Part 2: A toolkit of survival strategies for the introverted scientist to bring to a networking event

by Hanna Ostapska

Continued from Part 1: A toolkit of survival strategies for the introverted scientist at the podium

Does hearing the phrase ‘networking event’ increase your anxiety levels? Are you discouraged from attending an event despite wanting to meet potential collaborators or to discuss your research with the keynote speaker? This is a common struggle among the introverted population and stems from how the introvert has been influenced by cultural upbringing to frame the opportunity.

For all the brave introverts, in this blog I have prepared a toolkit of strategies for you that I have discovered in workshops, books and interviews on my quest to overcome the paralyzing fear of networking.

Introverts can build effective networks

One of the greatest cultural misconceptions is that the introverted personality lacks the social skills of an extroverted personality. This idea is described by Susan Cain in her New York Times bestseller: Quiet, the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. She explains that introverts, like extroverts, are social but in a different way that largely depends on their ‘need for intimacy.’ The introverted personality has a preference for smaller intimate gatherings that facilitate conversation with a few people whereas the extroverted one thrives as the life of a party, devoting time to making more contacts of lower intimacy. The important distinction that the author makes is that the number of peers that you have does not correlate to how good of a peer you are. Therefore, building effective networks is independent of the introvert-extrovert personality type.

I recently realized how easy it is for an introvert to undersell themselves when I attended a networking event at the Canadian Glycomics Symposium. I took the brave introvert approach and made the effort to attend with the intention of introducing myself to at least a few individuals that I haven’t met before. To my surprise one of those individuals described me as social. I took a moment to think about that compliment and that was when I realized that I was enthusiastically making contact with those around me because I was genuinely interested in meeting them. It was this moment that helped me to finally ditch the “I’m not good at socializing, what is wrong with me?” attitude.   

The introvert’s networking toolkit

Below is a toolkit of networking strategies that I encourage you to bring with you to your next networking event.

  1. Take the pressure off of yourself. Culture imposes on us that the introverted are not social and are bad at networking. There is no need to own this and instead reframe it by using your strengths to help you network.
  2. Set a quota for networking. Set a number of networking events to attend in a given time frame, such as per month or year to avoid tiring yourself out with having to decide whether or not to attend. Importantly, set a time for when it will be appropriate for you to leave and convince yourself that it will be okay for you to leave because you have completed your task.
  3. Power in meeting one person in the room. It is a successful networking event if you have connected with one person that you want to stay in touch with. This is more than enough for one event. Throughout life this collection of individuals will expand into a reliable and comfortable network.
  4. It is okay to excuse yourself to meet others in the room. It is likely that the person with whom you are chatting with also wants to meet others and will not take offense to you excusing yourself. Source: Sylviane Duval, OpenTheBox LTD
  5. Honestly is the best policy when introducing and excusing yourself. It may be easier to make a connection with someone if you mention the reason that you are introducing yourself to a particular individual. To maintain trust with your new contact provide the true reason (even if very brief) for your need to end the conversation as mentioned in point 4 above. Source: Sylviane Duval, OpenTheBox LTD
  6. Give yourself permission to recharge during a networking event. It is okay to walk away to a less crowded area for a short moment to re-ground yourself before coming back to socialize.
  7. Carry business cards even if you are still ‘only’ a trainee. The person that you have met will appreciate having a card with your name and details describing what type of trainee you are, as well as your contact information the next time that they would like to reach you. It may seem trivial, but in a world where we are constantly traveling and meeting scientists at multiple meetings it becomes very difficult to keep track of everyone. It’s not necessarily to give out 50 of them at one event, but there will definitely be moments when someone will inquire for your contact details or when you will find it appropriate to extend your contact information to someone. Source: Sylviane Duval, OpenTheBox LTD

With this blog post, I hope that I have convinced you that the introverted personality can form a network of meaningful relationships. If you are interested in reading more on this series follow the link for strategies on how an introvert can enjoy owning the stage at the podium.

About the author

Hanna Ostapska is a PhD candidate mentored by Dr. Don Sheppard in the microbiology and immunology department at McGill University. Hanna has served two terms as co-Communications officer on the GlycoNet Trainee Association Executive Committee from 2017-2019.

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