Applying to Graduate School – The Importance of Networking

Many people are unaware of how impactful networking can be as a career tool, or they dread forming that network due to unfamiliarity with the networking process. I never really realized how important forming a network was until after I had unintentionally formed my own network. I entirely believe that I am a member of the Killian Lab because I began working on my network as early as high school. I attended a small high school, and one of my teachers said to me once that he loved teaching at a small school because he really gets to know his students. However, his least favorite part of teaching at a small school was when those students left and he never heard back from them again. This comment convinced me to keep in contact with my most influential teachers and professors that mentored me throughout high school and college. After my sophomore year as an undergraduate student, I added Dr. Killian to that list of influential instructors. We emailed back and forth throughout the rest of my college career despite our differences in location. Little did I know that I was inadvertently setting up a critical network that would eventually lead me to graduate school. Dr. Killian received a faculty position at the University of Delaware, I applied, was accepted, and am now a member of the Killian Lab.

My experience sheds light on the importance of networking and connecting with professionals in specific fields of interest before applying to graduate school. As undergraduates, you will always hear the typical applying to graduate school advice: have research experience, have a competitive GPA, write a good personal statement, and so on. One important aspect of the process that is not emphasized is setting up connections through networking: join a journal club that focuses on a subject you are interested in; get to know your professors and their collaborators; and if the opportunity is available, go to conferences and present your research. After all, you never know where these connections will take you later down the road. Having someone help me navigate this path was crucial for leading me to where I am today.

Science is a huge and intricate field, and it can be daunting to find a niche completely alone. It is important to utilize resources and target the lab(s) that you are truly interested in joining as a graduate student. Without establishing a network, it may be difficult trying to find the lab that is right for you, or you may end up applying to a school/lab that does not completely align with your interests. Applying to graduate school is a big commitment and you do so knowing that you will be devoting years of your life to research. It is important to ensure that you find a lab that is the perfect fit for you, and starting a network early in the process will help secure a successful and fulfilling graduate school experience.

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