I am in my first year of my master's degree in Europe, and within a year or so I'll have to be sending out applications for a PhD (always in Europe), for which I need 2 to 3 recommendation letters. This is a huge issue for me because I pretty much don't know anyone inside academia.
Recommendation letters should be written from people inside academia who know you, which I suppose means they worked with you on something. The only person I worked with was my bachelor's thesis advisor, but I changed institution for my master's degree so I'm not in contact with him anymore. I also need to complete a thesis (equivalent to a semester of full work) for my master's degree, so I will have another thesis advisor eventually, but by the time I can start working on my thesis I will already have to be sending out PhD applications. Is it possible to work with academics in other ways than writing a thesis? Or is it otherwise possible to have an academic know you to the point of being able of writing a reference letter, without necessarily having worked with you?
Anyway this is not just a matter of recommendation letters. I think that having people in academia know and recognize me would give me better chances in getting admitted to a good PhD program. Moreover, it's nice to have someone to ask for advice when you need it.
I think for people who are already into their PhD it's easier, since at least you're put inside a research group and have your own advisor. But as a master's degree student I don't feel like I have many opportunities to establish contact with academics.