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Building Up Your Professional Network

08 July 2014

We all know networking is important in any business, and that doesn't exclude speech-language pathology. But how are we supposed to find ways to build our professional network while partaking in classes and extracurricular activities? It can sometimes be an issue, especially for those that transfer (like me) or just aren't sure how to go about making professional contacts. Luckily, you can make a professional contact from almost anyone at any place and any time! Even if the person isn't a Speech-Language Pathologist, they can still be a valuable resource for other jobs or connecting with related professionals. Each person is another step closer to more people, as each connection shrinks your six degrees of separation.

The Usual Places:

Of course you can start with friends and family. Some might be in your field of study, others may not. Either way they may have a doctor or related professional in their network that can help you down the line. For example, your friend's mom might work at a school that is looking for a speech therapist when you graduate. Or she can even put in a good word for you when they aren't hiring so they can keep you in mind. Also consider your current job. Your boss and other coworkers can be valuable resources for information on available jobs elsewhere, and your boss can be a great reference. (So be a good worker and stay off your phone!) Another option would be the supervisors of your observations or volunteer experiences. The SLPs you shadow are of course a great place for networking, and if you manage to get a volunteer position or long-term observation scheduled there, they can be even more valuable. The longer, the better as they will get to know you at a deeper level. If you happen to stay in the area for grad school, then perhaps you can do a clinical placement there, which is good for CFY references (or doing your CFY there!)... This is wishful thinking, but helpful either way.

Of course there are also your professors and classmates. Going to office hours, volunteering in the lab, doing a thesis or small research project, or being a teaching assistant can be great ways to get to know your professor. Once they know you well enough, they can be a reference or even tell you of good schools or employment options to look into when the time comes. Classmates are also great. Even those who aren't in the major (catching on to the theme?). All of them can have ties.
One example: I recently rented an apartment with 3 nursing majors. They told me of patient care technician jobs that had openings where I would do basic care that didn't require certification, just a high school degree. It's not 100% SLP, but it is still in the medical field and hands-on with patients, so those jobs could've helped with my resume. If I hadn't roomed with them I wouldn't have known that the hospital had jobs like these!)

One Step Further:

Your school's career development office in an invaluable resource! I can't stress this enough. If your school has a well-made career development office, then you should be able to find some internships through them. There probably won't be any for SLP, but definitely some for related fields or organizations that aid disabled people. Interning at these places is sure to expand your connections. Your career development office might also have  alumni or local connections for students to talk to. Mine has a database that you can search for professionals that are alumni of the school that are willing to talk to students. If you can find something like this in your school, use it and find a professional to talk to and get to know.

ASHA also has some mentoring and development programs. If you look at their site, there are some for minorities, research, learning about a speciality, or just to learn more about a certain aspect of SLP. If you sign up and happen to be accepted, these programs can provide a great professional network for you to learn from.

Social media like Twitter, LinkedIn,and even blogs or forums can help you find like-minded people to talk to. Twitter now has a host of chats and hashtags related to our field that you can follow and partake in to learn about this field and maybe make a few friends and professional contacts. In fact, I recently participated a WeSpeechies chat and talked to a few students and professionals from Australia and abroad! Many blogs are also on Twitter, so you can talk to their author and catch up on info they post about. LinkedIn has several groups that even students can join. If you'd like more information on all the social media outlets you can check out this post and also this one.

Special events like talks, conventions and networking get-togethers have a plethora of professionals that you can meet and chat with. The linguistics club that I'm a leader in recently had Bill Labov speak (he's a big name if you're in that field), so I actually got to meet him! If you're interested in a specific subfield of SLP like neurogenic disorders or autism, then consider going to a talk that a professor or professional is giving. Just look for details from a local organization or your school's Neuroscience department (for neurogenic topics). If you like the person's research, then go up an talk to him/her and discuss how you can get involved. Of course, conventions, like the annual ASHA convention, ASHA Schools Convention or your state's convention will have many professionals that you can talk to. Like I said, if you are interested in a specialty, try to find a convention of a related organization to meet other professionals with a non-speech pathology point-of-view.

*Of course, as with any relationship, this isn't a one-sided thing. Don't expect that talking to someone one time will give them the drive to help you find a job or give a reference for a grad school interview. They might not even remember you if you met at a convention. You should bring something to the table or continue talking to them and discussing their research, if applicable. Don't go hoarding contacts either, you want to have strong connections, not 1,000 acquaintances.