When I began my Global Online MBA in 2015, one opportunity that I feared missing out on was networking. My time on campus would be limited, thus my in-person interaction with professors and classmates would also be reduced to only about a third of the semester.
Questions began to linger in my head. Will I be able to have meaningful discussions with others in the cohort? How do I express my ideas clearly when I’m conversing online? What will it take for me to make the most out of this experience?
As early as the first semester, I learned that all these queries were already at the back of the minds of the programme designers at Edtech Lab – Imperial’s first digital learning and education group. This led to an intuitive learning environment for the students.
The fundamentals were solid from the get-go. Our platform, The Hub was up and running from day one so matters related to programme content, discussions, and assignments were already well taken care of. This left us room to focus on learning and networking.
As I reflect on my two-year experience at Imperial College Business School, I observe similarities with the shift that higher education is undergoing today in light of the global pandemic.
A growing number of business schools are going online, at least in the upcoming year, but should this deter networking opportunities?
Here are three considerations for us to network in these uncertain times:
1. Reach out
Networking is a targeted exercise and from this process, communities that share the same interests are formed. In this regard, it’s important to prioritise who we network with and how we approach them. This begins by simply reaching out.
When I was an MBA student, I knew early on that my thesis would be on sustainability. In the first year, however, our syllabus was on core modules e.g. accounting and finance, and thus it wouldn’t be until the second year that I would be able to interact directly with researchers focusing on sustainability.
This did not stop me from looking up faculty and identifying potential academics whom I could email about the topic. This information was all public anyway. With some lead time, all of the academics I’d written to replied with some great perspectives.
The only rule of this approach is to be respectful. Faculty members can be heavily occupied, thus it’s crucial to be mindful of the timing, tone, and language of our correspondences with them. It helps to keep our emails concise as well – I used to spend hours editing mine (and I still do).
2. Maximise on technology
The past few months have seen a surge in the number of users on video-conferencing platforms worldwide. Zoom is said to have up to 300 million active daily users today, up from only 10 million last December. Microsoft Teams users rose 70% to 75 million in just a month.
As much as I’m using these platforms a lot, I try to limit my video calls to an hour for each meeting. I find a mix of video conference, instant messaging e.g. WhatsApp and email to be a healthier blend in prioritising and focusing on the tasks at hand.
For networking, an increasing number of conferences are now moving online as are webinars, which is great. We are no longer required to dress up and commute to listen to our favourite speakers! Whip up some finger food and you’ve got yourself a home conference.
While opportunities to directly engage in-person are limited at webinars, there are still Q&A sessions where questions can be asked immediately on the chat function. If you’re like me, this minimises the risk of losing our words when given the microphone.
It’s hard to imagine volunteering effectively when we are not able to go outside. This is mainly because the idea of volunteerism is mostly tagged to images of being on the road and meeting people.
As a part-time student who was not on campus every day, I was actively on the lookout for opportunities to still get involved with College programmes. The options were limited given my lack of skills required for opportunities, but I tried to make the best out of it.
For one, I was a writer for the Business School blog, and this opportunity allowed me to not only interact with the wider university community, but also make new connections on LinkedIn who were interested in the same topics.
After graduation, I was a regular at the Imperial College Business School stand at MBA events around Kuala Lumpur, and it gives me joy to give back in this manner. I might not be able to donate an entire building, but I hope giving away pens and speaking to perspectives students do count for a bit.
These are indeed interesting times to be networking from a distance but with the number of people staying at home higher than ever, largely with good Internet, you can almost be assured that your new connections are just an email away.