Building connections and taking risks in university

Hey, Marauders! Networking is important for a multitude of reasons as it allows you to build relationships with peers and professionals. This is especially important in university as this may present you with many opportunities to grow academically and personally. Today, I want to talk to you about building connections and taking risks.

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These blogs are part of Mac101: Introduction to University Life, a collection of events, workshops and more to support your university transition.

July 11, 2023

By: Nabeelah (McMaster Graduate, Biology, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour)

Networking can be constant and overwhelming, but there are ways to easily implement building connections into your daily life. For instance, saying “hi” to the person sitting next to you in a lecture or engaging with your group mates during course projects. An especially important network is your professors and building connections with them. Taking risks can get you noticed by professors and even help you make friends in university. 

Here are a few ways to build connections and take risks.

Asking for help may seem daunting as you are putting yourself in a vulnerable position. I used to view it as a risk of seeming inferior to my professors and peers. I never asked questions despite having many and attempted to devise my own solutions. It is good to be self-directed, but you should not shy away from asking questions.

  • You can ask your professor questions through office hours, allotted time slots for drop-ins or simply wait to speak to them at the end of lecture.
  • You may have heard the saying “there are no dumb questions” a countless number of times in all your years of schooling, but I just want to emphasize the truth behind this phrase. Professors encounter a wide variety of students with varying skill sets daily, and chances are, your question may not be not be as “dumb” as you may think.

Tip: Asking questions and interacting with your professor can help provide you with networking opportunities for future projects.

In first year, I refrained from networking with professors to seek out opportunities as I believed I was unqualified and did not want to waste their time. This was a misconception. It is never too early to start networking. 

  • It helps you get a foot in the door for upper-year projects that may require Faculty supervisors such as independent research studies or even your fourth-year honours thesis project.  
  • You are more likely to receive references that you need for a job or opportunities if you can familiarize yourself with your professor. Put a name to your face and let them know that you are here to learn.  

Networking is ultimately a learning opportunity, whether it occurs through formally organized events or casual encounters. There is a lot to learn from people, and most people are willing to share their experiences and expertise. This process does not have to be intimidating and certainly should not be ingenuine.

Tip: The key is to have a genuine interest to connect with a specific person and share your reasons for wishing to connect with them. A genuine interest helps facilitate conversation that is interesting and effortless.  

Networking can occur through various outlets. One method of networking, while I was seeking out research opportunities, was emailing professors whose research interests aligned with my own. Sometimes, you may not receive the most favourable outcome such as joining a lab group or even receiving an email back, and that is completely okay!  

Networking is a rewarding risk, and you cannot always expect to be granted opportunities but you can expect to always learn something. The most important takeaway is to be genuine and go into conversations with the intention to learn something new. You may be referred to a different professor or professional who may be able to provide you with another new and exciting opportunity. 

Tip: Be concise in your emails to professors. Don’t be afraid to use bullet points to get your points across.  

Signing off

Networking is an integral part of your university career, and it will likely begin the minute you step foot on campus. Everyone engages in networking whether they are aware of it or not. Take a chance to learn and connect with those around you. You can manifest exciting opportunities that will positively impact your university experience. 

Nabeelah student blogger

Nabeelah (she/her) is the program support assistant for the Student Success Centre’s (SSC) academic skills team. She has recently graduated from the Biology, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour program here at McMaster University. Outside of school, she loves to play tennis, bake and hang out with friends and family.