By Stephanie Parent, UHRA President
Ah, networking! You wouldn’t know, but I am a pretty staunch introvert. Which doesn’t mean I am a social recluse curled up with a book most of the time (that’s a misconception about introverts that needs to go). But it does mean that networking does not come naturally to me, and can be quite exhausting. I would prefer avoiding small talk with strangers when I can. But can I?
For our UHRA podcast, I have been interviewing many prominent people who work in the global health field. Our mission is to bring scholars together to discuss health issues affecting sub-Saharan Africa and in doing so, help emerging global health researchers get a foot hold in the field. As such, I always ask my interviewees what advice they have for emerging professionals, and without exception, they all say: “Get to know people! Develop relationships with people who do what you want to do!”. Which is not always the answer we want to hear. Sometimes, the answer we want to hear is “work really hard, or read this many articles, or learn to write well”. But no. It seems that relationship-building is an essential skill.
Reflecting on my own work in global health, the truth is, a lot of this work is about relating to others, and often others who have little in common with you, be it in terms of age, experience, status, or (obviously) culture and ethnicity. But the good news is that relationship-building and networking is a skill that comes with practice (and for me, it took A LOT of practice and awkward conversations). If you’re one of those people who is naturally the centre of attention and gets invited to dinner with a stranger’s family five minutes after meeting them thanks to your 99%th percentile charisma, good for you, but move on, this blog post is probably not for you. But if, like me, you are someone for whom small talk does not come to easily, know this: you may be feeling awkward and bored talking about the weather or something mundane, but trust that this conversation will lead to something more important. Either you will make a new connection (rarely, and at best), or at least, you will have gone out of your comfort zone and took a step towards this relationship-building skill that is so important in our field. Good luck!