Some notes on the transcription…

I wanted to provide a transcript of The PhD Life Raft podcast episodes to make the material more accessible.

I have used an automated transcription service to produce this document. These, as we all know, are not 100% accurate. Please excuse the odd typos and grammatical mis-translations. I hope that you will find the documentation of this conversation useful.    

You can find the full interview here

Emma  

So I really appreciate you taking time out.

Krysten  

No, you’re very welcome. I’m excited to be here.

Emma  

So today we are all about the networking, which I cannot wait to talk to you about because it is something that is can be very anxiety provoking. Some people absolutely hate it. Some people like you love it so that we need to know what you’re doing and how to do it. So I’m looking forward to diving into that with you. But first of all, I’m going to do ask that the same as I asked everybody, in terms of tell us a little bit about your PhD journey going into the into the project, how it how it was for you. Yeah,

Krysten  

I started recently. It recently probably it’s been over a year now I guess. I started my PhD in 2017. I think, at the University of Edinburgh. I did all my degrees back to back so undergrad, I was all at Edinburgh. And I think when I went into my PhD because nothing else in my environment was changing because I was still at Edinburgh. I was working with my friends were all there I think I thought the transition would be quite an easy one. And that was

Emma  

okay.

I really enjoyed my PhD but obviously it’s very different from any other degree. Yes, yes, was on morale of common or enlisted soldiers. In the Continental Army, which is the Patriot Army during the American Revolution. And I analyzed their diaries to figure out what determined their morale so what factors shifted throughout the war that kept them fighting when factors like money that we would expect would keep them fighting just don’t exist for them. So it was really interesting, a bit grim. But I spent I was really lucky and I spent a lot of time doing my research in Edinburgh, but then also I received a number of research fellowships that allowed me to go and research trips in the US for multiple months at a time. So my PhD was really great in that sense and great for networking also, because I was constantly in a new environment, meeting new people in New archives or in new conferences. I finished my PhD and August 2022. And then and then immediately on September 1, started the job that I have now, which is a lecturer in international and Military History at the University of Salford. So I was incredibly lucky that I got a position. It was a two year contract to start, but I’ve since been made permanent, which is great. Brilliant, nice. Incredibly lucky to go from one to the other. But in that sense, it feels like the PhD was a million years ago. And also yesterday.

Emma  

Wow. Wow. So this sense of I can absolutely get a sense of this is the easiest one for your for your topic, but obviously isn’t the easiest thing for going and and making contacts getting out there in the world, too. And that’s why that’s why you’re here, right? Because you are, you’ve volunteered to talk about networking. It’s something that you’re interested in. You’re committed to. And I loved what you said there about it being about meeting new people and it all about the people to tell us a little bit then about networking, how you see it, what what you think it’s all about? Yes,

I think it’s probably important to preface this entire conversation with two things. The first is that I guess I don’t really ever view networking as a specific thing in and of itself. I know lots of people have have it big in their heads like they have to go network they have to go do all of these things. And then I think I just I network accidentally, and it’s not accidentally it’s just kind of the way my personality is but I am very interested in people. I love talking to people. I love meeting new people talking about their research document their lives. And so I think I fall into networking quite easy because I like new opportunities and meeting new people. I should also probably say that I am incredibly extroverted. I have always been incredibly extroverted. I get a lot of energy from meeting new people. I love talking to people generally whether it’s someone I know or someone I don’t know. And so I think a lot of the anxiety and build up around networking is because you have to put yourself in uncomfortable and new positions with people you don’t know. And I don’t feel the discomfort in that that a lot of people do. And so a lot of the advice I’m giving or the things I’ll be talking about come a lot easier to me than they will a lot of people and I fully am aware of that. But hopefully because it comes easier to me I have something I guess that I can pass on fingers crossed this thing

