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How to Network in Graduate School: Making Connections Beyond the Classroom

For students in graduate school, now is the time to start establishing connections that will help you further your career throughout your professional life. Our guide gives you the tools to expand your circle confidently.

Author: Blake Huggins

Editor: Staff Editor

Five young adults of diverse ethnicities sitting on a yellow couch, engaging in a lively discussion with a laptop and a notebook. two men and three women are smiling and dressed casually.

Maybe you’ve heard the adage, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” With so many professional connections developed through networking, that advice remains relevant. Meeting other professionals in your field plays a big role in launching your career after grad school, so there’s every reason to start networking early. If done well, those contacts will have lifelong effects on your career.

Networking isn’t magic, but it does require time, effort, and a solid set of best practices. That might seem intimidating, and you might be unsure about how to get started.

Our guide to grad school networking lays out the essential skills you need to build connections with confidence. It delves into networking opportunities available to graduate students, details where to look for new contacts, and offers expert advice from a networking professional. Read on to start building connections and expanding your circle today.

Networking is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. Unsure where you should start? Use the best practices below to establish valuable connections and expand your professional circles even before you complete your studies. Many of these tips will help with your job hunt once you finish your studies as well.

Expert Advice from a Networking Professional

Colleen Stevenson

Colleen Stevenson (she/her) is a PhD student who has worked and taught at the college level for many years. She is also a post-secondary transition coach and founder of Choose Your University, where she helps students plan their post-secondary pathways and become career-ready.

Q. What advice can you offer master’s students who may be intimidated by networking or unsure about how to do it successfully?

A: Like many people, I find the term “networking” makes me think of uncomfortable conversations where someone is trying to sell you something. Think about it as “building professional relationships” instead because you are creating a network of colleagues.

Start by getting to know your fellow students because they are an important part of your network. And then remember that your professors are just people, too. Most of them don’t realize they might be intimidating. Get to know them and their research. This network will provide you with lots of opportunities to collaborate.

Q. What is the advantage of creating professional networks as a graduate student?

A: Having a network of colleagues will give you more options for collaboration in your research and work. These are the people who are going to work with you, hire you, let you know about opportunities, and refer you for jobs. So many people get hired because they knew the right people—someone knew they were looking for work or looking to collaborate, so they reached out.

Q. What one networking skill is essential for students to develop while in grad school?

A: Being able to introduce yourself concisely and confidently is a really important skill. Doing this will help people remember you and your research area, so they’ll think of you when opportunities arise.

Q. How can graduate students maintain and nurture their professional networks once they’ve made initial connections?

A: LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media are really useful tools for keeping in touch, posting updates on your own work and research, and seeing what your connections are up to. But to keep it personal, check in with folks individually, too. This is easiest on social media or at conferences by letting them know you read and enjoyed a recent publication or reaching out to see if they know anyone looking to collaborate on a particular topic.

Q. What’s the best way for grad students to network at larger events like conferences or workshops?

A: Be brave and challenge yourself. If you find networking particularly intimidating, set a goal of speaking to a certain number of people each day. Start by speaking with other students and work up to speaking with professors, presenters, and other attendees. Chat with your neighbors in conference sessions—you never know who you’ll meet!