Keeping in Touch

Sep 25 2013 Published by under Academia

This is part 3 of my posts on STEM careers. I'm not sure how long it will go on. Probably until I'm out of thoughts on the matter. But I think, as I've left academia, I've learned some things that can benefit the people who are still there. Parts 1 and 2 are available here and here.

Last week, I talked about how much advisors could benefit their students by just keeping in touch with some of the people they used to work with who went into careers outside of academia. And I thought, you know, people might want some tips on HOW, exactly, to keep in touch.


First, for the advisors: It's not as hard as you think to keep in touch. I know when many people first think about "keeping in touch," you think of careful emailing once or twice a year, which, once you add colleagues and former colleagues and people you used to know...well that's a lot of time spent networking.

But networking doesn't have to be that way. I know many academics think LinkedIn is useless. I also used to joke about it, and not understand it.

Then I left academia.

LinkedIn is a GOLD MINE. And I'm encouraging academics to get on LinkedIn ASAP and use it. Not for themselves, but for their trainees.

Because this is how you keep in touch with all the people who you don't want to friend on Facebook, but who you just want to keep a tiny thread of connection to. A small rolodex, of people that you've known professionally...that updates itself.

Say you know someone you went to grad school with. You're pretty sure they went into industry. But you're not totally sure. Your student wants to look at industry.

  • Go to LinkedIn
  • Search for the name
  • Find the person
  • Connect with them

Most professionals on LinkedIn keep it pretty well updated. They know that employers go there, and it's also a nice place to look professional while networking. So many will have recent information on the site. Then, when you need them, you can look at their profile, see where they went, what they do, and message them "Hi Don, great to see that you've done so well in industry! It sure has been a long time since grad school! I'm now a prof at Big U, and my student is interested in industry in your field. I see you've been working at J&J for a while, I'm sure they'd like to hear your story. Do you think you might have time to chat with hir about it? Hope things are going well. - You"

You can even find contacts without remembering their names. Search your contacts on LinkedIn for "industry". Seriously. A set of connections who have that in their profile will come up. It's that easy.

This doesn't involve emailing or actively keeping up with people. That's the great thing about LinkedIn. And other people outside of academia KNOW this. They won't be upset that you haven't contacted them in years, instead, they'll probably be happy you want them to mentor.


Now, for the people who have left/are considering leaving academia: Please. Reach back. I'm trying to do this, to friend and connect with people who I've left behind. I connect with everyone who I know, and willingly accept most connections.

It can be hard. Sometimes, we leave academia and we're bitter. It's hard to leave that culture, to feel like you are unprepared for everything outside it, and to feel like, sometimes, it kicked you out. Often you feel like your choice to leave was not...respected like it could have been, or like things went badly on the way out.

And yes, sometimes they do. I've heard grad student stories of the kind of callous lack of support that make me want to cry. And I've seen a lot of people who have decided they want to leave...and have no idea where to look.

But that is WHY you need to reach back. Because all of us who have left academia have BEEN in that position, unsure, worried, stressed, and having a lot of difficulty figuring out what to do. By reaching back, you place yourself where people can find you, remember you, and get your help. By reaching back, you help ensure that fewer people will struggle. You can show them what success outside the pipeline looks like. And you get to continue mentoring and helping other people succeed. Wins all around.


So reach out. Reach back. And get on LinkedIn. Staying in touch doesn't having to be hard. And the little things can make a big difference.

13 responses so far

  • Janne says:

    I'm of two minds about the specifics of this advice. I've had a LinkedIn profile for years, and happy to have it as a professional touch-stone. But the past six months they seem hell-bent on monetizing their network, and to create some sort of social space out of it.

    There's so many useless notifications about endorsements and "what are they up to?" emails that i have a separate set of spam filters just for the LinkedIn stuff (and yes, I probably throw away useful messages too). And by now easily 99% of all connection requests are from people I have never met or interacted with in my whole life.

    My advice would be, do use LinkedIn if you must, and especially so it if it is the thing to do in your field and in your local eographical area. But also do consider other venues and be careful from the start with how much you expose yourself on spammy sites like these.

    • scicurious says:

      This is very true. I use LinkedIn for professional stuff, but I've noticed the spam coming in lately, but since I have a filter...I don't really notice it as much as I should have. Unfortunately, there's simply no other site out there that does this sort of thing. Most people don't want to friend their colleagues on Facebook (which, as I'm sure you know, has its own privacy problems as well). LinkedIn is gimmicky, but it's also the easiest way to keep a Rolodex of people that you might need to get in contact with. I really wouldn't want to turn off people from LinkedIn because of the spam. Especially since Facebook is just as bad, but since everyone is already on there, they don't notice, and are more likely to avoid LinkedIn just because it is something they are not used to.

    • Richard says:

      I totally just asked you to connect on LinkedIn ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Charles says:

    Great relevant series on how to get out of academia.

    I think a lot of employers/HR types also need to learn exactly what someone with a PhD can offer. In that sense it needs to work both ways. Leaving academia is often tough because you don't know where to look, but even if you do, you'll find many employers look down on your PhD simply because they don't know what it is. They don't see how a phd equates to project management experience. That sort of thing.

  • Brent Neal says:

    @Charles - I'm an industrial research scientist, working in a department that is about 50/50 Ph.D. and BS/MS scientists. I can assure you based on experiene that the level of project management experience a Ph.D. degree entails is just around "minimally adequate." One of the chief reasons this is the case is that most Ph.D.'s have never had to be responsible for a group larger than themselves and a junior grad student/undergraduate worker.

    @scicurious - Totally agree re: LinkedIn spam. I'm -so- not going to pay for LinkedIn premium, but that doesn't stop them from sending me weekly emails trying to entice me. I filter them to the trashcan. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Steffen says:

    I also found this to be quite a useful post, though I'm not
    currently considering a job outside my profession.

    While I'm with LinkedIn for the moment, I would disagree -
    as so often on the internet - that there are no alternatives. and ResearchGate spring to mind. LinkedIn still
    retains probably the greatest popularity though.

  • Richard says:

    I went a bit overboard with my LinkedIn profile after doing a placement at a policy centre - that world is *entirely* about networking. It makes me feel dirty, but it's something I've given in to. I have actually used it to get in touch with old classmates to ask for advice on behalf of other people I know that are currently job hunting outside academia, so it's definitely been useful.

  • Bob Brookshire says:

    A view from Academia: A while ago, the Provost wanted us to report on what our graduates have been up to. Through LinkedIn and Facebook, we were able to collect employment data on most of our recent alumni. This would not have been possible if we had not been connected to them, at least within a degree or two.

    We also find that LinkedIn is especially good for alumni to let us know about job openings at their companies. Though many employers pay a bonus to current staff if they help bring in a good new hire, even alumni without this incentive reach back if they know a recent grad will be a good fit for a position.

    Academics already do a lot of networking through conferences, Listservs, and the review process. They should not have a problem adopting a technology that is specifically designed for this purpose.

    And the most spam I get is from an academic Listserv, not LinkedIn.

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