One of the purposes of an Early-Career Scientist association (ECS) is to foster a sense of community and allow for the expansion of one's professional network. Networking is a familiar word to up-and-coming scientists that brings up images of conferences, forums, and career days. While often daunting and nerve-wracking, the stress of these events can be alleviated by taking a more casual approach to it. As a member of an ECS association, you can take the first step to make the change in your local research community and promote a more pleasant networking environment.
First and foremost, networking does not have to be an awkward, forced and overly formal event. Instead of using it as a means to further your career, focus on the genuine goal of meeting new people, getting to know your fellow scientists, and building a healthy community. Scientists are passionate and hardworking by their nature. The work-talk will eventually sneak into the conversation. Here are some ideas for different networking and community building approaches.
Organizing a scientific café meeting is a fantastic way to bring people together. Create an opportunity for lab-mates and researchers from across the hall to chat and to get to know each other better over a cup of coffee either at university or at a local coffee shop. A wonderful example of this event and some information on how to organize it is Cafe Scientifique. Another option is to grab a drink with your colleagues after a long day at work. German-speaking countries have a well-established tradition (check out recollections of Nobel-Prize-winning physicist and mathematician Max Born on the matter) of “Stammtisch”, that can be roughly translated as “regulars’ table”. Work colleagues come weekly or biweekly to enjoy a friendly get-together at a local pub or a restaurant, a tradition that can easily be transformed into “Early-career scientists’ regulars’ table”.
Organizing regular basketball, volleyball or soccer games will promote a sense of fellowship and bring everyone closer, regardless of their current career stage (check out the Nerd League at Caltech). Training for a half marathon, doing yoga or fitness are also wonderful options. Besides, it promotes a healthy physical lifestyle that is an essential part of mental wellbeing.
Hiking and exploring
Many group members or fellow early-career scientists are not locals. Consider organizing group hikes, bike trips or just exploring the city together. Discover stunning natural wonders and explore the history of the local places together, while building a sense of scientific community.
Since research groups usually consist of people from all around the world, exploring foreign cuisine is one of the most fun ways to get immersed into a new culture. Going out to a restaurant or gathering at someone’s place for a home-cooked meal and letting others share their cultural heritage is a delightful experience. Combining this event with a small presentation about a person's home country will make the event more educational and let them feel special and included.
Even though it is Early-Career Scientist association, do not forget to involve senior researchers in the planned activities. Perhaps as a team member during a soccer game, sharing a meal of new and exciting food from across the globe, or giving some career tips and suggestions they will appreciate being a part of the community. They were once in your shoes, standing where you are standing now and they will have a lot of knowledge to share.
Overall, it is important to remain flexible and focus on promoting the exchange of experiences as well as scientific ideas. We as scientists are people who often dedicate a big part of our life to research, traveling all around the globe. Building a platform to share and exchange our knowledge, expertise, and our stories is the key to a strong community and a great professional network.
While these ideas for network activities might seem less conventional, they will surely lead to stronger connections, a sense of community (Lindau Goal 2 & 8 in our Lindau Guidelines section), and support stemming from a more relaxed environment and place of shared experiences. Your part as an ECS association leader is to bring people together, provide the platform for your fellow researchers to communicate, exchange ideas and make the world a better place while doing it.
Code of Conduct
In order to ensure that everyone is having a fulfilling experience it is essential for the ECS association leader and/or organizer to prepare and enforce an official Code of Conduct and provide an avenue for redressal. A good example of such a code can be found at the North Bay Python Conference webpage (check also their Reporting an incident and Staff procedure for incident handling guidelines).