IndiaBiospeaks Crafting your Career

Crafting Your Career (CYC) | 17 The Science and Art of Networking

Lakshmi Ganesan

In this episode, Lakshmi, Shreya and Smita talk about a very important survival skill in one’s career progression — professional networking. Find out from this podcast: (1) What is professional networking? (2) What unique advantages does it provide? (3) What are networks made up of? (4) What are the different types of networks? (5) How can you study into your own network and diagnose any common pitfalls? (6) Is networking a natural skill or is it cultivable? What (baby steps) can you take to build, expand and actively manage your network?


Transcript with Timestamps


Lakshmi Ganesan 0:01

You’re listening to IndiaBiospeaks, your one-stop resource for science news and careers

Hello and welcome to our episode on Crafting your Career. In today’s episode we shall talk about a very important survival skill in one’s career progression. Most of us shy away from it. We hope to make a case today that networking is both cultivable, and can actually be fun. Joining me again today are Smita and Shreya. Welcome back

Smita Jain 0:37

Hello, Lakshmi.

Shreya Ghosh 0:38

Hi Lakshmi.

Lakshmi Ganesan 0:40

Listeners, before we begin, I would like to point all of you to an excellent article on How to Build your Network” by Brian Uzzi and Shanon Dunlap. Much of our discussion today will be broadly based on some of the networking principles that they talk about…You may find a link to that in the description section of this podcast for further reading.

Shreya, I would like to begin with you, since you often call yourself a natural introvert’, so what does professional networking mean to you?

Shreya Ghosh 1:08

That’s true, Lakshmi.

The thing to remember about professional networking is that it is a deliberate activity. And it not only helps us build professional relationships, but also reinforce and maintain these relationships and to ensure that they are diverse and based on trust and good will.

Lakshmi Ganesan 1:31

That’s very nicely defined, Shreya. Many of us here might be introverts, we might wonder why we need to network at all, since we are pretty skilled otherwise? So Smita, you are quite savvy at networking, maybe you can tell us why we absolutely must invest in this life-skill?

Smita Jain 1:50

Well, Lakshmi. It’s simple really. You see, in this day and age where public information is rampant, it is very easy to be misinformed. The information overload makes it still harder to distill what is truly useful. There is an advantage when one can gain access to relevant and reliable private information and this can be obtained only through networking. Of course, the value of such private information depends on how much trust exists in the relationship. Private information may include, say, knowledge about what a particular interviewer looks for in a candidate, a position whose opening is not in the public domain, and so on. These can offer competitive advantages to one over others that just rely on public information, which is practically available to all in this age of the internet. Also, with access to a wide network, your own reach for different activities becomes much easier.

Shreya Ghosh 3:04

I completely agree, Smita. And in addition to trust, I also believe that when we build a network focusing on diversity, i.e. including people from different backgrounds, cultures, skills, and even personality types — this can open us up to fresh perspectives and hone our creativity. It can help us broaden our views, our skills, and make us well-rounded professionals overall.

Smita Jain 3:33

I also think that your network can be empowering. Knowing the right people at the right time or having the right mentors can enable you to get the right opportunities and rise up to your utmost potential.

Shreya Ghosh 3:48

Also, it can open us up to more opportunities to collaborate with individuals with complementary ideas and expertise.

Lakshmi Ganesan 3:56

True that.

So listeners, now that we know some of the benefits of having a wide network, let us get started first by de-mystifying networking, by breaking down the elements of a network and briefly discuss the science of networking . So the central point of your network, is of course you. You, yourself and each of your contacts would be called a node’ in networking terms.

Shreya Ghosh 4:33

Exactly. And whenever you interact with any other human being, let’s say through a conversation or dialogue or any other exchange, you make a connection. A group of connected individuals form a clique or a cluster.

Your network will have several such clusters or cliques. And there might be people who belong to multiple clusters and in fact they may be the common link through which you connected to these clusters in the first place.

For example, let’s say a colleague at work introduced you to a yoga class or a book club. This person is a member of both your work’ and yoga’ clusters. Now this colleague is what we call an informational broker.

Lakshmi Ganesan 5:20

Some of these informational brokers, are extraordinarily evolved networkers and connect several diverse” clusters and are usually very willing to share their contacts, we call these people super-connectors”

Smita Jain 5:34

So Lakshmi and Shreya, while this is very good and useful to know, I think it is equally important to think about how one can apply this knowledge.

