NESI Blog: Building a professional network as an international student researcher

If you are an international student like me, you already know the unique set of challenges that come with it like adjusting to a new culture, learning communication, trying to make the most out of limited resources available, among other challenges. It is easy to feel like everyone around you knows it all while you have no idea what is going on. Amidst this chaos of balancing research, classes, and meeting academic expectations, one of the important things that takes a back seat is networking. In this blog, I will discuss more about why networking is important and how to start building it.

Establishing a professional network, especially in behavioral research is an integral part of the job because it is such a collaborative effort towards making a difference in the community. PhD students often struggle with networking because of reasons such as lack of mentor’s support, low self-confidence in scientific communication, or not being proactive in seeking new opportunities. It is okay to feel nervous or overwhelmed however I strongly recommend practicing how to network with other researchers early on even if it feels uncomfortable in the beginning.

Speaking from my personal journey, networking has helped me evolve as a professional and that happened because I kept saying YES to networking even if I felt shy and hesitant in the beginning. There are several ways you can establish a professional network. For example, attending and networking at conferences, getting involved in professional societies, having a diverse collaborative committee for your research projects, and more.

Here are some actionable steps you can take to start building your network-

  1. Get involved in a professional society that aligns with your research interests. Explore what student opportunities or sub-groups they have and volunteer your time.
  2. Create a LinkedIn profile and update it regularly to highlight your academic accomplishments. If you feel uncomfortable with posting, you can still follow other researchers with similar career trajectories and learn from their wisdom. In future when you explore jobs, this community will be at your disposal to help figure out the next career move for you.
  3. Approach your mentor and get involved in research projects that involve co-investigators or collaborators from other institutions to get exposure to collaboration, communication, pitching your ideas to an interdisciplinary audience, and expanding your network.
  4. Participate in mentorship programs. I cannot emphasize enough that mentorship makes all the difference and getting a perspective from outside the four walls of your lab is prudent as PhD students to become sound researchers and staying up to date with the current academic world.

Key takeaways:

  1. Establishing a professional network in behavioral research is crucial due to its collaborative nature.
  2. If there is a lack of professional network as international students, use your mentor’s network as a starting point and expand it to build your distinct trajectory.
  3. Be proactive in seeking professional development opportunities and get involved in external organizations to create your own identity and build self-confidence.

Bio: Divya is a senior PhD Candidate, an international student, and the founder of Navigate PhD, a PhD blog. Her research follows the social ecological framework for health to explore the determinants of childhood obesity and how caregiver (parents and childcare providers) behaviors influence preschool children’s nutrition and weight outcomes.