Building Professional Support Networks

It is an inevitable consequence of researching at this level, that by the time you have completed your thesis, you will know more about your subject than almost anyone else in the world. Only a small number of people will share your knowledge and understanding.

This means that to be able to discuss your work and your interests in detail, you may need to find and make connections with those other people. You may well find some in your Department or Faculty (including your supervisor) but it is equally possible that the direction of your research takes you beyond the expertise of those around you.

Finding other researchers who share your passion and knowledge base can help to provide you with a sense of community and security – as well as creating a network that may be useful to you during your future career.

Luckily there is a long history of collaboration within research and academia. Other researchers will not be surprised to be approached by those working in their field. 

However, the way in which you approach those in your field may well benefit from some forethought. Most academics have heavy workloads. An email that is very generally seeking to say hello or that is asking for help, may well wait in an inbox for a long time before you receive a reply. The reply you get may also simply be a polite good luck with your work and a genuine apology that they don’t have time to help.

Instead, it can be helpful to return to the discussion in section 4 on identity. You are a researcher now. If you already see yourself as part of this community and wear that identity with confidence, you can approach these conversations in a different way. It is important to remember that although you may have been citing someone’s work and regarding them as extremely important, they too are just a human being and very probably don’t spend much of their time feeling very important.

Rather than seeing yourself as a student seeking someone’s help, view yourself as a peer and consider what you may be offering them. This could be quite simple – you might suggest that you want to better understand their work so you can cite it in an upcoming article (no researcher treats citations of their work lightly). You might want to share some of your published work with them to inform their thoughts or to suggest a possible collaboration.

You might also want to consider venues for beginning and pursuing these conversations. Conferences are a recognised meeting point for researchers in similar fields – if you can attend or, even better, present at key conferences, it may provide you with a chance to meet people in your community of practice.

Alternatively, you could email the corresponding author on some of the pieces that are most important to your work. Think carefully about your first contact and be clear in your questions and purpose – what are you asking for? What are you offering?

Finally, it may be worth looking out for opportunities to join webinars or online forums. Using multiple opportunities in this way can increase your chance of gradually being including in these research communities.

Video Resources

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PGR Students Talk About Professional Support Networks and How They Built Them