The Changing Face of Networking

Biotech Nexus panelists give recommendations on how to build and grow connections in a post-COVID era.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape for professionals interested in forging professional connections, but one thing remains the same: the importance of building networks.  

That was the message from the five panelists who headlined the annual Biotech Nexus event hosted by Northwestern Engineering's Master of Biotechnology Program (MBP). When talking about networking, the panelists were clear that it is vital to make connections for career development, whether people find doing so easy or not.  

“I definitely still struggle with it, asking myself why anyone would want to talk to me,” said Susan Schofer, partner at SOSV and HAX and chief science officer at HAX. “Just remember: People are people. They enjoy conversation. Try to bring something to the conversation. Just reach out and build connections.”   

Each panelist gave practical tips on exactly how to create those bonds, especially if you find face-to-face or cold-call conversations awkward.   

Multiple panelists emphasized the use of LinkedIn, which they felt took on an added importance because of the pandemic.   

“LinkedIn has changed over the past three years from being strictly professionally oriented,” Schofer said. “It's opened up to more of a whole-human side of things where people are, of course, talking about work and professional things but also talking about more personal things in a more open way.”  

Even with the return to normal after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of face-to-face opportunities remains, the panelists said. In fact, they used the Biotech Nexus event itself as an example of an opportunity for students and alumni alike to grow their networks.  

“If everyone's (at an event for the) same reason, you already have some common ground to start talking about,” said Phillip Freeman (MBP '21), process development manager for Clever Carnivore. “Feel confident. These things grow exponentially, too. You break the ice with one person at a conference, and then the next year they introduce you to their friends.”  

Other panelists stressed that the importance of building a network isn’t just to meet people who can help you advance in your career. It’s to keep you current on the latest news and innovations in your field.  

“The knowledge you'll get from a group of experts will really inform you of what's going on,” Schofer said. “It will keep you up-to-date on what everyone is focused on at that moment.”  

Above all, the panelists said, no matter what type of personality you have – introvert or extrovert – it is vital for career development to make connections.   

"Never be content with what you know," said Asha Varghese (MBP '18), clinical research project manager at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "There are people out there who would like to share their experience with you, who would like to teach you how to get to where you want to go. Always be willing to learn, and the only way you can learn is by reaching out to people and asking questions." 

McCormick News Article