Published on September 20th, 2016


Finding the PhD in Me: Get Working on Networking

Part 3 of the blog series Finding the PhD in Me. Read part 2 here.

By Bonita Squires, M.Sc., S-LP(C)

Before I decided to start my PhD, I envisioned that doctoral studies would look something like what is often portrayed in the very funny PhD Comics: staring at a computer screen for hours at a time and an occasional meeting with a supervisor. It turns out that I was incredibly wrong, or at least I have been so far. I also need to get out and make connections with new people, a.k.a. ‘networking’. According to Isaiah Hankel, “In today’s economy and academic environment, networking with more people is not an option. It’s a must.“ Why is this?

1. To make research more relevant

There is a growing need to actively ensure that our research is relevant outside of academia as well as within academia (for more on this topic, see my last blog post, Lost in (Knowledge) Translation). In order to conduct relevant research, we need to collaborate across fields and professions to discover what administrators, educators, policymakers and clients are interested in. By attending a variety of conferences, talks, workshops and wine-and-cheese type events at the university and in the community, I have chanced upon several people whose ideas have helped me to redefine my study and even my future research program. Knowing what is currently relevant and needed also helps me make a stronger case for my research in funding applications.

2. So that I know about other researchers

Networking with others is allowing me to seek out interprofessional collaborations and find new perspectives on my work. When I chat with other researchers, working professionals, policymakers and community members, I become familiar with the people whom I can contact when I have questions, need support or would like to collaborate on a project. As a graduate student, I read a lot of literature and am becoming increasingly familiar with the names of researchers in my area of study. Seeing these experts speak about their research is not only helpful to better understand their findings, but is also motivating; it is inspiring to meet others who are passionately pursuing similar research questions.

3. So that other researchers know about me

On the flip side, if those other researchers are familiar with me, they will think of me if they have a project planned where they think I could be a good fit. They may even think of me for one of their colleagues’ projects. Several times in the last year, a new contact has met me and immediately referred me to a colleague or a friend as a potential contact.

If other researchers know about me, I may even find my dream job one day. This is an important motivation for meeting other like-minded people. In 2011, only 18.6% of Canadians with doctoral degrees were working as full-time university professors, the typical career goal of most doctoral students. If I decide that I want to work for a company or organization after I obtain my PhD, I must accept that my resume may be stacked in a pile with hundreds of other applicants with PhDs. All qualifications being equal, an applicant who is known to the hiring committee will get the job over one who is unknown.

Why so early in my PhD?

Some people may wonder why I am so focused on networking when I am only just beginning my second year of doctoral studies. The thing is, creating a solid network takes time. It takes years. I don’t know where I will end up working when I graduate. I could be conducting research within academia, industry, government, at a non-profit, in the health sector… I need time to develop connections in all of those areas. I can’t wait until the last year of my PhD to think about where I want to go next and who I need to know.

To use myself as an example, I am in the unique position of nurturing a hazy vision of a dream job that may or may not exist when I complete my PhD. I would like to work as a clinical researcher, also known as a clinician scientist. Furthermore, I would like to work with the small and spread out population of individuals who are d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing. If I don’t start putting out the feelers now, I may never find a position where I can work clinically AND develop my research program, and potential employers may never find me. However, if I am known in my field, a position may even open up with me in mind. That can only happen if people know me and have faith in what I can offer to their organization or institution.

As a working clinician, you may be thinking about incorporating research into your practice or further developing the research that you have already begun. If that is the case, keep your eyes open for my next post; I will explore what it could look like to work as a clinical researcher where research and practice productively coexist.

Further Resources

For the most up-to-date tips on how to network as a graduate student, take a look at posts by Wajihah Mughal in RE-SPECT Science and Dr. Nana Lee in University Affairs. 

Feature image caption: Bonita chats with Dalhousie University President Richard Florizone at the launch of the PhD in Health program in September 2015. Photo credit: Bruce Bottomley.

About the author:


Bonita Squires, M.Sc., S-LP(C) is a speech-language pathologist who specializes in accent modification. She began her PhD in health at Dalhousie University in 2015. Her research area is language and literacy assessment and intervention with children who are d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing. In her past (professional) life, Bonita was an American Sign Language/English interpreter. She has been enriched by the language and life experiences that individuals in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities have shared with her. Bonita’s ongoing blog series, Finding the PhD in Me, shares some of her thoughts and the challenges she encounters as she navigates the doctoral journey.

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