Lakshmi Ganesan 5:44

Absolutely, Smita. Now, if you are a networking novice, it would be useful to study your own network and identify if you have such informational brokers and superconnectors as part of your network. This can be a really good place to begin your journey in smart networking.

Shreya Ghosh 6:03

Lakshmi, that is a great idea. Another thing to keep in mind is the evolving nature of organisational structures. Earlier, most organisations used to have a pyramidal or hierarchical structure where power resided traditionally in the hands of the top executives. If you wanted to visualise this, it would look something like an upside down samosa. But nowadays, organisations are getting flatter, like pancakes or chapatis. With these flatter systems, power is more distributed and it tends to concentrate with informational brokers. Because these people have the remarkable ability to synthesize different points of view by connecting with diverse groups of people.

Smita Jain 6:55

Now there are also 2 types of networks, open networks and closed networks, while open networks are rich in diversity, closed networks are formed between trusted groups of like-minded individuals. Can you take a moment to think for yourselves if you are part of some open and closed networks…?

Shreya Ghosh 7:15

Hmmm. Now your family may be a closed network, or maybe there’s a group of friends from school with whom you can share almost anything — that would also be a closed network.

Lakshmi Ganesan 7:29

Yeah, open networks are connections that I make say at a conference or a workshop, where I don’t particularly form deep bonds right away, but I could make quick friends with people from across locations, disciplines etc..

Smita Jain 7:45

Yes, that’s right​.In most successful teams, you would find trust and diversity built into their framework. Trust exists within the team’s structure, making it internally closed. At the same time, each team member is able to bring in their unique perspectives, skills and resources from their individual networks, making it externally open.

Lakshmi Ganesan 8:08

That’s a great way to think about it, Smita. Now that we are a little more aware of the nature of networks, we should also spend some time to talk about some common pitfalls in networking

Smita Jain 8:30

Absolutely, Lakshmi.

Well one very common tendency that we all have is to associate based on similarities. Afterall, like attracts like. When left to network, we naturally tend to connect with those that have much in common. There is another one, we tend to connect with some people by default, this could be our office groups and cliques, due to our day to day interactions and proximity. This can also be limiting in some sense…

Lakshmi Ganesan 9:03

Not to say we should not be friendly with like-minded humans or our colleagues, but if we limit ourselves to just these interactions, based on similarity and proximity, then our networks become more and more in-bred.

Shreya Ghosh 9:20

I know. The danger is that such a network can seem very comfortable, as one’s opinions and beliefs are echoed by others in the network. But in the long term, this can be very limiting as this will not allow new perspectives, constructive feedback, or new ideas to come in. This will eventually catch up and greatly undercut the network’s diversity and creative potential.

Smita Jain 9:48

So maybe after hearing all this, you could take a pause, even take a pen and paper and make a list of your connections, and draw out your network to help you get a better idea and reflect on these questions

How big or small is my network?

How many trusted contacts do I have?

How much diversity do I have within my network?

Am I getting trapped into any of the common pitfalls of networking just based on similarity or proximity?

Who are the informational brokers?

Are there any super connectors in my network?

Shreya Ghosh 10:27

Yes, Smita, this is a very useful exercise. Listeners, in the description section of this podcast, you will find a worksheet based off of the Uzzi and Dunlap article, to get you started on this exercise. You can download the PDF of this worksheet and work through it at your leisure.

Lakshmi Ganesan 10:55

Now that we have gained a better understanding of our own networks, we would now like to propose a two-pronged approach to networking and that is to (1) Build and Expand, and (2) Actively Manage.

Besides networking based on proximity, and similarity, which are in-built tendencies, one great way to put ourselves out there’ is by deliberately participating in what we call as shared / group activities.

Shreya Ghosh 11:28

Yes, Lakshmi. These can be activities that can bring together individuals of diverse backgrounds based on one common interest. For example team sports, voluntary activities, hobbies, or even workshops and conferences.

By bringing together people from diverse backgrounds they provide access to diverse skill sets. They immediately provide access to a large number of networks by connecting different clusters. Basically, they help you expand your network while also incorporating diversity.

