By Thushara Nethramangalath
“Networking is more about farming than it is about hunting”- Ivan Misner
Networking is the process of connecting with and building mutually beneficial relationships with others in your profession to exchange ideas and information about businesses and opportunities. In its essence, it is about forming meaningful and lasting connections in your professional sphere. Networking is arguably one of the top skills to have in any field. When exercised properly, it can substantially improve your career prospects, open up new and exciting opportunities, and keep you updated on the latest trends in the job market. Interestingly, it is also a skill that many professionals, including Ph.D.s, struggle with because they neglect to form and nurture networks at the beginning of their career. This neglect may stem from a deep-rooted desire to be independent or because they feel uncomfortable and out of their element when it comes to network building. What they do not realize is that networking is not simply about making new contacts, but a long-term investment in personal and professional growth.
The Biopharma Networking Group (BPNG) events hosted by iJOBS every semester provides a unique opportunity for individuals in the health and life sciences sector to ‘connect’ in a virtual space. The idea behind this iJOBS partnered event is to facilitate informal networking sessions with small groups of individuals, comprising of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and non-academic professionals, to practice networking and learn firsthand how beneficial it can be. The event held on September 21st, 2021, started with an introduction by Dr. Janet Alder, who is the Assistant Dean in the School of Graduate Studies and a co-director in the Rutgers iJOBS program. One of the speakers from the BPNG team was Anil H. Vaidya who is a Senior Director of Scientific and Regulatory Communications at ILiAD Biotechnologies, in New Jersey, and a spokesperson for BPNG community outreach programs. The BPNG is a non-profit, all-inclusive bioscience community formed with a simple objective of connecting with life sciences professionals across the country. This group is comprised of over 20,000 biotech and pharmaceutical professionals from both industry and academia spanning several regional chapters in the northeastern United States and Canada. The group has members working in diverse sectors, including R&D, sales and marketing, legal and consulting services, and IT and management among others. One of the BPNG outreach program objectives is to create an educational forum for resource sharing in the form of personal information, ideas and opportunities for its members. Overall, the BPNG community actively seeks to connect with and offer support to life sciences professionals.
Following the introductions by the speakers, the attendees were split randomly into Zoom breakout rooms to connect with each other. These sessions were informal, but they were a great way to practice your elevator pitch, ask questions, and learn more about the attendees and their careers. For example, two of the attendees talked about their experience transitioning from academia to industry and gave useful insights on how their work environment differed from the university in terms of teamwork and project deadlines. According to them, in industry there was a lot more emphasis on being a team player and working together to complete projects, which is not often seen in academia. One attendee shared a useful tip that many major pharmaceutical companies based in New York have their R&D units in cities like Boston and San Francisco and to consider the possibility of relocation when applying for jobs within those companies. Those in the industry also talked about their experiences with the job application and recruitment process. We learned that different pharmaceutical companies had different recruitment processes for post-doctoral roles. For example, Johnson & Johnson sometimes recruits Ph.D. students before they graduate for short-term postdoctoral positions. Having a job offer in hand is an incentive for students to graduate faster. All in all, these practice sessions were a great way for the attendees to connect and talk about their experiences, which was particularly helpful for Ph.D.s seeking to advance in their careers.
Developing a networking strategy
From these sessions, these are some tips I gleaned for developing a successful networking strategy:
- Networking is a skill that requires deliberate practice. And as with any skill the more you practice the better you get.
- To be successful in networking, you need to be proactive and enthusiastic in making new contacts.
- Creating and/or regularly updating your professional networking profiles, like LinkedIn, can come in handy when you meet someone you want to connect with.
- Networking becomes invaluable during career transitions especially for Ph.D.s who are looking to transition from academia to industry.
- Having a ready to use elevator pitch with emphasis on the ‘why you do it’ will make for an engaging conversation with a new contact.
- Remember that networking also makes it possible to get support and feedback for your ideas as well as seek guidance or mentorship. Hence, be respectful and sincere in the connections that you make.
It is important to also note that it is not the number of people you know, it is about knowing the right kind of people that match your interests. Your network can include your coworkers, your previous employers, professors from your undergraduate courses, university alumni or even a sales representative from a pharmaceutical company that supplied to your lab. Networking is not a one and done process, it’s a career long pursuit that is not only crucial for professional growth but can bring forth new and exciting opportunities that you would have otherwise missed out on.
How to join BPNG? The BPNG through its various regional chapters hosts monthly events that provide different resources to life science individuals hoping to expand their businesses or careers. If you are interested in learning more about the group or how to start expanding your network, you can connect with them on LinkedIn or check out their website. By becoming a member, you will have the unique opportunity to meet with representatives from different biopharma recruiting companies and universities to learn and ask questions. Members of the BPNG group will also have access to training programs and conferences, which are valuable resources for career advancement.
This article was edited by Junior Editor Juliana Corrêa-Velloso and Senior Editor Natalie Losada.
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