There is no doubt that we are all busy: juggling diaries with growing commitments. Networking can feel like a ‘nice to do’ rather than ‘essential task’. Here we address some of the common concerns researchers have about finding the time.

Which of these time worries resonate with you and how might you address them or reframe them as a positive?


Something else always seems more important or urgent

Networking falls in to one of those activities that often gets de-prioritised when an urgent matter arises.  There are usually long-term, or deferred, benefits to networking and we don’t see the immediate effect of not doing it…but we must keep investing in our long-term future.  For some useful ideas and tips, watch our videos on prioritising and time management.

Time away from family and caring responsibilities

Universities have increasing commitments to gender equality, which, in some cases, has resulted in event organisers being more open to adapting timings (e.g. to avoid the school pick-up time), providing a creche or allowing partners and kids to come along to events. Always ask the organisers about this, it may make a big difference. Or can you look for ways to participate virtually, including via social media? 

Perception of wasted time

It’s true that emails can get lost and social media can make time disappear. Therefore, we encourage you to invest time in planning your networking approach and learning the best use of tools.  However, there is a degree of luck and good timing.  As we explain in the previous section of this resource, spending time investing in networks is like planting seeds: some may land on fertile ground, some may not, so we need to plant enough to make sure we have some successes. Think of doing things little and often and accept that some seeds will not germinate!

Time away from the day job

Networking has a long-term impact on your day job.  As you progress in your career your day-to-day effectiveness or ability to find a job may be diminished if you don’t spend time networking now.  So, try to re-frame networking as being an essential part of your day job. Write down the potential benefits of your networking activity, both for your own career, for your project and wider benefits for your research group.  The more you can think of, the more worthwhile, relevant, and valuable that time spent will seem.

My PI or supervisor wouldn’t like me spending time on this.

A key thing to remember is that all researchers are expected to undertake a minimum of 10 days a year of continuing professional development (as set out in the 2019 Researcher Development Concordat). This includes building networks and dedicating time to explore and plan the next stages of your career. Remember the benefits for you and your project will also directly, or indirectly, benefit your research group and PI.  Think of what these benefits might be and make sure you put these points across.  If having the conversation about time still feels daunting, look at some resources on planning for difficult conversations here

Lack of confidence that people will respond

Ask yourself what specifically is it that you are worried might happen, and what the impact of that will be on you – what is the worst that could happen?  Focus on the outcome you want.  What will you miss out on if you don’t take that action and make an approach? There is a famous quote: ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ (Wayne Gretsky). Remember that you definitely won’t get a response if you don’t approach anyone.  Let them decide whether they will reply don’t make the decision for them.  Take a look at the section on making the first approach for some tips on increasing your chances of a reply. 

Is this event worth my time and travel?

In all the following situations, the key thing is to prioritise your efforts.

Set some clear criteria for what you want as an outcome and use this to evaluate opportunities. For example, which of the conference criteria below are valuable to you, at this stage in your career, and is there another way you could get these without going to a particular event?

Remind yourself what our alumni have said they gained from networking

  • Which of these outcomes is really a priority for you?
  • What where you expecting anyway? (adapted from University of Glasgow resources)

Accordion 1

To get feedback on my ideas

Is your aim to get feedback on new research ideas and how to take them forward? Can virtual networks help instead?

To publish / get published / get my next job

This is an important function of conferences. Why not take the initiative and email the speaker / editor saying you hope you might catch them at the conference (or highlighting your poster/talk) and would love to discuss the topic if they have time?

To hear about research in my field

More and more is being shared online via social media and preprints. There are many ways to keep up to date. Think about what a conference adds to this.

To get practice doing presentations

Public speaking will be part of both online and presential conferences. There are other forums to get public speaking practice including talks to departments other than yours (or your old department) and public engagement.

To feel reinvigorated about doing my research

Can you buddy with someone and ask them to talk to you through your research project / next experiment planning for 30 min and then return the favour for them?

To travel to new places

Okay, but what if the conference remains online? You got us on this one!

You can find the original exercise in this online conference resource by the University of Glasgow.

Related links

  • Online networking can save you time – are you being as effective as possible in your use of social media?