PhD students are facing some challenges to connect with each other since the COVID-19 measures basically changed all the main traditional scenarios where socialization and networking could happen: in the classroom, while taking the courses offered by the doctoral school; on campus, inside our departments, offices, and labs; and finally at academic conferences, because now all these setups were changed into online environments.
So, I found myself wondering how I could take advantage of online conferences and courses to network, meet, and connect with colleagues and professors, since the opportunities for socialization are very different now.
But instead of worrying about a reality that I cannot change, I decided to look at things from a different perspective, and then I realized I have had interesting and positive experiences so far. For instance, while attending virtual conferences organized by other Finnish universities, I have been able to connect with PhD students from other universities and from our own university, all thanks to alternative networking tools.
Once I watched a doctoral student’s presentation and used Microsoft Teams to reach out to him and connect. In a different occasion, a PhD student from Turku spotted me in a conference while I was asking a question and used LinkedIn to reach out to me. Apart from that, I have also used Slack, WhatsApp groups and online dinners which can be helpful for people to meet and connect.
In a global scenario, however, while participating in a much bigger conference, targeted to a worldwide audience, I was a bit sceptical that the same could happen — in that particular occasion there were more than 40 speakers and more than a thousand people in the online audience. Still, I was positively surprised again: while using the Zoom chat to ask my question, one of the speakers spotted me, we exchanged emails and continued the discussion afterwards.
All we need to do as young academics in the beginning of our careers is to get a bit creative, and to not be afraid to put ourselves out there and contact people. Everybody else is adapting in the same way as we are.
All in all, I am definitely glad I could meet great colleagues and make good connections in a virtual scenario. It is true that there have not been as many coffee breaks, conference dinners and round tables where you could exchange business cards and shake people’s hands, but it does not mean that professional/academic connections and networking cannot happen.
All we need to do as young academics in the beginning of our careers is to get a bit creative and not be afraid to put ourselves out there and reach out to people. Everybody else is adapting in the same way as we are, and it would be a waste missing out on new opportunities and collaborations because we are too attached to the traditional academic culture or too accustomed to share a big conference room.