Dear Kate – January 2016

Dear Kate,

How do I ask my advisor to connect me with people for professional reasons (e.g. to find an internship or full time job)? Feels so awkward and inappropriate at times.

– Networking Novice

Dear Novice,

These types of conversations can be tricky to navigate, but sometimes they can be easier and more straightforward than you would expect! Of course it all depends on your relationship with your advisor, so feel free to take this advice with a grain of salt. I’m writing from the perspective of someone who has asked current and former bosses (as opposed to advisors) for professional contacts/advice, and also from the perspective of someone who has received these kinds of requests.

First, I would suggest paying attention to your gut — if this kind of request feels inappropriate for whatever reason, I’d trust that and suggest finding a different time or avenue to make the request.  But if it just seems awkward, I’d push through it!  Remember that your advisor doesn’t expect you to be a student forever, ideally wants the best outcome for his/her students after their studies, and is probably in the best position to connect you with relevant contacts and to vouch for you. It could be as simple as bringing up your question during a regularly scheduled meeting — or if that’s not possible, requesting a 30 min meeting to ask for career advice.  I’ve had the best luck when I’ve framed these kinds of requests in terms of seeking career advice rather than a more transactional “can you give me the name/contact info of someone in X organization/position, etc.”  This allows it to be a two-way conversation and gives your advisor more of a stake in later helping you make connections.  I would also strongly suggest doing your research before the conversation.  Have a clear idea of the types of people and the types of organizations you want to be connected with (the more specific the better) and be able to share a brief narrative why.  This demonstrates you put in lots of thought and effort so why shouldn’t the person you’re asking do just a bit more to nudge you further in the right direction.  It can also be helpful to ask for connections for informational meetings/interviews (early in your job search process) rather than making a connection to immediately apply for a related job.

Perhaps you won’t be able to cover all of this in one conversation, in which case follow up — you’ve likely helped to build rapport and more trust to continue the conversation.  Either way, I’d also suggest keeping your advisor in the loop on whatever follow up you have with his/her connections.  Maybe this will lead to further connections — even if not, it’s good practice.

Good luck!

– Kate G

Dear Networking Novice,

My experience with this issue has always been quite positive. I find that advisors typically want to see their students succeed.  Remember that building connections between colleagues is beneficial for everyone involved, including your advisor.  For example, a Ph.D. student at the University of New Hampshire spoke with his advisor about contacts at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  This agency had funded some of the research at their lab in the past.  After graduation, this student was hired by the FHWA. He now comes back to UNH regularly to mentor some of the new graduate students at the lab.  It is a great relationship that benefits the ex-student, the advisor and the new graduate students.

In summary, while it may feel uncomfortable at first, “just do it” knowing that relationship-building will be good for both you and your advisor.  I am confident that your advisor will be pleased that you asked and will be happy to make introductions.

– Kate K

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