Emma  

because people are coming How is she doing that? How does she do that? So tell us how do you do that? How how do these these accidental connections happen for you? Accidentally in inverted commas? Of course. Yeah, definitely

in inverted commas. I think the first thing is, as I said, I don’t really consider it networking. I think networking gets a really bad reputation because it’s viewed as this self serving mechanism to get yourself further ahead in your career or in your PhD or whatever you’re doing. And I really don’t view it that way. It has happened that that has come as a result of some of the connections I’ve made, but I really don’t view it as a I’m going to this conference because I need to meet these people because they’re going to do this for my career. Instead, I think it’s good to view it as a way to make new connections to learn new things, and to just ask questions or get experiences that you don’t have. And if you view it from that perspective, like what will this experience bring you personally as opposed to what can other people bring you? I think it’s a much easier way to view the situation and a slightly less anxiety ridden way to view the situation as well. If you’re not dependent on other people’s actions, then life becomes much easier. And

Emma  

I think what’s great about that is it really lowers the stakes, isn’t it? yourself, I’m just gonna go and have a chat with someone and ask them a question about what they’re doing or say hello. You don’t have to. You don’t have an attachment to what’s going to happen.

And the same is true with events. So I don’t go to conferences, because I want to network. I go to conferences because I’m interested in the subject of the conference or I want feedback on my work or I want to you know, listen to the keynote address there. It’s all things that will help me personally or help my PhD help my research. Sometimes conferences at this point are just an excuse to go hang out with people that I’ve not seen for a while and they’re going to be at the conference as well. And so I think refocusing things on what can it bring you as opposed to what can other people bring you is really helpful and makes the interactions much more natural.

Emma  

I love it. I think that sense of because somebody might be very inverted commas useful to you, but that you just might not get on with it’s always worth isn’t it just kind of going and seeing how you click with someone or not but I say I think we’re both more a bit extroverted. Yeah. So I’m quite happy to have a chat with anybody. Clearly, this is what I’m doing here. But so So, so we’ve got this, I love this sense of like it’s, it’s just it’s just saying hello, it’s low stakes. It’s because you’re interested in what’s going on. And then what and then what else goes on for you in those interactions?

Yeah, that’s a good question. I think the easiest way I can describe it is imagine you’re at a conference like if we put this into a conference scenario because I think for PhD students, that’s often their first experience with networking or their first time networking comes up in a really obvious way, right? You’re probably at a conference. You don’t know many people. There’s that awkward mingling period at the beginning where everyone’s kind of getting coffee and there’s little groups of people and you don’t know what

Emma  

to do. Oh my god, it’s I could feel I could feel it, right. It

is. And it’s such a it’s such a weird experience. And even, you know, again, I’m happy to talk to anyone, but I remember my first few conferences and even now if I go into a conference where I don’t know anyone, that moment is still like, Oh, where do I go? Who do I see? Yeah. So the first thing I do is I go get coffee. Because I’m, I always need coffee anyway. And I’m going to want to have it in my hands. I talk with my hands. You can’t see my hands right now, but they’re moving all over the place. So it’s nice to have coffee to kind of settle down the general movement, and it’s just something I’m going to want to have and almost always there will be someone else getting coffee at the same time as you. Yeah, especially first thing in the morning at an academic conference. It is almost impossible to go to the table that has coffee or tea and not have someone else there. Yes. And my first piece of advice would just be to say hello. Yeah, doesn’t matter who it is. They might be doing a subject completely different to you. They might be 20 years younger, 40 years older, it makes zero difference whatsoever. Just say hi. Because chances are they’re in that same awkward situation you aren’t they probably don’t know many people. And even if they do know lots of people, they’re probably going to ask your name. Ask if you’re presenting or ask while you’re there. And you’ll have a couple minute conversation. Oh, I love it. And once you start once you start it’s much easier to continue but you just say hi.

Emma  

Enough I so obviously conversate about going and we talk about this kind of this invitation that you saying hello and just is a way of making an invitation for something to come back. And as you say, most people there are going to be feeling a bit awkward. Even the people who’ve done this a million times before to go into a new room for everybody is that feeling. And so to just be friendly, and say hello, that’s all you need to do. And then as you say then you’ve got the ball rolling, and you’ve given permission. Everybody wants to feel welcome in the room. Yeah, everyone’s going to be open to that. I love it. I love it and to just have that strategy. I love that strategy. Right, right. I think because what you said about what you know what you’re going to do when you first arrive, because I think that can be really anxiety provoking, if you think I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I know what I’m gonna do, as you say, I’m gonna go in, you’re gonna get your coffee and then you’re gonna say hello to whoever’s there, and we take it from there. I love it. I love it.

