This post is timely, as I have a colleague from Mexico, who I attended school with in England, coming for a visit tomorrow. I’m going to show her Niagara Falls.

One of the most amazing things about attending school in a foreign country is that you aren’t the only foreigner. Others will be there for you to meet. You will instantly acquire a network (if small to start) of people with similar interests (same department) from countries that might very well be from around the world. My own department was diverse and wonderful in that way, and I have friends and colleagues from over a dozen countries.

But if you don’t have that, how do you build a network?

Networking is one of those catch-all phrases you hear everywhere these days. In departments, in business meetings, at conferences. Everyone seems to be talking about networking. It’s not new. It’s been around as long as people have been in business together, and maybe even before that. It’s making acquaintances with people you would not otherwise know, who share interests/passions/work and developing a relationship. Sometimes that relationship is quite basic and simple and perhaps you won’t contact each other for years. And on the other side of the equation are people you’ll end up working closely with.

No matter what field you are in, you’re going to have to network. It can be awful (says the introvert speaking), but it’s a necessary evil if you want to get anywhere in life. Many jobs these days are found through networking. Opportunities for freelancing, research, projects, grants, etc. all come through networks. They are the building grounds of careers and your ability to network will directly affect how far you get (and how fast you get there).

But it’s hard. Trust me, I know this. Networking does not come naturally to me. I am the type of person who stands in a corner at a conference and hopes no one will speak to her. I do not make small talk easily.

But I do it because I must. Because I’ve found projects, research, opportunities and even a PhD because of networking.

So how do you do it? Make colleagues with those in your department (students and staff). Go to conferences in your field and talk to people. Even if you only talk to a few people at a conference, or only do it via Twitter, it’s still networking that might help you one day. Try to meet other students at your university in slightly different research fields, but that connect with yours in some way, some how (and even if their research doesn’t, sometimes it’s helpful to know people outside your field – as I am discovering right now!) Try to take any opportunity to meet people that come your way.

And network online. Everyone is on LinkedIn and Twitter these days. These are staple networking sites. Everyone uses them for that. Follow people. Tweet people. Complete your LinkedIn profile. Join groups. Comment. Converse. Don’t stay in the background or you are left with whoever decides to come over and see why you’re hiding in the background. And that’s not going to be very many people and they might not be the sort that are useful to you.

It’s going to be difficult if you aren’t the extroverted, outgoing, meet-and-be-friendly type. But it’s part of academia and professional business these days. And it’s a skill that does get easier, in time, with practice.

‘Hi, my name is Dr Amy Hetherington, I have a PhD in Museum Studies and I’m a social media and marketing freelancer. What do you do?’