Networking to Build Connections

The skill of “networking,” means meeting people who share your interests and who could provide you with guidance or assistance. It is also about you helping others when the opportunity arises. Networking is an important part of academic life, but many students feel they lack the skills to network confidently and effectively. Here are a few strategies that will help you make valuable connections:

1] The most important strategy is to approach networking with the appropriate mindset. Don’t go to an event thinking, “I must meet someone who can advance my career or my studies.” This puts a lot of pressure on you, and may make you come across as a little aggressive. Instead, your mindset should be more like, “This is great! I’ll get to meet lots of people who share my interests.”

 
2] Don’t try to impress. Just be yourself. Be open and curious about the people with whom you speaking. The best connections are made between people who share a passion, so share your ideas, goals and interests.

 
3] When you first meet someone, make eye contact as you give them a firm handshake. First impressions have a strong impact on how people perceive you.

 
4] Make sure to introduce yourself in a way that stimulates conversation. “Hello, I’m Fred” is not nearly as likely to lead to a good conversation as “Hello, I’m Fred Coleman. I’m the student assistant for the Ideas Institute.”

 
5] Always ask for a business card, and also write a quick note on those you’ve connected with, so you don’t forget who is who and what you discussed.

 
6] Don’t feel that you need to meet everyone in the room at an event and find multiple opportunities or pieces of information. Making a good connection with one person who could give you some guidance in the future is a great outcome.

 
7] Remember that sometimes you will feel that you didn’t make any meaningful connections at an event. This happens often, so don’t be too disappointed. And, just being at an event might give you a good opening for a conversation in the future: “Weren’t you at the Saving the Seas workshop in January? I really enjoyed the guest speaker.”

 
8] Understand that everyone at the event may be networking to make valuable connections, and as a student you may not be at the top of their list of people they want to chat with. Don’t be disheartened by this. It doesn’t indicate any problem with you. Some people are simply less generous with their time than others, or are focused on important connections they themselves wish to make.

 
9] Keep in mind that people you speak with may be learning from you, too. Although some of them may be more advanced in their careers, you may have fresh ideas they haven’t yet encountered.

 
10] If you had a great conversation with someone, consider sending them an email to express how much you enjoyed meeting and speaking with them.

 
11] And have fun! You’ll me much more approachable and engaging if you are enjoying yourself.

Rawlings on the University Degree as a Commodity

One of the most talked-about ideas in higher education at the moment is the commodification of university degrees. If a degree is a commodity, then we should evaluate it based primarily on how expensive it is and how it affects our future earnings. The degree as commodity also positions the student as consumer. Students who see themselves as “consumers” of degrees believe that, as with any product, their education should be shaped according to their desires. The classes should be constantly entertaining and not too onerous, and the professors should be amiable pseudo-parents whose main role is to praise student efforts.

Hunter Rawlings’ recent article in The Washington Post, “College is not a commodity. Stop treating it like one,” is important reading for all current and potential university students. Rawlings is president of the Association of American Universities and former president of Cornell University and the University of Iowa. He gives the clearest argument I’ve seen yet about how a university degree is not a purchase that must please you, but rather an endeavour that must challenge you. You don’t pay your money and then sit back and be educated and entertained, as though you’re at a movie. Just the opposite. The success of your education depends upon your hard work and your willingness to be challenged by tough tasks and tougher ideas.

As Rawlings explains:

“The courses the student decides to take (and not take), the amount of work the student does, the intellectual curiosity the student exhibits, her participation in class, his focus and determination — all contribute far more to her educational “outcome” than the college’s overall curriculum, much less its amenities and social life. Yet most public discussion of higher ed today pretends that students simply receive their education from colleges the way a person walks out of Best Buy with a television.”

And he continues:

“If we are going to treat college as a commodity, and an expensive one at that, we should at least grasp the essence of its economic nature. Unlike a car, college requires the “buyer” to do most of the work to obtain its value. The value of a degree depends more on the student’s input than on the college’s curriculum. I know this because I have seen excellent students get great educations at average colleges, and unmotivated students get poor educations at excellent colleges. And I have taught classes which my students made great through their efforts, and classes which my students made average or worse through their lack of effort.”

I agree with Rawlings, and as an instructor I’ve felt the stark difference between groups of students who are eager to learn and be challenged, and groups who seem to believe their only responsibility in class is to occupy a chair.

