“A degree will give you a key, but your network will open the door.” –S.R.
What is your biggest asset? Take a moment to think about it.
Did you think about your savings account or the house you will one day own? Maybe you thought that you are just starting out and do not really have any tangible assets. At least that is how I have felt as a recent graduate beginning my professional career. Reflecting on this topic more deeply has led me to see that the biggest asset we have is our NETWORK.
In 2010, as a freshman at a community college, I was afforded the opportunity to attend my first American Chemical Society (ACS) conference. I had never left Texas, much less flown on a plane, and here I was travelling by myself to Boston. I was supported by the Plains Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program (PBBP) where the director, Dr. Jaclyn Canas-Carrell, put me in contact with the ACS president at the time, Dr. Joe Francisco. This is an example of when you meet someone, you gain access to their network and to their immediate second and third degree connections. To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. After meeting Dr. Francisco, he invited me to shadow him and attend all of the events at the ACS conference. It was at this moment my network was first seeded.
Dr. Francisco took me to the ACS Scholars Program luncheon where I met Zaida Morales-Martinez (Mama Z) who encouraged me to apply for the ACS Scholars Program that gives underrepresented minority low-income college students majoring in chemistry a varying scholarship of up to $5,000 per year. I applied and was awarded this scholarship, which gave me the financial resources to pay for school and focus on my academics.
My experience with the PBBP opened the door for me to become a member of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute CISER Program at Texas Tech University and also allowed me to have on-campus support with the Mentor Tech Program. As an undergraduate, I was also given the chance to attend the national Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and other research conferences to present my work. At each conference, I used my time wisely to meet mentors, colleagues, and friends every chance I got. Along the way, I have trialed and implemented best practices on how I meet and keep in touch with my network and I would like to share them with you.
How to Create Your Network:
- Step out of your comfort zone and learn how to introduce yourself to others or how to smoothly join in on a conversation. There are organizations, such as Toast Master’s, which can help you achieve this goal.
- Practice your introduction speech and have some planned questions if you are nervous.
- If you want to meet someone, ask your network to introduce you, it’s always easier to get someone to listen if they are already connected with the other person.
- Offer your newfound network help by introducing them to someone you already know. Sometimes we tend to take and do not think about what we can give to others.
- Ask for business cards and afterwards write down notes about something personal they spoke to you about. For example, their twins are starting college this fall. In four years you can reach out and see where they are.
How to Maintain Your Network:
- Give your network a call, pick up the phone and check in on them. You can connect on social media or LinkedIn to thank them for their guidance and influence.
- Send handwritten birthday cards, holiday cards, or just a post-card from you latest trip (this can even be from your current location). Email works fine too.
- Reach out and let your network know about your new job and future plans. They might have contacts in your area.
- If you are attending a conference that someone in your network might be at send out an invitation to get on their schedule.
- Keep good records, I save all of my business cards in a business card holder. These days you can scan and save them or just upload them to your phone.
I do not know where I will end up, but I do know that the people I have met over the years continue to be my mentors, advisors, peers, potential sponsors, and vital support system. They have helped me to get scholarships, fellowships, and interviews, written countless letters of recommendation, and most importantly given me their upmost guidance and wisdom. If I can leave you with one last piece of advice, it would be to not wait until your next crisis to reach out to your network. Spend some time to invest in your greatest asset. It may make all of the difference. So ask yourself, is it time to re-connect with your network?