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The Importance of Networking for Doctoral Students

Developing networking skills is such an important factor of Doctoral Research Training. I believe in order to develop successful networking strategies Doctoral students (from every research background) need to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Entrepreneurship in this context is not referring directly to setting up businesses (though this is relevant too) but what Oxford University’s webpage Enterprising Oxford refers to as ‘entrepreneurial thinking, ‘ ‘creating opportunities’ and ‘thinking outside the box.’ There are so many approaches Doctoral students can take to enhance opportunities whether it’s through conference attendance, setting up research forums/seminars/conferences (which is a high form of networking), networking as a freelancer (business owner), or networking with different faculties and schools. (A good example of the latter is how open Art faculties are to collaborative or pedagogical ideas in science, social science, engineering or humanities as a way to inspire innovative creativity. This was my experience as I came from a literary background and worked as an academic in an Art faculty. It totally transformed my approach to research. Lifelong learning faculties are also great spaces for Doctoral students to independently create and experiment with new inter/multidisciplinary modules -(also based on my experience)).

Creative networking encourages Doctoral students to enhance inter/multidisciplinary engagement between faculties, universities, companies and other social and economic spaces which would greatly enhance opportunities. Networking training for Doctoral students can be approached as a creative, confidence-building discipline where the emphasis is placed on identifying gaps for potential development and innovating new possibilities within and between academic and non-academic structures. It encourages independent innovation which can be part of a great confidence-building game-plan towards establishing a career (academic, non-academic or maybe both).

Last week I ran a ‘Networking Day’ for International Doctoral Students from Durham Global Challenges CDT at Durham University. The focus was on developing different networking strategies designed to enhance confidence. We had a research presentation competition using the elevator pitch model. This fun strategy was all about developing an effective first impression. We explored various entrepreneurial thinking ideas and strategies to expand research engagement. The art of networking as a research lead was examined (via role play) using our Multidisciplinary Engagement Seminar Model. The positive feedback from my one-day workshop resulted in a 40% increase in confidence in networking. Another reason the workshop was so successful is that most of what was explored was based on my own experience so my personal storytelling added further contextualisation to the exercises and really resonated with the students.

Here are some testimonials from that workshop:

“The course was great! Learnt so much, particularly wrt the variety of methods”!!!

“It brought out the best from us. Presentation esteem, confidence building and networking.”

“It was very good and interactive.”