No really, talk to strangers

You don’t have to talk to everyone in the crowd but you should talk to at least a few people.

I’ve always been resistant to “networking”. Going up to random people I don’t know and talking myself up seemed ridiculous and weird. I avoided events that were specifically organized for that purpose. It’s not that I can’t talk with people I do, in fact, have a few friends. I just didn’t think the helpfulness of the exercise outweighed the intense awkwardness I would feel.

Turns out, I was wrong. I know, I know, everyone is always saying how important and easy networking is. I don’t think I’m the only person (definitely scientist) that had this same aversion. I hope sharing my (limited) experience will encourage those of you who still think networking is awkward and weird.

When I moved to DC and started my post-doc I was determined to put myself out there both to make new friends and to make job connections. I cold emailed a list of former NIH fellows to see if they would tell me about their current jobs. Most of them said yes, to my shock and  horror, because now I actually had to talk with these people. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed talking with them, I learned a great deal about my career options, and it wasn’t awkward at all. After getting my confidence up, I even attended a “networking happy hour”, the event I spent all of my previous life avoiding. Despite being terrified that I was the awkward girl in the room, I was able to chat with at least five different people. Of course it’s hard to walk up to people you don’t know, but at an event like that everyone is expecting it so it’s fine. I haven’t met my new BFF yet or gotten a connection to the perfect job but I am definitely more comfortable meeting new people.  The moral of this story is, just talk to people, it won’t be as terrible as you think. Along the way, you may make a new friend or meet someone who knows of the perfect job for you.

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