Creative projects and research activities relating to all disciplines are taking place in non-profit organizations, for-profit companies, federal, state and local government offices and research centers, not to mention other universities. As you establish and work towards career and educational goals, developing a robust network of mentors, on- and off-campus, becomes even more crucial.
Why Build Your Network?
As you consider next steps during and after your undergraduate career, whether you choose to pursue opportunities in academia, research, the public sector, entrepreneurship, or any number of areas, mentoring relationships with those who understand and support your goals and interests will open doors and provide opportunities for collaboration, as well as provide an invaluable source of guidance.
How to Build Your Network
Develop your off-campus network using many of the same strategies as you are using to develop your on-campus network: identify professionals of interest and reach out for informational meetings. Review the information in the Connecting with Faculty section, along with our tips on email etiquette and sample emails and telling your story for guidance on how to begin.
One major difference in building an off-campus network is the scope of potential contacts. With so many places to look for possible off-campus mentors it can be difficult to know where to start. Talk with your faculty mentors about leading scholars or authorities in your area of interest; they may be able to suggest individuals, organizations, or research centers for you to start with.
UConn alumni are another source of guidance and possible mentorship. UConn graduates go on to distinguished careers in all fields. They are often very willing to talk with students and provide the same guidance and support they received along the way. Use tools such as the UConn Alumni Career Network and LinkedIn to explore what alumni are doing. Our Building Connections with LinkedIn tip sheet will help you make the most of this professional networking site.
Attending and participating in professional conferences and other events organized by professional associations or industry groups is another way to expand your network. There are professional associations for virtually all fields and areas of interest – from the International Documentary Association to the Women’s Foreign Policy Group. Many have discount memberships for students and may offer networking events or workshops for students and young professionals.
Review the latest news and research relating to your field of interest to learn more about where innovation is happening and who is actively engaged in projects and research. Identify websites and publications specific to your field, such as Biospace or The Journal of American History. These resources will acquaint you with the latest news, research, and advances relevant to your field, as well as help you learn where the scholars are, what organizations or companies are actively engaged in research. Resources such as these will also give you a sense of the range of settings where projects and research are taking place. Daily newspapers, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, are also wonderful general resources that will keep you up-to-date with current news and advances in a range of fields.
Maintaining Your Network
Once established, periodically reach back out to those in your network to maintain the relationship. Most contacts are not expecting regular status updates, but occasional updates on your progress, achievements, and check-ins to discuss roadblocks, will go a long way towards cementing your relationship.
How often should you reach out? Unfortunately there is not a one-size-fits-all guideline. Every relationship is different and should be treated as such. There are many variables that come in to play as well, such as where you’re at in your academic or professional career. For example, seniors approaching graduation and seeking employment will typically converse with mentors more often than an underclassman who is not actively seeking advice or opportunities.