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First of all, let me admit something from the beginning; I don't understand exactly what is meant by networking in an academic setting.

I am a new Master's student in a country where I never studied before (Germany). Until now, as an undergrad, I have done several internships, worked within a couple of research groups for some time, attended many seminars & workshops, taken several graduate-level courses. During each of those occasions, I had the opportunity to meet with several academics who could (I guess) help me while I am shaping my career, but I've never tried to communicate with people whom I didn't have to. Sounds quite a bit of lost opportunity, but in my defense, I don't like socially interacting with people whom I don't know and don't comfortable being around.

My first question is that what have I (possibly) lost by not networking?

Secondly, what is meant by "networking" exactly in an academic setting? Just knowing each other exists, or being some kind of friends, or just knowing who is interested in what?

Thirdly, how can a graduate student network in events where most of the people are way older, and academically more senior?


Addendum:

I've just come from my first, proper academic event. It was more for a celebration than a networking event, but still, I've met a lot of people and it was great. There were a lot of people who think in the same way as I do (not necessarily we agreed on everything, just our way of thinking were the same; analytical, based on data, etc.). I think I've made some "academic friends", and there was a lot of interesting discussion on almost everything but above all, it was really fun.

But, all the things were with the people whom I had already known a bit, and I found it a bit hard to join the discussion with the people I hadn't know.

  • What is your choice of career after you get your mentioned degree? Networking depends on your preferences. – tachyon Aug 4 at 7:51
  • @tachyon researcher positions – onurcanbektas Aug 4 at 7:53
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  1. Since you

    have done several internships, worked within a couple of research groups for some time, attended many seminars & workshops, taken several graduate-level courses

    You have probably done a fair amount of networking already. And I'd say likely more than other Master students. You're maybe not as "connected" as someone who introduced themselves at seminars or workshops, but you still know better now what the various speakers are working on. This is a big part of what networking is about.

  2.  Secondly, what is meant by "networking" exactly in an academic setting? Just knowing each other exists, or being some kind of friends, or just knowing who is interested in what?

    Since you indicate you are in Germany, networking is about getting acquainted: knowing each other exists and what their professional interests and topics are. You may also become professional friends (and since you are in Germany, beware of the difference between English friend and German Freund - which is reserved for close friends in English terms)

  3.  how can a graduate student network in events where most of the people are way older, and academically more senior?

    The most effective way is IMHO attending conferences.

    • If you are at a conference on your own (noone else from your group), attach yourself to various other groups that are there in somewhat larger numbers. Easiest IMHO to attach yourself to some fellow students, who are there with also postdocs or their professor around.
    • If you are attending together with more senior people from your group, I'd expect "your" postdocs or professor may introduce you to their acquaintances.

    You can also attend e.g. PhD student seminars. There it should be quite easy to get acquainted with your peers. This is also very relevant and useful networking: a) you can get e.g. information on working conditions in their groups when you'll be looking for a postdoc position later on. b) Like you, they'll "grow up" academically/professionally. In a few years, they'll be your experienced professional peers, PIs and professors that you know already.

    Last but not least, I think it also important to get acquanted also with a group of people outside your field. In Germany, I'd recommend joining some sports club/university sports or a theater group or... depending on what your hobbies are.

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My first question is that what have I (possibly) lost by not networking?

Secondly, what is meant by "networking" exactly in an academic setting? Just knowing each other exists, or being some kind of friends, or just knowing who is interested in what?

These two questions are related, since what you've lost obviously depends on how you define networking.

In my view, networking is simply knowing and maintaining friendly relationships with people in your professional circle. It's nothing magical, it's just professional friendship. Those in your network may also be "social" friends, or they might be people you only ever see (or would ever want to see) in a professional context. Your network are those people who are more likely to take a biased and positive view towards you and your work, and for whom you also maintain a positive view of them and their work.

Thus, what you lose by not networking, is you lose a pool of people who might be willing to work together with you in the future, you lose those who might favorably review your grant application or journal submission, who might be willing to recommend you for a job or let you know about job opportunities in their orbit. On the flip side, you also miss out on having a group of talented people whose abilities and personalities you know and who you could recommend to fill a position in your own group or in your organization.

Thirdly, how can a graduate student network in events where most of the people are way older, and academically more senior?