Another thing I will say is if it seems really anxiety ridden, or you’ve done the coffee thing, you’ve said, Hi conversation kind of petered out and you don’t know where to go and you’re just kind of awkwardly standing. Go find an organizer. Now I say this very as someone who’s organized lots of conferences. I say this in a very general way as in don’t go follow an organizer around and expect them to be your social circle because they will be very busy. But be stressed out. Yeah, but organizers are there to organize and facilitate and they expect to talk to new people, which means that if you go find one of them, you can either ask them very practical questions like oh, where’s the remote presenting? And I’m gonna go take a look at it and you might run into other presenters. If you’re not presenting, you can just go introduce yourself to the organizer so they you have a friendly face in the crowd. If you really don’t like standing awkwardly, you could offer to help the organizers if there’s something tiny that you could do put signs up on doors, you know, whatever they need you to do. If you don’t want to just stand there by yourself. You can offer to help and sometimes doing something makes life easier.

Emma  

That is genius. I love it. I love it because that people, a lot of people are happier, doing things getting involved and the organizer will just absolutely love you for that.

Exactly. Yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t pester them like don’t keep going back being like right do you have more? Do you have more? But if they’ve got if you want to introduce yourself, offer to do one thing for them. You can do that thing. And again, chances are while you’re doing that thing, you will run into someone else who’s helping who thinks you’re an organizer. So they’ll ask you a question and you can be like, I have no idea what I’m doing. I just said I would help and that will organically start conversations as well. Oh,

Emma  

this is brilliant. This is brilliant. And I think it is that it is that sense of having a bit of a strategy, isn’t it? What am I going to do? How am I going to look after myself and trusting that you’ll be okay. It will be okay. It’s gonna be right. This is awesome. This is awesome. Anything else that Yeah,

I think so that those are good advice for that kind of beginning moments when you’re trying to arrive at the conference. But if those moments really where you you can just arrive at the very end of registration and immediately go into a panel. Yes, yep. Right. So you don’t have to sit in that first awkward coffee as everyone’s arriving. You don’t have to be the first person there by yourself. You can just come at the very end of registration and then immediately go to the room that you want to hear a speaker or that you’re speaking in. And I think those panels are a really great opportunity to network without networking. That is to say you go to a panel, and my best advice, especially if it’s an academic conference that you’ve ever been to before or you’re particularly nervous is to be present and be prepared. So go to a panel, listen to the paper come up with questions or a question for one of the speakers either asked in the q&a, or don’t ask in the q&a. And after the panel is done, go to the speaker say you really enjoyed their paper. You had another question and use that as your opening into the conversation because if you’re interested in what they’re speaking on, you will absolutely be able to come up with a question and they will absolutely love to talk about their research, I’m sure because that’s just the way academics are

Emma  

is an anyone who’s ever given the paper knows how gorgeous it is to have somebody that is genuinely interested in what you’re doing that comes to talk to you about it afterwards because you’ve been sitting around on your own for ages working on something. And then somebody here, you know, in the real life wants to take these ideas further and talk to you about it. And it’s such a gorgeous compliment that you’re giving to somebody. So don’t feel embarrassed at all about that. This is it’s a brilliant gift that you’re giving. I love it. I love it. And then of course, what often happens is that that leads into a break, doesn’t it? So then you’ve you’ve covered your

break time. Exactly. And then you get another panel and if you need you can do the same thing again, or at the break time you can just go in with what seems like really obvious questions. But aren’t really because you don’t know anyone and be like, oh, what panel are you going to now? What is your PhD on? What Why are you interested in this conference? And I think everyone will have I assume most PhD supervisors do I know mine? Did. They drill into this idea that you have to have a one sentence summary of your PhD very quickly? What’s your PhD on? Oh, what’s on this? That way you don’t spend five minutes kind of monopolizing the conversation and going through the twists and turns and the intricate details of your research. You can just do a quick this is what I’m researching. And when you’re doing that and having those conversations you’ll find other people who are researching similar things. Or you can ask follow up questions on people’s research. And that will again lead to a 1015 minute conversation, which we’re a conference is all you need during the break.

