How Off-Campus Students Can Increase Their Network
By Patricia Prade, Ph.D.
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series contributed by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at Entomology Today.
Graduate school offers a unique opportunity for students to meet and connect with a variety of professionals working in their area of interest, and with other students going through the same experiences and struggles. These connections will help to create the students’ network, which will be beneficial during and after graduate school. Because of the nature of entomology, we often spend our whole program on a branch campus that is away from the university’s main campus. For students that work with agriculture, these branch campuses can be close to crops or animals like livestock or poultry; they may provide access to areas where the climate matches the species being studied, or they may simply be the only place where space is available to conduct research.
In my experience as part of a community of off-campus students, we can feel isolated from the university and miss out on opportunities to meet professors and other students. However, there are several ways to increase our network while off campus. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are having the opportunity to learn about new, underused, and effective ways to contact each other and participate in events without having to travel. These opportunities should be considered when future events are being organized. Here, I offer some suggestions to help off-campus students increase their networks, which may also be useful for students coping with COVID-19 social distancing guidelines and restrictions.
Participate in Seminars
An important step when trying to increase your network is to start “meeting” people by participating in your department seminars. This is easy and will provide an opportunity for students who are not comfortable directly contacting others to start meeting other students and professors in the department. It is much easier to contact these people later if you already feel like you “know” them after spending time together in seminars.
Most departments have weekly or monthly seminars with invited speakers from the department or from other universities, industries, or governmental agencies, and a series of webinars is also available on the ESA website. By participating in seminars, you not only make your face known in the department or at ESA, but you will also learn a lot. You can always send follow-up questions to the speaker—and remember, this person could be a useful contact. Sometimes we forget how important these seminars are to our professional development.
Before COVID-19, some seminars were not available online, but it’s likely that from now on, efforts will be made to make all seminars available online. However, if you have the opportunity to go to one or two seminars in person, that will be even better for your department visibility. I was an off-campus student during my Ph.D. program, and when I needed to go to campus, I tried to plan my visit for the days of the seminar. Some attendees would later tell me that they remembered my face from previous seminars or from Zoom, which made a nice conversation starter.
Meet Other Students and Professors While Visiting Campus
While visiting campus or other branch campuses, you can take the opportunity to meet other students or professors. While taking classes online, I always tried to meet my professors face-to-face at least once during the semester. You can schedule a meeting in advance and use the opportunity to ask questions regarding your classes or even seek help with your own research. It is surprising how many professors that are not part of your committee will be happy to help you with your research project. One-on-one meetings can also be done through Zoom for students that live far away and do not have many opportunities to visit the main campus.
You can also invite yourself to visit someone you always wanted to meet. Recently, I was traveling in Florida, and I e-mailed a University of Florida (UF) professor about a potential visit. She kindly agreed to meet with me. During that trip, I was able to meet other students at that branch, and I learned about the research projects that she and the students were working on. She also helped me with some ideas for a postdoc and introduced me to several professors during ESA 2019. I know that this idea may not be easy for everyone, but you can arrange for a friend to go with you. This can be rewarding and less stressful than meeting during an event or class full of people.
Take Part in Graduate Student Club Meetings and Events
One of the best ways to connect with other students is to attend your department’s graduate student club meetings. In the relaxed atmosphere of these meetings, you can meet a lot of fellow students and discuss subjects like student seminars, practice for presentations at ESA, information from the last department faculty meeting, social events, and more. Some university branches also have student organizations; being part of them will not only increase your network, but also help you learn about your neighborhood, other departments’ research, and social events on and off campus.
You can also start your own club when they do not exist on your branch. Some universities have guidelines to make your organization official. Making an official club can increase your opportunity to get funding and even get help when organizing seminars. The University of Florida branch where I was conducting my research did not have many students, so in 2019, the students from my branch (Indian River and Education Center, Fort Pierce, FL) and the neighboring branch (Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, Vero Beach, FL) decided to start a new club, the Treasure Coast Graduate Student Organization (TCGSO). Starting a new club was less complicated because we had help from other clubs and support from the directors and professors from both branches. During our first year, we were able to organize a potluck event where everyone could meet each other and a seminar with students showcasing their research. During COVID-19, the TCGSO is still meeting online, and the number of students is increasing.
If a student organization is not viable, you can try to organize coffee meetings with students from your branch. These can take place online or in person, and could be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. These coffee breaks can provide time to de-stress, boost your energy, and increase your productivity. Online coffee breaks are also beneficial: see Sweha Hazari’s article for tips on how to host a successful coffee break.
Actively Participate on Social Media
Of all the ways to build your network, social media may have the most examples and tips available online. See Social Media for Scientists for details on how to build your social media presence. Having an active social media account will not only help you increase your outreach and ability to communicate with the scientific and general public, but each one of your own posts and engagement with other scientists’ posts will increase your visibility. Several labs and scientists have at least one active social media account where you can see their recent publications and research projects. Social media is also an easy and quick way to ask questions about methods, species identification, papers, and more. During last year’s ESA meeting, I was able to meet several of my Twitter colleagues. I was impressed by how easy it was to talk with some of them, especially the ones that I had interacted with frequently.
Participate and Volunteer During ESA’s National and Branch Meetings
There are a lot of opportunities to meet people during ESA’s national or branch meetings. You can meet people after their talks, during poster presentations, and at lunch-and-learns, section meetings, and student events. Udari Wanigasekara and Jocelyn R. Holt offer details about networking in their article Meeting Friends and Colleagues: Networking at the Entomological Society of America Meeting.
During the meeting, there are always several opportunities to volunteer. Each opportunity will increase your reputation at ESA and help you to meet new people and make new connections. You can also consider joining an ESA committee; each committee and function have a different level of engagement.
I hope that these tips help you as you begin to increase your network. You can start using some of these steps during this year’s ESA meeting, Entomology 2020, which is going to be 100 percent virtual. Every little step goes a long way to help people make lasting and useful connections.
I would like to thank Hannah Quellhorst for adding her experiences to this article.