I would say in this case focus on networking with your peers or close-peers (i.e. other students and postdocs). Networking is usually not about knowing people who are more senior than you, who have a ton more power than you, etc. Those relationships are typically more mentor/mentee, promotor/promotee. Your network are more likely to be made up of your peers. The people who are most likely to be in a position to benefit you in the future are your peers today, precisely because your relationship is not built on a transactional foundation. Those in positions above you in power/seniority are more likely to view things in what you are going to bring to them today/tomorrow, and already know enough people in their peer network that they're not in dire need of making a connection with you. Other answers about giving talks, asking questions and getting face-time with those above you at conferences is a good way to connect with those folks, but I don't think this will necessarily build a long-term network.

In terms of building up a solid peer network as a graduate student, you should start local. Take part in your school's student chapter of your professional society, take part in department events and interact with your group members. Beyond that, attend conferences as your schedule and advisor's budget allow. At conferences and other social events, don't travel just in a "pod" with your own group-mates. Take a chance to sit at a random table and introduce yourself around. If you see a talk from a student that you were really impressed by, tell them so and introduce yourself. You will probably be seeing those same folks at conferences for the next several years, so after the first meeting it will be more natural to grab lunch/dinner/drinks/coffee at future meetings.

Many of these people may not be those you have a strong personal connection with, but some will. For those whose company you enjoy, make an effort to stay connected between conferences and stay current on their career path. If in the future you're in a position to help their career, do so, and trust that they will do the same for you.

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My first question is that what have I (possibly) lost by not networking?

This is a hypothetical question, and we will never know. But, depending on the setup that you've been, you might have lost couple of interesting discussions that could have generated some ideas. Don't dwell on this...

Secondly, what is meant by "networking" exactly in an academic setting? Just knowing each other exists, or being some kind of friends, or just knowing who is interested in what?

Mostly the first and the last, but not the one in the middle. People will keep it professional, you should not expect to become friends with people that you will meet in a networking event.

Thirdly, how can a graduate student network in events where most of the people are way older, and academically more senior?

Targeted networking: in such event you usually know the participants upfront. If any of them are of particular relevance to you, you can easily approach them. If they are relevant, you will already have an idea of the topic to talk about. "The seniors" in academia usually deal with people younger than themselves, i.e., their own students. So, you can expect them to be open to discussions, but you will probably not get their full attention. They are there for networking as well, for their own interest. This should imply that the theme" of the networking event is relevant. If it is meant for the young, i.e., a PhD forum, you will have your opportunity. If it is a lunch break in a top conference, people will stick to their ranks.

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You are confusing between being social and interacting with people in developing professional networks. Professional networks could be strictly career-oriented and collaborative with no personal attachment. Your professor, for example, is in your network and you do not need to socialize with them.

Coming to answering your questions. Why do you care about what happened in the past? Just start networking now. If you can find Linkedin profiles of those people, feel free to connect now with a nice message on LinkedIn. Though, I believe Germany uses some other professional network.

You build an academic network in many scenarios. For example, you discuss someone's work over email or in-person and exchange feedbacks. You can apply for funding together. Look for organizing conferences or some sessions in a conference together. Invite them to your universities for guest lectures and also get invited. Let the PhD students in the groups exchange ideas.

What do you gain from it? You get votes and citations to your work. People who know your work would probably be nicer when they review your paper and vice versa. Without going into many of those things, you can collaborate on interesting ideas and push the boundaries of science and technology faster than you would be able to do it individually.

Focus on these goals and networking will follow suit. Do not put the cart before the horse.

There are people of all ages in most events. And in Europe people are not as hierarchical as in Asia etc. So you can talk to even people who are more senior to you while showing respect. Eventually, it is those people who will give you PhD and Postdoc positions.

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    People who know your work would probably be nicer when they review your paper and vice versa. They shouldn't, though. And under double-blind peer review, they thankfully can't. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jul 29 at 17:56
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    @henning--reinstate Monica Not all conferences are double blind. And even in double blind conferences and in A ranked conferences I have seen cases when papers were sent directly to 'friendly' chairs a day after the deadline. – kosmos Jul 29 at 18:01
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    @kosmos I know. That's true and wrong. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jul 29 at 18:10

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