Working your Net..

I keep hearing that networking is the key to job security post-PhD.  When you’ve just started a PhD that’s a pretty daunting thing to hear as you know so few people and not that much in the grand scheme of things. I know I’m thinking ‘how you can talk to anyone about this huge topic that you know relatively little about but come across as knowledgeable enough to be interesting’.  What I found in Bangladesh when I attended the ESPA[1] Delta project workshop in Dhaka last week was a nation full of extremely generous academicians and workers who love to share their knowledge with anyone who wants to listen, and I was enraptured. It made networking incredibly easy, once I got past the “hi, it’s me who’s been cyber-stalking, oops sorry, emailing you at consistent intervals for the last few months” part.  The fact I was carrying around their papers and theses made some of them almost blush with pleasure; although I felt like a geek fanatic!

When you attend the right conference on the proverbial arm of your supervisor, who is from one of the lead partners of the conference, it’s a bit like a major sports organisation sponsoring an unknown. Doors open out of pure curiosity and not know knowing any better you kind of just stumble through them.  I was lucky that Southampton is the lead partner of the Project and there were plenty of meetings that I could tag along to. You still have to make an effort to meet the people that you haven’t had access to before but can be your best network, especially if your field site is abroad.  The postgraduate students.  This has been my biggest networking success so far, as I’ve begun to establish a few friendships with people who also work and/or study in the various organisations that are important to my work.

My mission for this workshop wasn’t actually networking, it was data collection.  There were a few organisations headquartered in Dhaka holding important data but they were hesitating in releasing it to me.  In hindsight, the five months of prior emails did help towards getting the data as I and my research had been vetted.  I left time to have my own meetings and learn the exciting traffic jammed route between my accommodation and a certain office to collect more data. Four trips to one office over 10 days for 197 megabytes of valuable data is nothing in the grand scheme of things really.  Especially after you’ve flown 5000 miles in the first place.

When the Director of a national data organisation asked me what he would gain from giving me his data I realised I was actually on the Apprentice and I was going to have to negotiate.  In fact all along the way you’re negotiating, selling yourself as being good enough to be helped or given the information for a worthwhile enough cause and being charged as much as you can afford.  I’m not just talking financially either because my negotiations ended in my presentation to the junior staff of an organisation on how I came to choose a PhD, my objectives and methodologies.  Oh and the director is completely opposed to part of my research.  So I felt sick for days beforehand, also as the organisation is full of the experts on various aspects of my research.  I later found out that getting that data from that organisation without huge financial pain is a miracle.  I think that my miracle was my network.

[1] Ecosystems and Poverty Alleviation



  1. eleanortighe · · Reply

    Nice one Tawia, networking at conferences is something I always find difficult, how to engage and talk to people when everyone always has half an eye on the conference and the other half the eye on the next more important person that they want to talk to!!. I like your style and nice tips ‘)

  2. […] also provided a great setting for more informal discussions with colleagues and a great stage to network. However, by the end of the night the flotilla of paper airplanes crossing the Trent Bridge […]

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