Back to Back: Grad School Hustle Advice from an Extrovert & Introvert
News Article by Shannon Loelius and ELissa Flores, PhD Candidates
How to “hustle” in grad school essentially refers to networking, but also encompasses daily interactions that you may not classify as “networking”, but that really probably are. This includes asking professors questions (outside of class), bouncing ideas off peers (for your work or thought experiments), as well as the more traditional “networking” activities (meeting with people at conferences, meeting speakers, sending cold emails, etc.). This article will focus on the “how to” aspect of hustling. Most importantly, we will address this from two very different view-points: that of an introvert and that of an extrovert. In this article, we have discussed networking/hustling in our own ways. We hope this will be helpful in tackling the nebulous activity of networking or – the more term benign term – hustling. Disclaimer: Normally when people say they are an introvert or extrovert, they mean they fall somewhere on scale in between introvert and extrovert; however, we are two people of extremes (Figure 1. Meyers-Briggs personality test results for E’Lissa [upper] and Shannon [lower]. Images and results obtained from 16personalities.com, a website which uses an abridged “Myers-Briggs” personality test.). Take our suggestions with that in mind.
In person/speakers: Hustling in graduate school largely revolves around meeting people in person. Whether this be at seminars or social events, people have a greater chance of remembering you if they meet you face-to-face and actually talk with you. As an introvert, it is the second aspect of “actually” talking that is the most challenging. In fact, it is this aspect that has me slinking away from events that might otherwise benefit me, or going to events only to blend into the background such that I may as well not have gone at all.
For these situations, my first piece of advice is find an extrovert or accountability partner. Perhaps more accurately, the extrovert will likely find you; hold on to your extrovert. Tell them about events that you think will benefit you. Even if they do not attend, they will often push you to go. They will also ask you to come to networking events that you would not normally attend; say yes when they invite you to such events. Additionally, getting outside perspective is very important. Something I learned from my extrovert is to be my own advocate. I suggest you ask a peer whom you respect for help. You don’t even have to ask them to be an “accountability partner”. In fact, accountability partners tend to arise naturally between friends. You may already have an accountability partner without knowing.
My second piece of advice is to go to lunches with speakers or attend similar events. Gathering in a group setting alleviates the stress of interacting. However, being physically present is only the first step. Do not fall into the trap of remaining silent! Talking serves several purposes: being remembered, getting information, and showing that you can think. If you do not talk with people, they will not know if you are brilliant but quiet, or a complete dolt. Chances are, you do have something to contribute. Ignore the imposter-syndrome; I’m telling you that you have something to contribute. As to the how, during lunches while others are talking to the speaker, try and think of a question (relevant to the conversation or not) or try to add some input into the conversation when you are able. If meeting someone in person, come with a list of questions (written down or a mental list), such that you have something to fall back on. I think it’s ok to be a little awkward, it is all but expected in this field!
Over email/not in person: This is my personal favorite type of communication. Unfortunately, in-person or phone-discussions are often preferred to this. When I have questions for someone, I prefer to write an email, but I do ask if they would rather discuss in-person. Email is great for introverts; we can think over what we want to say, and write, and rewrite, until we have our thoughts down solidly. However, it is easy to become so focused on phrasing that the email never gets sent, rather languishing in the “Draft” box until your email runs out of room and you delete it. So, my advice as an introvert would be to use email as a stepping stone and not rely on it too heavily. More importantly, actually send it!
Asking questions: It is very important when networking to ask questions, whether during a seminar, journal club, or when meeting one-on-one. Asking questions enables others to see that you can critically think and have something to contribute. As an introvert, asking questions is incredibly difficult. I tend to wonder if the question was already covered and I missed it, if the question is so off-base that it is ludicrous, or if it is plain dumb. What I’ve found to help is sitting next to a peer (or accountability partner), writing down my question(s), and asking their opinion first. This helps alleviate the anxious thoughts of “did they cover this? Is this well-known already?” After this, you must ask your question! As a hypocrite, I tend not to ask questions in seminars, but I did this week just for you all. It was fine, I’m still in graduate school, and no one died because of it.