Emma  

Oh, this is great. This is great.

I do also think in every conference there will be a group of people who are like me, who are incredibly extroverted and will just go talk to random people, everyone and so chances are if you’re at an event, and you’re quite quiet or you’re kind of hovering near the coffee, there will be someone that will come and say hi to you without you having to do too much. effort as well if you’re particularly nervous.

Emma  

Yeah, yeah. And this this sense of of trusting that there will be kindness in the room. 

So I’m very lucky. I’m a historian, as I said, and all the conference AI conferences I have been to and the networks that I’m a part of, are genuinely nothing but lovely. Even the ones I was quite worried about. So I remember my first year of my PhD, I got accepted to speak at the Society for military history Conference, which is this giant military history conference in the US. Like There must be hundreds if not 1000s of attendees that go every year. It’s full of military historians who are you know, the best in their field and full of people who really enjoy studying military history. And I think as a young woman just starting to study military history, I was really intimidated by the prospect of going and speaking at this giant conference, especially because it’s a conference that doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation, whether that’s an earned reputation or not. I mean, I certainly don’t think it is. But it’s one of those things where you’re like, oh, there’s going to be a lot of men who really like talking about military history and they’re not going to like that you’re a young woman doing that. And the experience I had at that conference was so the opposite of all of my expectations. People were incredibly welcoming. went out of their way to include me in groups to introduce themselves to me to talk about my research to give me tips or reading notes, or have you considered looking at things from this angle, and it was just one of the most welcoming environments that I had academically been in at the time and still have academically been in and I think, sometimes, not always, because there are some places that are actually quite unwelcoming and deserve their reputation for being unwelcoming. But I think a lot of the time, if you go in and just try to make the best of the situation, you’ll find that actually everyone also wants you to be there and is very happy to engage with you and as as we’ve said, already nervous in the same level that you are or in a similar way and very happy to have someone to talk to you regardless of who that person is.

Emma  

I love it. I love it. And ideally, of course, conferences are about that kind of gathering together and meeting with people who are in a similar field to you that opportunity to really go deep and geek. out about the things that you’re exhibiting. And ideally, it is a lovely nourishing experience that you go and you come away full up and excited about what you’re doing. As you say, not all conferences are like that. And if you you know you’ll get a sense of them if you go to that one. And you can’t actually do you know what, this is not really very nice. You don’t ever have to go back to that corner. Exactly. Exactly. You’ll find another one where people where you feel much more at home and know that if you go to a conference and it’s not very nice. That’s not what all conferences are like. No,

and it’s not at all a reflection. on you. It is just oh the way that has been. I also think if it is financially feasible, and of course for lots of PhD students or master’s students, it wouldn’t be but if there is a smaller conference in your area, or a local conference or one just happening at your university that’s vaguely related to your research and you’re not presenting you have no interest in presenting, but you’ve never been to a conference before and you just want to see what it’s like if you can afford the ticket to that conference and smaller ones tend to be relatively inexpensive anyway, then I would really recommend going and using that as your first introduction, going meeting a few people, especially if it’s a conference that happens every year, because chances are there will be similar people the next year. So maybe the next year you go and you’re presenting. But this time you’ve got four or five faces that you remember from last year that you can talk to and say hi to. And it gets easier every time you do one of these events because you’ll build up basically a collection of faces that you recognize that are familiar that you’re happy to see and talk to and that makes everything easier. The longer you do it the easier it gets.

Emma  

This is brilliant. This is brilliant. I love it. I love the way that you’re framing all up. That is just about meeting people, hopefully making friends making meaningful connections. This What a gorgeous way to approach things and it just let us say just lowering the stakes and I love this idea of going to a smaller conference where this you know, especially if you’re not presenting that it’s a very low stake activity, which means hopefully your anxiety will be lower about that. Entering into that I mean and local conferences

because they’re smaller, tend to be very friendly. Anyway, you’ll have people who are be like, Oh, I don’t recognize that face. I’ll go and say hello. Yeah. Which is always useful.

