Spotlight on the RDF: “Networking”

In one of our occasional series of spotlights, we take a closer look at a specific descriptor from the RDF.

In this series of “Spotlight on…” posts, we’ll be delving into the detail of the descriptors in Vitae‘s Researcher Development Framework (RDF).  Each one of the sixty-three descriptors is a characteristic of an excellent researcher, and we’ll be looking at how UoB PGRs can develop these characteristics.

network-1911678_640As we approach the University of Birmingham Research Poster Conference 2018, and the summer vacation when many research conferences are scheduled so as not to conflict with teaching responsibilities, it seems a good time to take a closer look at “networking”, a buzzword to describe an activity which may be more usefully thought of as “becoming an active participant in your research community for everyone’s mutual benefit”.

The RDF puts networking in domain B (personal effectiveness) and sub-domain B3 (professional and career development) and the five phases of development for this descriptor are:

1. – 2.  Develops and maintains co-operative networks and working relationships with supervisors, colleagues and peers, within the institution and the wider research community; uses personal and/or online networks effectively for feedback, advice, critical appraisal of work and for responding to opportunities; engages with learned societies and public bodies.

3. Shares external networks with less experienced researchers/students; builds professional rapport; becomes respected member of learned society(ies).

4. Leads networks; has national, international and policy-making network connections with academic and non-academic bodies and organisations, and in public and private research and development areas.

5. Has influential connections with significant bodies and organisations; has high impact on society through academic and non-academic bodies and organisations.

As usual with the RDF, a postgraduate researcher is likely to develop phases 1 and 2 during the course of their research programme.  The RDF is actually very helpful in this descriptor, giving ideas of who to build relationships with (supervisors, colleagues and peers), where to find them (within the institution and the wider research community; learned societies and public bodies) and what benefits you can expect (feedback, advice, critical appraisal of work and responding to opportunities).

So what might this look like in practice?  Much like when your parents sent you towards a group of other children and instructed you to “make new friends”, “build a network” is much more easily said than done!

  • Choose a networking environment that works for you – both face-to-face and online networking are very common.
  • When attending an event (in person or online), check in advance who might be there that you want to engage with, or make a plan for the type of person you want to meet (e.g. your PGR peers, potential collaborators or potential employers).
  • It is much more important to be interested in others than to tell them about yourself.  Ask questions, show interest, be courteous, find common ground.
  • Follow up with the people you meet (even just a short tweet acknowledging them!) and respond to those who follow up with you.

To develop your networking skills further:

Have you successfully engaged with your research community?  What benefits have you gained from your networks?

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