Conferences: Conferences pretty much synthesize all of the above hustling skills. You need to go to events (seminars, dinners, social events), you need to make connections by talking to others, and you need to ask questions (at seminars, at posters, or of the people you’ve connected with). Depending on the conference, this can be incredibly overwhelming. What I would suggest is attending any offered networking workshops, no matter how much you don’t want to go. For this, I’ve found signing up for events that cost extra motivates me to actually go (since I have to at that point). That may be extreme for you, but again as a devout introvert, I’ve needed to use some unconventional methods to actually network.
The take-home points: Find someone to hold you accountable and encourage you to network (a peer or mentor), actually talk and ask questions (the hardest part), and use resources like networking events held by the CPD, URBEST, or even GSS. Social events count!
A common misconception is that extroverts are always overly confident and talk with charismatic ease. However, even though I may exude self-confidence, I actually am nervous and anxious as well. I too have suffered from imposter syndrome and have had feelings of self-doubt, thinking I was the dumbest of all the smart people in the room. Even as a fourth year, my heart still races when asking a question in seminars and when giving presentations. My advice to ease this pain is to practice, but most importantly, do!
Networking: One thing you can do, is ask for help and or favors. I have found that most people don’t mind helping out at all, and are often quite happy that you asked them. So, feel free to reach out to peers and colleagues to edit your paper, practice seminar talks, or to connect you to someone in their network. Do this by e-mailing, setup a coffee meeting (people love coffee), or casually stop them in the hallway. In my experience, casual conversations can lead to impromptu networking opportunities.
Your fellow grad students are your immediate support group and first networking circle. They know your work ethic and can easily be your character reference in the future. Recently, I’ve asked former graduate students to help me connect with professionals in their networks, and they all have been enthusiastically helpful. I am hopeful this will lead to opportunities in my field of interest.
Use your resources: A separate piece of advice I have is to have mentors and use them. Make an effort to meet with your committee members individually and obtain mentors outside your department. It is important to gain outside perspective on your project and career options. Another thing I suggest is to take advantage of all the opportunities the U of R offers to prepare you as a trainee. Recognize your weaknesses and work on them. I realized early on that my presentation skills were not the best and knew my writing abilities were ‘not good’ (as past E’Lissa would say). To enhance these skills, I have taken over 6 writing and communication courses or workshops. Some I have even taken twice! I highly recommend Scientific Communication for Diverse Audiences (IND 426), which was first founded and taught by alumnus Maddie Sofia, who is currently at NPR with her own web series and blog. It was such a great, somewhat uncomfortable, fun course that put you outside of your comfort zone. I enjoyed reading one of the required books, “Don’t be such a Scientist,” by Randy Olson. In his first chapter, Don’t Be So Cerebral, he writes:
“Effective communication is essential part of science… if nobody hears about your work, you might as well have never done it.”
Your ‘work’, can be not only your research, but also yourself; you are your own walking, talking CV. If you don’t speak up, ask analytical questions, or ‘sell yourself’ then nobody will ever know how brilliant you are and none of your great ideas ever come to life. Yes, easier said than done, but communication and networking are all skills we can all hone: practice, practice, practice, do, do, do.
Conferences: I have recently prepared for networking meetings that I had scheduled at a conference. I prepared by first practicing my ‘elevator pitch’ with peers, but then at the conference I practiced by actually doing my pitch to random company booths. Even with my self-confidence and charisma, I bombed. I bombed so badly that I called my mom after. However, since I made a point to practice on companies I was not interested in at all, I felt more prepared for the actual event. The next day I killed it and landed multiple interviews. Something I learned by talking to the companies was that they all knew that PhD scientists are capable of learning new technical skills and are excellent critical thinkers. The companies did not care about my thesis research, they cared about if I could think and communicate effectively. I was repeatedly told they are not looking to fill a spot but are looking for the ‘right fit’ and would hold a spot or even create a position for such a person. This is where ‘selling yourself’ comes into play. Even though my PhD was not in the preferred field for the position, I was still able to move to the next round of interviews.
The take home message: Your publications, CV, and letters of recommendation will only get you so far. You have to ‘seal the deal’ by yourself, for yourself. Be your own best advocate.
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