Lakshmi Ganesan 12:04

Yes, absolutely. I love voluntary activities and while volunteering for a non-profit organisation, I came across people who were software engineers, marketing professionals, teachers, found several mentors and so on. I learnt so many skills, from gardening, to organising events, to building websites, which in fact, even landed me my current job.

Shreya Ghosh 12:35

While it is very important to build and expand, most of us can ignore this part, which is equally, if not more essential — to maintain relationships’.

Smita Jain 12:49

Oftentimes, very simple things can go a long way. A simple follow-up with a thank you note, connecting with them on LinkedIn, when you first meet / get to know someone are a few very effective habits to cultivate.

Shreya Ghosh 13:04

Yes, Smita, and when you know people a little better you may invest in keeping in touch, which is a great habit too. Remembering to send a season’s greeting or a birthday wish can make a world of a difference in keeping such relationships, even long distance ones intact.

Lakshmi Ganesan 13:26

Yes, Shreya. In fact I have a high-school friend Aishwarya, who has so far never forgotten to wish me even once for my birthday. Just for this one reason, she is a friend for life, and I make it a point to wish her on hers, and she in fact inspired me to make a note of all those who matter to me, my friends, my mentors, my trusted colleagues and express my gratitude to them at least once in a while, by sending them a birthday wish, or a Diwali, Christmas or a New Years wish. Hearing back from each of them on such occasions is always such a pleasure and very uplifting!

Shreya Ghosh 14:06

That’s wonderful, Lakshmi. I also try to make it a point to drop a couple of lines saying thank you’ whenever I find that I have benefitted from any past interaction, even if it’s in a small way. e.g. when I have had a chance to apply something I have learned from someone in my network, or if I have had a good experience with someone they connected me with, even if it was a very long time ago.

Smita Jain 14:33

These sound great.

Any new person I get to meet either in person or over virtual interactions, I connect with them on LinkedIn with a note. Also, I send out greetings on festivals, and other special occasions to my network.

Lakshmi Ganesan 15:01

Another great way is when you meet someone that is intellectually stimulating, is to start a professional relationship and sustain it is by actually collaborating and starting a project together.

I remember meeting like-minded professionals Aditya and Chagun. We exchanged thoughts and ideas around creating a community of science policy enthusiasts. We started the science policy forum, which is now an agency for public consultations for the national science and technology innovation policy 2020. So that was an example of a fruitful collaboration of like-minded individuals born through networking.

Shreya Ghosh 15:38

That’s really nice. Lakshmi. Recently, we published an investigative article on our website, on mental health support systems in academia. And this was the result of a three-way collaboration between me, Debdutta, a scientist-turned-science journalist, who was actually my junior at TIFR, where I did my PhD, and Annapoorna, who turned out to be a mutual acquaintance of both Debdutta and myself. And it turned out we had this common passion, which we turned into this project.

Smita Jain 16:13

Great. Ability to expand and maintain networks has always helped in opening of multiple and diverse kinds of opportunities; collaboration with YIM organizers to organize Regional YIMs, ease of reaching out to diverse set of speakers for our events, or involvement in projects of national importance eg COVIDGyan, STIP2020 etc.

Shreya Ghosh 16:52

Listeners, you will find another worksheet in the description section of this podcast, to write down steps that you can take to build, expand and maintain your network. Just remember, baby steps are perfectly fine to begin with, just set aside maybe fifteen minutes on a weekly basis, to work on your network.

Smita Jain 17:15

Very true, Shreya. You will also find several useful resources for reading and some great podcasts to listen to in the description section of this podcast as well.

Lakshmi Ganesan 17:29

So listeners, that was some of our learnings and experiences and we would love to hear and learn more from you. Write to us, share your thoughts, your stories and your ideas, and do subscribe to our season for more such conversations only on Crafting your Career in Science.

If you are passionate about scientific research, communication, outreach and science education, as we are, please connect and engage with us. Here are some ways you can do so:

Shreya Ghosh 18:01

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Manoj Rangan 18:07

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Shreya Ghosh 18:09

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Manoj Rangan 18:17

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Shreya Ghosh 18:22

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Manoj Rangan 18:24

Until next time, enjoy your science and stay engaged to enable change

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Program Manager, Digital Initiatives