Nine Ways to Get to Know Key Faculty

Published: Tues. Jan. 27, 2015; by Elisha Hall

Elisha Hall portrait

The common adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is something most of us have heard. Although it undervalues the skills and knowledge gained in graduate school, this saying does contain an important message. Networking with key faculty in your field provides you with important connections that can help with your current studies and research, future projects, and the job search. Through my own networking, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from faculty within and outside of my department, join an interdisciplinary research team housed in another department, and brainstorm interventions with faculty outside of the University. These connections can give you an advantage over your competition—so where should you start?

In your department

  • Start with faculty you already know. Ask your advisor or mentor to recommend faculty members within the department who have similar interests. Visit with them during office hours or at department functions.
  • Read publications. Many times publications can be found on your department’s faculty webpage. Determine if your research interests match. Set up a meeting with this faculty member to discuss your shared interests.
  • Volunteer to assist a faculty member with research. Even a few hours each week will give you valuable experience, allow you to learn from a different faculty member, and help that faculty remember you (which might result in a future reference).

At your university

  • Branch out and try something new. If there’s a discipline that compliments your own area of study and interests you, take an introductory class in that major. This will help you make connections in another department.
  • Always introduce yourself to faculty members, especially those outside of your department. We tend to focus more on faculty members within our department, but those outside of our departments will strengthen our network of connections with new perspectives.
  • Consider asking a faculty member outside of your department to join your supervisory committee. These faculty members can provide you with advice you likely won’t receive from the experts within your own field. They can help broaden your perspectives and improve the quality of your work.

In your field

  • Attend a conference. This is your opportunity to meet a plethora of experts from other universities. Introduce yourself to speakers after a presentation, network at any conference-sponsored meals, and always go to poster presentations.
  • Present at a conference. Share your research with others whenever possible. This helps key faculty in your field get to know you and your interests in a short time period. Remember to bring business cards so you can easily share your contact information.
  • Go to seminars and professional presentations featuring faculty from other universities. Many departments host guest speakers, providing the opportunity to learn from faculty with different backgrounds and resources. Introduce yourself at the end of their presentation and ask questions relevant to their presentation to show your interest. Take advantage of receptions and meet-and-greets.

Getting to know faculty within your department, at your university, and in your field only takes a little initiative. Once these connections are made, you open a world of new perspectives, find opportunities for building your résumé, and gain name recognition for the job search. Although what you know is always important, who you know can open many doors, and might just give you a boost in the job market.