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Signs of the times

I’ve been struggling this month to think of a subject to write about for my blog, so I thought I’d settle on an observation I’ve made about PhD students and postdocs, which I think will be of interest.

Increasingly, I’ve noticed a rise in the number of workshops and blogs, which focus on the importance for researchers to engage with social media. In fact, I’m even taking part in a Google Hangout on this very subject on Thursday this week (27 November 2014) as part of the #Vitaehangoutseries. I, myself, have written on the topic previously, encouraging early career researchers and PhD students to get a presence on Researchgate or LinkedIn, write a blog or sign up for Twitter, depending on their career ambitions (see related content at the end of this blog). Social media is not for everyone, although I have noticed more hands going up nowadays, when I ask workshop participants if they are using social media for professional purposes. It can be time-consuming, so it’s important to take care not to spend too much time, or even become addicted to, checking accounts and messages.

However, aside from this relatively new way to raise one’s profile, some researchers are missing more straightforward and traditional methods to promote themselves and make themselves more accessible to others, e.g. their peers, prospective employers and collaborators. In comparison to the emails I receive from academics, those from PhD students and postdoctoral researchers rarely append a ‘signature’. That is, a formal title, with address and any other form of contact after they sign off at the end of their message. For example, my email signature is:

Sarah Blackford, BSc, MA CIEGHE
Head of Education & Public Affairs
Society for Experimental Biology
Bailrigg House
Lancaster LA1 4YE, UK
https://www.linkedin.com/pub/sarah-blackford/10/b72/968
+44 1524 594850

Your email  signature makes  you visible to anyone who wants to get in contact again and, should your email become redundant, your linkedin profile or other links are still there.
Another more traditional method of promoting yourself is using the humble business card. Although generally unfashionable in the research world, business cards are becoming more widely used at scientific meetings, especially in the US, so I recommend you have a set printed – it’s quite cheap to do these days. You can hand them out when you make a connection with someone, or even put them in a pouch attached to your conference poster for people to take away with them when you’re not there. I was recently at the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Meeting where a company called Quartzy.com had even printed out complimentary sets for poster presenters.
If this all sounds too superficial and cynical to you, remember that networking is not false or insincere, it’s simply about communication. Make it easy for people to find you and you may be the person they choose to invite to give a talk, headhunt for a job, collaborate with or nominate for an award.
And talking of cards, now that I’ve done my November blog, time to get on with writing my Christmas cards!

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