When navigating the demands of graduate school, one can unintentionally neglect networking. Networking is the art of building meaningful professional connections. While your priority as a graduate student is learning, you will be surrounded by a plethora of networking opportunities. To invest in your professional growth, it is in your best interest to maintain a networking mindset throughout the duration of your program.
Why Networking in Graduate School is Important
As educators, we typically enter a graduate program with a predestined return in mind. Whether that return is a pay raise, an advanced position, or both, there are graduate programs specifically designed to achieve that specific goal. As such, we sometimes chase the end goal of graduate school without working to make the process meaningful. Networking is about maximizing your time as a graduate student and making its impact extend beyond the degree.
As its name suggests, networking expands your network of professionals. This means that you have access to more people, resources, and skillsets. Graduate school presents a unique opportunity to truly connect with educators beyond your school, district, and state. Connections translate to opportunities, especially professionally. After eleven years as a teacher, I have observed an undeniable fact: professional relationships are valuable. Investing in your professional relationships will increase your chance of landing positions and advancing your career. Our profession is steeped in selflessness, but networking is one way that you should invest in yourself.
Who to Network with in Graduate School
Now that it’s clear that networking is a fruitful endeavor, let’s talk about who you should be networking with. The opportunities are literally endless, but here are a few networking opportunities that everyone can pursue as a graduate student.
Your graduate school classmates are one of your most valuable networking resources. They are with you in the thick of your coursework and will often collaborate with you. Your graduate school classmates can unlock many professional opportunities for you in the present and future.
As an educator, your graduate school professors will likely be experienced teachers, administrators, and other education professionals. Networking with these individuals is a golden opportunity.
For most educator graduate programs, you will have a mentor. Whether assigned or chosen, your mentor serves as a guiding force throughout the program. This can range from a teacher or administrator in your building to a staff member at your university. Invest in this relationship during your program so that it can be beneficial to you later.
Whether they serve as your professor, mentor, or even your building leaders, networking with administrators is always beneficial. Administrators serve as great references and can help you cultivate leadership skills.
Ways to Network in Graduate School
Although important, networking does not have to be cumbersome. You can embed networking into your graduate studies seamlessly if you are intentional. Here are some ways that you can engage in graduate school networking.
This is simple yet extremely potent. Demonstrating professionalism in every facet of your graduate school journey is your most effective networking tool. Simple habits like being punctual, following through, and collaborating effectively are skills that every employer seeks. Because these employable skills are in high demand, it behooves you to show everyone you network with that you possess these skills. If someone has to “pitch” you to a potential employer, you want them to confidently present you as an excellent candidate for any position. Conducting yourself in a professional manner speaks far louder than words.
Embrace your Internship
For most programs, you will have an internship or practicum where you put newly acquired skills to practice. This is an excellent networking opportunity. Don’t just treat this as a pit stop on your road to graduation, but use this as an opportunity to strengthen your professional network. Let your administrators in on your endeavors and welcome their insight. Invite professors, administrators, and even colleagues to observe you in action or take an evaluative eye to your plans. This shows initiative and investment in your work, which will strengthen professional relationships.
Attend events where you can intermingle with other professionals at your university or in your district. Opportunities such as forums, professional development, or informational sessions are opportunities to meet and spend time with other education professionals. Even online students can often take advantage of campus events through synchronous communication. Purposely placing yourself in the presence of like-minded educators is always conducive to effective networking.
Reach out for Support
This is an unassuming tip, but reaching out to your professors, classmates, and administrators for support is a great networking technique. Take advantage of your professor’s office hours, and form study groups with your classmates as needed. When working on a task for which your administrator’s input would be valuable, reach out. These conversations will build and strengthen relationships, and relationships are the thread of networking.