“Interactomes” for Cell Biologists—Building Your Professional Network

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The word “networking” may have stuffy connotations, but it concisely describes building relationships with peers and colleagues. Having a network of friends and mentors to provide advice and support has been invaluable throughout my scientific training. Nevertheless, I have sometimes found networking difficult, particularly before I felt established in my chosen field. With Cell Bio 2023, ASCB’s annual meeting, just around the corner, now is a great time to think about ways to make new connections and maintain the relationships you have already established.

Establishing Relationships

The most natural way to build a network is to be friendly with the folks that you interact with on a regular basis. Socializing with graduate school classmates, labmates, and department colleagues can feel like talking to friends, but these colleagues will all go on to diverse careers. Be someone your friends can count on for support, and you will find that they support you back.

Going to scientific meetings and conferences—like Cell Bio 2023—is a great way to connect with a more far-flung set of colleagues. You will quickly find that there are many meeting attendees that you naturally have things in common with, like alums of your lab/department or other scientists in your field. You might also connect over non-science interests. For example, I’m a runner, so I frequently meet or reconnect with other running scientists during conferences by organizing or joining a morning run. If you attend meetings regularly and reconnect with the same people, these professional acquaintances can start feeling like old friends.

If you’re attending a meeting as a member of a brand-new lab or an underpopulated field, you may need to find other commonalities to connect over. One good way to do that is to get involved with groups that organize various aspects of the meeting. Within the ASCB, this could mean joining one of the many committees that organize career development and scientific programming for the annual meeting along with year-long activities. ASCB committees include the Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS), LGBTQ+ Committee, and Women in Cell Biology (WICB) Committee, amongst others—there’s sure to be a committee to match your interests and/or identity. Other meetings also dedicate time to trainee-organized and -populated programming. For example, many Gordon Research Conferences now have an associated Gordon Research Seminar that features sessions of talks and posters from students and postdocs only. Getting involved in these parts of meetings can be a great way to connect with other trainees in your field, and having the shared goal of organizing or moderating sessions can further help you build lasting relationships.

Maintaining your network

Even if you have managed to connect with your peers and colleagues, maintaining those relationships can still be a challenge. As your career moves on, and you no longer work alongside your former work friends, how are you supposed to stay in touch?

One easy way to keep in touch and solidify relationships is to advocate for your colleagues. If you see a job posting that looks interesting, but the moment isn’t right for you to apply, encourage one of your peers to apply instead. Use empowering language (e.g., “I saw this opportunity, and I think you would be a strong candidate”) and offer to review application materials. Doing so will build camaraderie while giving you secondhand application experience, which might make you a better applicant when the time comes.

Similarly, one colleague looking for a job in a particular area can become an excellent excuse to contact other connections in the same field. Connecting one colleague with a different wing of your network is a win-win. You get to show your job-seeking peer how great you think they are by vouching for them while also maintaining your professional relationships and demonstrating your good professional judgment. After all, if you think your friends are fantastic, your other friends will likely think so, too. Leveraging your network for others is a great way to strengthen your relationships. As your career progresses and you get to know more people within the cell biology community, make a point of welcoming more junior scientists into your network. Remember that it can feel intimidating to be a brand-new graduate student or a first-time meeting attendee who knows nobody. A concrete action that we can take to make our community more inclusive is to welcome newcomers by making a conscious effort to meet them and keep in touch with them. If you are going to Cell Bio 2023, now is a great time to reach out to more junior scientists in your field to make sure you reconnect in Boston!

About the Author:

Ross Pedersen (Twitter: @RossTAPedersen) Is a postdoctoral fellow in Yixian Zheng’s lab in the Department of Embryology at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Baltimore, Maryland, where his research aims to elucidate the pathway governing nuclear lamin assembly following mitosis.