice breaker.
So, back to my question – are you really networking? Do you know the people in your year? The people you are working with? The people you have worked with? If not, get to know them. Join the student group. Participate in department mixers. Connect with their accounts on social media. Introduce yourself when you find yourself next to a stranger at a departmental seminar. Present your work to the school faculty. Show up to your work or office on a regular basis (even if it is not mandatory for your group or PhD).
Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.
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