How to Network in Your Academic Department

Updated: September 21, 2020

Once you’ve learned the networking basics, it’s time to focus your efforts where it matters most. As a student, you already have an incredibly accomplished network at your fingertips: the faculty, staff, and students at your school. Here are our top tips for establishing a scholastic network that will strengthen your academic and professional goals.

  1. Join departmental organizations, clubs, or groups. For example, if you’re an English major and your department publishes a biannual literary journal, sign up to be a staff member. You’ll work closely with faculty advisors and fellow students, bolstering your departmental relationships and enhancing your knowledge of your chosen field. In addition, some departments sponsor field trips or even study abroad programs, both of which offer excellent networking opportunities.
  2. Make a game plan to connect with your favorite professors and/or teaching assistants one-on-one. Each of your professors and TAs will have contacts outside the university, including colleagues, professional associations, publishers, and specialists. When you set up a meeting, let the person know that you’re looking for career advice. Arrive with a list of questions and jot down some notes—especially the names of any contacts. After, send a brief thank-you message to show your appreciation.
  3. Build strong relationships with department secretaries and student aides. Department secretaries are connected to everyone and everything, and they’re your first point of contact if you want to make an appointment, learn about internship opportunities, or find out when grant or scholarship applications are due. Let them know that you appreciate their hard work.
  4. Show your support by offering to do research or assist on a project for your favorite faculty member. Many professors need student researchers to help with their work. As a bonus, they’ll give you credit in the final project, which is a great addition to your resume. You can also offer to help teaching assistants, who will often have more time to work with you, and support your career goals, than professors.
  5. Don’t forget the alumni network, a facet of your academic network that has unlimited connections. The alumni office is a good place to start to discover your options. Some schools pair undergraduates with alumni, ensuring that each student gets individualized attention when it comes to pursuing their career goals. You can also consider volunteering at an alumni event.
  6. Establish yourself as a scholar and outstanding asset to the department by boosting your GPA and being inducted into honor societies. Departments often compete for top students, and your department will be thrilled if you enhance its reputation. You can meet other like-minded, motivated students at study groups and academic conferences.
  7. Volunteer in your department to help with special events or tutor other students. Many departments host guest speakers or conferences that rely on student support, giving you additional opportunities to network outside of your university.
  8. Take advantage of out-of-town guests by connecting with relevant visiting speakers that come to campus. Attend their talks, pay attention, and introduce yourself afterwards. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a business card and write a follow-up letter, summarizing what you enjoyed about their presentation and requesting an informational interview.