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How Is Networking Useful, or Why Did I Leave the Lab for This?

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On April 14, 2010, CHF hosted a networking event for local women chemists. What made this event unique is that the networking was focused on undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctorate women chemists from all over the Philadelphia area. Invitations were sent to all local chemistry departments, and participants represented six local colleges and universities. Intending to attract an audience that may not yet value the power of networking, the title of the panel discussion was How Is Networking Useful, or Why Did I Leave the Lab for This?

The event was a success. There were 20 participants, and the 3 panel speakers—Madeleine Joullié, Sharon Haynie, and Amy Bug—were phenomenal. The panel discussion featured three different but complementary views on the importance of networking.

  • Joullie described her early experiences with the ACS and her continued belief in getting your name known. Describing networking as “kissing many frogs before you kiss a prince,” she said that networking did have an element of the unknown. However, the rewards were always worthwhile.
  • Haynie explained her view of mentoring as relationship building around common nodes. She encouraged participants to view networking not as an employment safety net but rather as a trampoline from which you can grow and prosper in a mutually beneficial manner.
  • Bug discussed networking as horizontal networking. She stressed the power of this type of peer networking, explaining that there is often a myth about only having one mentor—the scientific adviser. Instead we should take advantage of all the mentors we can.

The Women in Chemistry Career Pathways Conference had a break where participants were encouraged to meet the panel speakers and their peers at other schools. The conversation during the break was so enjoyable that people had a hard time shuffling back into the meeting room. The best part of my break was when multiple participants told me how excited they were about the conference and asked whether I would be planning another!

After the break I discussed the impetus for the networking event—the Women in Chemistry Oral Histories and the interviewee’s insistence on networking as one of their most important continued experiences. I took the opportunity to discuss my definition of networking influenced by the women I have interviewed. Again, complementing the earlier definitions, I explained networking as sharing stories about successes big and small. The successes could be about writing, communicating, recruitment, or just simply research. The success stories shared could be about anything at all, but it is hearing how peers and colleagues overcame challenges that provide us with the tools to succeed. Networking can simply be described as learning tools for success that you may not learn in the actual laboratory.

The power of networking and mentoring is well documented. The young women chemists in the greater Philadelphia area should not be limited to knowing only their peers and colleagues within their department. We had six local colleges and universities represented. I hope next time we can increase our attendance and participation and have a few more of the local schools represented.

If you would like slides from my talk or more information, please e-mail me: hdomush@chemheritage.org.

 

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