So, you’ve made it to university. You attend lectures (some of the time). You go to Ali G, realise how full it is, go home and order Uber Eats. Treat yourself, you deserve it! (You tell yourself for the eighth time that week). Maybe you go out that night, but most probably not, it’s too cold and you have too much work to do. Well, you have three hours of stressing and procrastination scheduled for the pile of work you have to do. This cycle continues for the next 3+ years of your life. You come out of it with decent grades, mates and memories. But in any of that time did you actually take advantage of the biggest resource university has to offer?
You are surrounded by some of the world’s leading researchers in your field of interest. Yet, probability is, you have never thought of reaching out to them. You are currently immersed in a huge pool of knowledge and opportunities; essentially university is the largest networking opportunity of your life. It’s a very scary prospect, but I’m here to convince you that reaching out to academics is actually one of the most rewarding things you could do during your time at university.
The main concern that stops students from reaching out to academics is this misconception that academics view us as insignificant.
Academics do NOT think that you are insignificant.
Yes, academics are very busy, but you will find many love communicating with students who are interested in their research. I cannot guarantee that every academic you email will reply, but ask yourself, is it really the end of the world if an academic ghosts you? No, it’s not. I’m sure your pride can handle the hit.
Now we have calmed some initial worries. Here are my top reasons why you should forge relationships with academics.
Excellent work experience opportunities.
Hopefully the degree you are currently studying is the subject you want to pursue a career in. We have all seen that every job seems to require experience but gaining work experience seems an impossible task. Academics can help you gain this experience. In fact, I’ve known many students gain work experience with academics simply by emailing their interest. Some students go on to conduct their third-year projects and even PhDs with academics they worked with during the early years of their undergrad. So, this is not an opportunity to be missed!
Valuable advice and interesting research.
Obviously, not all academics will be in the position to provide you the opportunity to work alongside them. However, academics will be able to point you in the direction of interesting research, provide advice of how to gain placements and give you potential contacts. A lot of amazing research is conducted at our university, take an interest in it! Recently I had to work with a PhD student for a tutorial project and her research was fascinating. From this experience I have developed a personal interest in the area of Biology she studies. Communicating with academics can enlighten you on your own interests.
A friendly face!
Forging relationships with academic staff can really help you to feel at ease in university. The University of Manchester is a huge institution and it is easy to feel lost and insignificant in all that is going on, but communicating with academics can help you to focus yourself and feel more comfortable in the scary world of academia. In my first year I was lucky enough to go to South Africa studying Animal Behaviour. This was the first time I’d ever interacted with academic staff in such a casual way. All lecturers on the course were lovely and eager to talk about their research, lives and interests beyond university. I came away from the trip with lots of interesting and relevant advice, feeling much more confident in my own abilities and career path. To this day I will still strike up conversation when I see them around. Do not underestimate the power of having a friendly face to talk to!
The long run.
University is just one stop on the long road of your career path. Make it count. The relationships you make here will be vital to you in your future studies and career trajectory. I know the future is scary to think about. However, having reliable contacts in your field of study will aid your future job hunting tremendously. Cut your future self some slack and start making these contacts now. Networking is a key skill you will need to practise while at university, do not wait until third year to do so!
Hopefully, now you are going to put in the effort to reach out to academics. All staff at the University of Manchester are lovely people, as long as you are professional, polite and patient nothing will go wrong!