This section will focus on the first steps you can take to grow your networks and suggests many ways to connect with others.

Our alumni and academic staff have shared how they developed their networks:

Alumni quotes

  • Disseminate your work proudly
  • Engage with media teams
  • Always keep in touch
  • Be patient
  • Use social media
  • Introduce yourself
  • Use business cards
  • Join professional associations
  • Take networking opportunities at Imperial
  • Set up a new network
  • Ask for help
  • Develop a programme
  • Apply for travel grants
  • Ask for mentorship
  • Share your work
  • Ask questions at conferences
  • Use the postdoc network
  • Be inquisitive
  • Follow up
  • Do careers research
  • Contact others about their research
  • Stand in for your supervisor
  • Go to unrelated events
  • See other researchers as friends

Hear more from recent fellows and lecturers here.

Making the first contact – on email

Lack of face-to-face networking opportunities can be a big challenge for early career researchers for various reasons. Most commonly, you might be contacting someone you don’t know via email, or a messaging service like LinkedIn.  Many senior academics are very aware of this and will be sympathetic to an email approach, asking for a discussion about potential areas of collaboration or similar.

Here are some suggestions for a few simple rules to apply when cold emailing:

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Be respectful of their time

Keep the message as brief as possible: the longer the email, the more likely it is that the reader will wait until they have time to read it…and then they may not find the time to come back to it.

Have a clear request

Don't be at all vague about this. Clearly explain why you are getting in touch and make it clear what, specifically, it is that you would like them to do and, if at all possible, how long this might take them. Flattery can go a long way so let them know what it is about them that you are impressed by or what it is that they think would be valuable to you.

Explain who you are

Explain who you are as briefly as possible, for example by linking to a webpage or LinkedIn profile or similar, so they can learn a bit about you if they wish.

Be referred

People are often more likely to respond if you are not a stranger to them so, if possible, find a mutual acquaintance who you can mention that you have in common.  Better still, ask your mutual acquaintance to introduce you.   The person doing the introduction is effectively providing you with an endorsement, as someone worth spending time on. They are likely to feel accountable if that turns out not to be the case. Particularly where someone has had a previous negative experience, they might hesitate to advocate on someone else’s behalf until sufficient trust is built up.

Make it easy for them to reply

Make it easy for them to reply to you in the first instance without having to do too much work. For example – don’t ask for lots of advice or opinion straight away – try and ask a question that requires just a one word or one sentence answer – for example, a yes or no, or to pick a date that you can arrange to meet if they are happy to speak to you.

Again, they are much more likely to reply to straight away if they don’t have to think too much about their response. You would be surprised by how many people actively want to help, but are also a bit worried about overcommitting, if they're not clear on what helping involves. So, make it easy for them to know what they are saying yes to.

Make it easy to meet

If you are going to be attending the same event or conference soon, a good idea can be to get in touch with people beforehand to say why you’d like to talk to them and arrange a quiet point in the programme to meet them face to face.

And if they don’t reply….

And if they don’t reply….send a follow up after a couple of weeks, but don’t keep pestering them.  They may genuinely have forgotten to reply.  But make it easy for them to turn you down with grace.  You could say something like “I’ll assume if I don’t hear back from you that you are too busy with other commitments, but if you feel there may be someone else, I could speak. To about this, I would be grateful for an introduction”

Introducing yourself face to face at an event

This can come naturally to some of us, but many find this very awkward.  Read Sara Shinton’s great blog on what researchers wish they had done differently when introducing themselves to a stranger.

Tips for event networking:

