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Say the word 'networking' and most of us immediately think about international conferences, mobility fellowships, and other exotica. Quite right too; this is where most of our connections with other scientists are initiated and then developed over time. But recently, I've encountered another, surprising, venue for getting up close and personal with my fellow 'truth hunters'. Right outside my office door. Now, don't get me wrong, I've been collaborating with other groups in my department for a long time, but being a little dense, I'd never realised until now what makes this kind of networking so worthwhile.

It all started a few weeks ago when I bumped into a new member of staff on my way down the corridor. I just said 'Hi' and asked how she was settling in. It turned out that my research has a lot in common with hers. Within 2 minutes we had discussed the work, agreed to collaborate, and even sorted out the first experiment. All without any preparation or even forethought. It was, quite simply, the most 'pared to the bone' piece of networking I have ever done.

Since then I have found myself in the middle of a flurry of less rapid, but equally useful, networking encounters right on my doorstep. The second of these was prompted by another researcher in the department who approached me. He had been to one of my talks and said he had made a mental connection between one aspect of my research and his own work. Within half an hour my name was on one of his grant applications. I was stunned at the efficiency of it all. It was as if I had passed through the usual clearing process for collaborator approval before we even talked.

It was only at the third encounter that I started to realise what was going on. I met this chap from a newly opened department at a nearby institution at a local workshop. Our research had a bit in common even though we work on completely different systems. Within a couple of weeks we had visited each other's labs to check out the facilities. Whilst it is not appropriate for us to collaborate, it has proved to be a most useful exercise as we have agreed to share our resources for the common good.

So what is going on? Sure, my efforts to get recognised within the scientific community may be paying off, but there is more to it than these people simply putting a face to my name. People from across the world see my face, and countless others, at conferences all the time. Nor was it institutional pride--these people weren't networking with me merely out of a sense of loyalty or camaraderie. Then the penny dropped.

It was just easy, convenient. The advantage all of us have in our workplace is that we are surrounded by other scientists pretty much every day of the week. This means we can run informal relationships with each other just by popping our head around the door. We are, after all, social creatures and our brains cope much better with the idea of working with people who are around us than people who only exist in our inboxes. We get to see and hear what the others are up to in the lab and get a feel for whether there are any areas ripe for collaboration, as well as whether they are any good at what they do.

It hit me that my discovery wasn't so novel--I had just stumbled upon what more senior colleagues have been doing for most of their careers: local networking, the easiest and perhaps the most productive form of all. I feel as if I have moved on up to the next level in the game, even if I was a little slow out of the blocks. So, for any of you who had not made this connection before either, some simple rules:

  • Don't think of networking just as something you have to travel to do. Some of the most valuable conversations you can have are just outside your own office door.

     

  • Talk to new members of staff. They are usually dead keen to work together with anyone who is already in the department as this shows they can indeed hit the ground running.

     

  • Visit anything else that is new: new departments and buildings, new meetings and forums. There is always a local wave to catch (often with some money floating in it), and you need to get yourself and your surfboard right in there. You might need to stretch the connection a bit between your own work and what's going on, but that doesn't seem to matter. After all, you are local and you are showing an interest in the new idea, so come on in!