If we perceive degrees as commodities, we lose sight of the value of intellectual challenge, and therefore of the essence of university life.

Your Daily Conciseness #10

Not concise:

The admissions committee will read many personal statements, and they want to gain the information in as efficient a manner as possible.

Concise:

The admissions committee will read many personal statements, and they want to gain the information as efficiently as possible.

Comment:

You don’t need to write “as efficient a manner,” because we know that “efficient” is a “manner” or “style.” This is like saying “She is trustworthy in character.” Instead, you can write “She is trustworthy,” because readers know that is a comment on her character.

Your Daily Conciseness #9

Not concise:

Our company has been achieving acceptable growth rates, but the business environment in which we’re immersed may represent some obstacles. Customers are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to service.

Concise:

Our company has been achieving acceptable growth rates, but customers are increasingly demanding when it comes to service.

Comment:

In this context, the phrase “the business environment in which we’re immersed may represent some obstacles” is just a more general and therefore less memorable way of saying what comes next: “Customers are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to service.” Remove generalities and get to the point.

Notice that I also changed “are becoming increasingly demanding” to “are increasingly demanding.” The latter expresses the same meaning using fewer words.

Finding University Programs

If you’re planning to study in Canada, universitystudy.ca is a great resource. You can search a database there containing almost 15,000 Canadian university study programs.

The website also has useful information about scholarships and the application process.

If you’re not studying in Canada, a quick Internet search may turn up a similar organization in the country of your choice.

Good luck choosing a program!

Online Course on “Learning How to Learn”

I recently finished a great (and free) online course from coursera.org called “Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects.” I learned valuable strategies for studying and avoiding procrastination, and I appreciated the professors’ clear explanations of the brain science behind the techniques.

You can check the course out here. Here’s Coursera’s description:

“This course gives you easy access to the invaluable learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines. We’ll learn about the how the brain uses two very different learning modes and how it encapsulates (“chunks”) information. We’ll also cover illusions of learning, memory techniques, dealing with procrastination, and best practices shown by research to be most effective in helping you master tough subjects.

Using these approaches, no matter what your skill levels in topics you would like to master, you can change your thinking and change your life. If you’re already an expert, this peep under the mental hood will give you ideas for turbocharging successful learning, including counter-intuitive test-taking tips and insights that will help you make the best use of your time on homework and problem sets. If you’re struggling, you’ll see a structured treasure trove of practical techniques that walk you through what you need to do to get on track. If you’ve ever wanted to become better at anything, this course will help serve as your guide.”

I highly recommend this course to university students or anyone hoping to enter university. It took me just a few hours each week, and I learned a lot that I’m still using myself and sharing with students.

Building Skill in Asking Questions

Being able to ask relevant questions is one of the most important academic skills. It helps you understand topics more deeply, allows you to demonstrate your critical thinking skills, and usually leads to improved participation marks.

With a little practice, you can learn to ask good questions about anything.

When the professor asks if the class has any questions, you’ll make a good impression if you often have a question prepared. As long as you’re listening carefully and thinking critically and creatively, you can come up with questions for almost anything.

Certainly you should be able to ask questions after reading any journal article or listening to a presentation or discussion. Once you’ve built your skills, you’ll discover you can ask meaningful questions about even the simplest things.

Here’s an example:

I ate eggs for breakfast this morning.

Now ask some questions…

Did you enjoy the eggs?

How were they prepared?

Do you like the yolk runny or firm?

Do you often eat eggs for breakfast?

Have you ever tried eggs benedict?

Did you eat at home or at a restaurant?

What else did you eat with the eggs?

Do you put salt on your eggs?

Do you ever have eggs for dinner?

What is your favourite egg dish?

That’s ten questions (and that’s just a start) about one seven-word sentence. Sure, it’s easier to ask questions about something you’re familiar with, like eating eggs, but if you can ask ten or more questions about such a simple statement, then you must be able to ask at least two or three questions about an article or presentation.

One of the best ways to build skills in asking questions is simply to practice. Whenever you read an article or watch a program or presentation, practice asking questions. Here are three question-asking strategies to get you started: probe for more detail, clear up ambiguity and inquire about important missing information.

And don’t forget who, what, when, where, why and how!