  • If you know that there’s someone you really want to speak to, connect with them in advance to arrange a meeting, so that you’re not trying to ‘work the room’ to get round to a specific individual.
  • Challenge yourself to keep your phone in your pocket/bag. It’s too easy to reach for it as soon as you feel awkward in a networking situation.
  • Ditch the elevator pitch. Nobody enjoys being on the receiving end of a self-promoting sales spiel. Aim to listen more than you talk.
  • Don’t leap in with varieties of ‘who are you?’ conversation starter (e.g., ‘what’s your name?’, ‘where do you work?’, ‘what do you work on?’) – it’s better to build rapport first, and you can always turn to those questions after you’ve struck up a successful conversation with someone. Instead, you could try asking how they’re finding the conference, whether they’ve seen any particularly good talks, what they think of the theme, the programme, the venue, the food, etc.
  • Try not to initiate conversations with people who have just piled up their plate with food. They are probably thinking more about eating than networking!
  • Joining groups at a networking event – groups of 2 often tricky as might be talking about something confidential or personal, better to be able to make eye contact and then the groups will open up a bit for you. Groups larger than 4 are already getting a bit too big and are like to split naturally into two when you join
  • Remembering names: repeat the person’s name when they introduce themselves and try to use it again soon. When saying your own name, try to pause between each name, to help them to hear and understand it (we often have a habit of running names together).
  • LinkedIn has a function you can both switch on to look for nearby people so if you are keen to keep in touch after, this is a quick way of finding each other without having to write down names.
  • Some conferences, where they know that people struggle with the fear of asking a silly question, put a break between the talk and the questions, to give people time to reflect or check their questions with others. This could be something you would like to adopt if you’re ever in the situation of planning an event.
Networking activities like asking questions at a conference can induce fear in many of us. Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway is a book by Dr Susan Jeffers that looks at how incremental changes and small steps can help you overcome fears. For this example, a first small step could be writing down the sorts of questions you would ask and then seeing if they get asked. The next step might be talking to others about these questions at a tea break. Then asking the questions later of the speaker, either in person or by email. All of these can help you to build up those questions for real.

Maintaining your network: follow up after your first contact

After you’ve made the first contact with someone – whether at an event or by email, you need to start building on that relationship and building trust. Here are some quick actions you can take:

If a conversation doesn't happen in real life in that moment, don't worry. You can follow up with an email or even follow up after a conversation if there’s something you said or even if it's just “great to meet you” or an offer of thanks or gratitude. I think those tiny touches can really, really go a long way. And that has been something that has aided my career development.
- Flora Scott, alumnus

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Follow up

Follow up with any articles, contacts or resources you discussed with them

Make a date

Make a date to meet or call your new contact so that you can talk more about your mutual interest, potential collaboration or opportunity. Put it in your diary to remind you.

Keep in touch

Keep in touch – even if you don’t need your new contact at the present time, drop them a line every few months so that they will still remember you when you do need them. This needn’t be a long email that they then feel obliged to answer – you could follow up on something they advised you, mention an article that you think they might be interested in, or possibly use social media for a quicker way to engage.

Ask for introductions

Ask for introductions and introduce them to people you know – offering to put them in touch with others shows that you have listened to them and are thinking about how to help them.

Thank them

Thank them – if they helped you out with some advice, be sure to say thanks and let them know where their help led you, even if you decide not to pursue what you discussed with them. Be generous in acknowledging their input to help you with the decision-making process.

Connect on social media

Make a LinkedIn connection or follow them on twitter – better still share or respond to their social media feeds.

Share your successes

Communicating your achievements to your network (e.g., going back to people and saying: thanks for helping me at xx point, I’m really delighted to have had that paper accepted (or whatever else) see it as letting them share your success and feel helpful or useful rather than showing off. Or show that you are willing to support the next people coming through - e.g., got a Fellowship? Shout about it, but also be willing to pay it forward by talking to others who are applying next round.

Don’t worry if they don’t respond

As our alumnus Maria Papathanasiou  says: “The timing is always key, so it doesn't mean that if you meet somebody today, and you have exchanged contact details, that this collaboration has to materialize today. It may mature in two years, and that may be even better. So patience is key in all of this but putting yourself out there introducing yourself: who you are, what do you do and, you know, just keeping in touch is extremely important”


I started building a network, and by building a network I mean, that wherever I met, … a professor or student I was working with, or collaborator from industry, I always kept in touch….. not frequently… if there was not a certain topic, but touching base about how my life has progressed, for example with my supervisor in Germany, to seek advice.
- Maria Papathanasiou

Activities and resources

  • Write down three things now which have happened recently which you’d like to update existing people in your network on. Will you share these on social media? Send an email or LinkedIn message to people who helped you with this (perhaps even offering to meet for a chat if the other person wants to?).
  • Use this list of Networking opportunities (doc) as a starting point to evaluate and prioritise the networking opportunities around you.


Read these articles and reflect on your own preferences for networking: write down 5 small things you can do to maximise your participation in a conference.