Because many LIS programs are online-based, it can be difficult to meet people in your program. Yes, there may be required group assignments in certain classes, but that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be connected to people with whom you can talk about your other courses, organizations, experiences, professors, etc. That being said, how are you supposed to find people to connect with, and why is it even important to do so?
To start, let’s cover the basics: It’s important to build a professional network of relations from your graduate career because they can offer 1) advice, 2) guidance, 3) understanding, and 4) references. Whether it be other students or faculty, make these connections with people who have similar goals and professional interests and who may offer you one of these 4 things. To be clear, don’t make connections purely based on one-sided expectations – all professional relationships should be mutually beneficial!
For example, you meet another student at an online meet & greet event. Both of you are inquiring after the same student group in the Zoom chat box, and you recognize the name from one of your classes. In this situation, I would suggest sending a private message (via Zoom chat) with mention of your commonalities – enrolled in same course and interested in same group. Perhaps you could send your LinkedIn URL or email address at the end of the conversation to offer an invitation to extend the conversation and connection. If they accept, you can now see their updates and message them at a later time. The key, though, is not to simply “connect”, but to keep the back-and-forth between you growing. If they post that they’ve gotten a new job, send a congratulatory message! If they share an article that interests you, remember to comment with your opinion. If they mention registering for a course that you’ve taken, perhaps send a short message about your experience and with which professor. This is just one of the many ways you can connect with other students and begin to build your groups of professional connections.
While it’s much easier to connect with other students, it can be more difficult to connect with faculty. Simply taking a course with a specific professor is often not enough to warrant any sort of extended communication with faculty. These connections will need to be built through volunteering on group leadership teams, assisting a professor as their student assistant for a semester (or longer), or taking on extra roles and responsibilities in your LIS program.
I’ll offer an example from my own experience to give you a better idea of how best to develop these connections. I volunteered for a leadership role for a student group for a little over a year. During the first half year, I had very little contact with the faculty advisor for the group, but I did attend all meetings and complete my tasks. A little over 6 months ago, a paid student assistant position opened, and I applied. After getting the position, I realized that I would be working with the same faculty advisor much more closely. Since then, I’ve utilized that connection for resume advice, program questions, and as a reference on job applications. The best advice that they’ve given me is to make these professional connections and update them annually!
In other words, build your reservoir of professional connections, keep in contact with them so that they are up-to-date on where you are in your career, and utilize them as needed. You’ll never know when networking with someone will offer you an advantage later on. Again, though, I stress that connections with other students should be built on the assumption that you will offer advice and help to each other; so don’t expect a one-way channel of information and assistance.
An excellent way to start building connections is to search your program’s lists of organizations and events. Find something that interests you, whether it be a meet & greet, an invitation to a Q&A with faculty, an organization-run meeting focusing on a certain topic, or something else that grabs your attention. (For those enrolled in the SJSU iSchool program, there is a student group Meet & Greet planned for February 11, 2021.)
Attend meetings when you can, even if you’re not yet a part of the organization. Add people on professional social networking sites (such as LinkedIn). Follow your program’s social media accounts, and join any groups that they may have (e.g., SJSU iSchool has a Facebook group called “SJSU iSchool Students & Alumni” where students can ask for advice and share information).
Take simple steps forward, and please don’t be afraid to reach out to others.