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Getting Out There: Making the Most of Your Networks and Travels

By Meg Nakahara

Jan 21, 2016


3 Minute Read


Most of us have found ourselves in a capital city at some point for work or a conference, but how often have you taken advantage of the location to meet new people and expand your network? Each trip can be a great opportunity to network and start to build relationships in the policy world.

Regardless of where you are in your research, it’s useful to be plugged into the policy community. Do you have something new and exciting to share, like a paper coming out?  This is a fantastic time to think about who could benefit from hearing about this new work. Even if you don’t have any new research results, you’re still a knowledgeable resource in your field. Think about the “so what?” of your work – it’s not just new results that are useful to policymakers, they’re interested in research that helps inform the decisions they have to make. And, just as your research can inform policy decisions, changes in policy and policymakers’ needs can impact and guide your future work.

This may sound daunting, but don’t worry, we’ll help you get started. One of the best first steps is to find a navigator – someone who can help you decode the policy landscape you’re stepping into. Specifically, you want to find someone who understands the basics of your science and the policy context for that science. I suggest starting by reaching out to your existing network and doing your homework on which policy navigators best complement your work.

Over the course of your career, you will build many professional connections in science, which can serve as a jumping off point for connecting to new people in policy. There are many ways to leverage your existing network to meet new people:

  • Mention to your colleagues that you’re interested in networking with a policy audience while you’re out of the office, and ask if they know any policy people working in your area of expertise.
  • Check LinkedIn. Maybe an old colleague has moved to a position in a federal agency that you’re interested in, or maybe one of your connections happens to know someone who works at an NGO that’s doing interesting work. (Don’t have a LinkedIn account? Consider getting one. It’s a great way to keep track of colleagues over time – like Facebook for your professional life.)
  • Contact your institution’s government affairs staff, your alumni organization, or professional societies that you belong to. These groups dedicate a lot of time and energy to helping people meet, and they’re great resources for connecting you with the policy world.

While your personal network can take you many places, it’s important to also forge new relationships. You’ll need to do some research to identify key people that share your interests. That research can take many forms:

  • Read policy reports from federal agencies, Congress, NGO’s, and others. These reports are maps that lay out the state of policy and science, and their authors are often chosen because they are navigators in that field.
  • Consider meeting with a congressional science staffer from your district. Although the staffer likely isn’t the navigator you’re looking for, they tend to be very knowledgeable about the people involved with science policy discussions and can potentially connect you with the right people.
  • Attend science policy sessions at conferences, especially if they’re in Washington, D.C. These sessions often bring policy navigators together in one room to share their insights. Talking with a speaker after a session, or maybe grabbing coffee or drinks later, is one of the easiest ways to network with navigators (and you don’t even need to leave the conference center!).

Even if you cringe at the idea of “networking,” we encourage you to push your boundaries and get out there. The next time you’re in D.C., challenge yourself to reach out to one person you might not have otherwise. Networking can seem intimidating, but this quote by Sherry Lee Mueller helps to put it in perspective: “Every time we meet someone and a conversation ensues based on mutual interest, we are networking.”


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