Emma  

Oh, this is brilliant. And I’m aware of time someone I know we need to stop this. Just I just love it the way you’re approaching this is gorgeous. So on that note, see, I’m buttering you up now so that can ask the ridiculous question of so do you have got so much good stuff in there but and you might just want to repeat something that you’ve already said but a top tip or top tips for networking. So

this is a maybe it’s a potentially controversial top tip. I don’t know. I think my top tip would be to be generous with your resources. And I’m going to explain that because that ended up itself sounds not great. I think add in the word free in brackets, be generous with your free resources and what I mean by that is some of the best quote unquote networking or relationships that I’ve made at conferences I’ve made because either I or the people that I’m speaking to have offered up something that could help me at no cost to them. So when I was writing my academic CV for the first time, PhD student I knew offered me a copy of theirs to look at and kind of model my CV offer off of when I was applying for fellowships. I remember speaking to someone at a workshop, who had just gotten a fellowship with the place I was applying to and she was like, Oh, just take my application and have a look. It might not be helpful to you but at least you can see what a successful one looked like. And those moments very early on in my masters and my PhD were really key and are something that I’ve tried to do as much as possible throughout. I mean, there must be hundreds of people with copies of my fellowship applications or of my CV because they’re things that they don’t hurt me at all to share them. Anyone can look at my CV Great. Anyone can look at my fellowship application, all of their projects are going to be different. It’s just a way to model things off of Yeah, and if you can offer those things to people that are useful, I find those relationships tend to flourish really well. Because there is something connecting you. Or even if the relationship kind of ends there. The next time they see you, they’ll be like, Oh, that was really nice of you. Thank you for letting me have a look at that it really made my application much easier. And I think sometimes this is something that’s missing in academia, in certain circles, and sometimes it’s, I think in academia where there’s too much of right there’s too much free labor, but this is related that doesn’t cost anything. It’s just I can email you this. If it will help you great and I think that is something that helps kind of push along the networking a little bit. It makes it slightly easier for you, while also not costing you any effort, right? It’s a way to get people’s email addresses contact information in a helpful way. Without it being like, oh, I want to email you about this very specific research question I need you to help me with.

Emma  

Yes, yes, yes. And it’s like you say it’s about being a kind, generous, decent person. And I’m sure there’s people listening go. Blimey, would people really do that? Would people really, you know, yes, they would. And I think believing that there are there’s no doubt that there are some not very nice people in academia but there are some gorgeous there lots of gorgeous, kind, wonderful people who would be happy to help you and support you. Because you’re would you would do the same. Right? Exactly. So and I think the more that we do this, the more that we are open hearted and open handed, the culture will change. No. I love that you are out there doing that. Christina is awesome. Oh, certainly not just me.

I learned by very good example. And I was very lucky early in my PhD and my masters, as I say to have dozens of people who offered me similar help. And I think it’s something that’s important to carry on whenever possible. Yes,

Emma  

and I think it’s it’s that sense of as you say, in terms of approaching it as being being making connections in a friendly way. And then who knows what will come from there rather than a right I’m going to target that person because I want that out of him. There’s a whole different vibe around that

well exactly at the end of the day, most people like conferences or any academic events are just people who are really excited about their research about the subject that you’re discussing, and they want to talk about it. So if you approach things in a curious Hi, nice to meet you. Let’s talk about this mutual interest we have things are much smoother and much easier for everyone as opposed to going in and thinking of it as something you have to do to further your career because I don’t really think that’s true. And actually I think if you go out of your way to try to be very formal in your networking and make connections in this very what feels like kind of a ruthless way. It might have a negative impact on your career if you don’t do it in a genuine manner.

Emma  

Definitely. Oh, well. I hope very much Christine that I bumped into you one day at a conference because it would be lovely. Yes, it would be so nice to see you. Oh, see find a coffee right?

You absolutely well. I live by the coffee Didn’t anyone who has been at a conference with me will know if there’s coffee. I will be very close by. Oh, thank

Emma  

you so so much for all of that so much good stuff in there. Thank you very much. Thank you so much for having me. And thank you all for listening.