December 10, 2013 By Hannah Sigur
Networking Happy Hour | New York, NY | November 14, 2013
To be one of a group who don’t know each other gathered for a professional networking happy hour is, for me, not a promising prospect on its face. More often than not I find networking events to be stressful, dry, impersonal, and frustrating affairs, marked by pointless chat with someone intent on soothing the daily grind with cheap sauce….
But up for a good drink, soaking in Manhattan energy after having been away for years, and a firm adherent to the philosophy of hey, ya never know…. I felt only happy anticipation stepping into the PhDs At Work networking event on November 14th, there to mingle with other complete strangers assembled by Michelle Erickson. Two hours of conversation and two glasses of merlot later, I can report that “fun” and “professionally worthwhile” are not by any means mutually exclusive. I got a lot out of this, and I had a great time, too. It was pretty obvious that we all did.
Why did an ad hoc, casual, unscripted, freely lubricated event work so well? Firstly, because care had been taken in choosing the location—an attractive restaurant/bar with an intimate spot to ourselves in the surrounding din that kept us together and encouraged chat. And chat we did. Most anyone drawn to such an occasion has a lighthearted, informal side, plus the shared experience of earning the PhD is a great conversation starter regardless of specialties ranging from art history to medical science and ages from 30 to 60. We all were open to new ideas and fresh faces, because otherwise we wouldn’t have been there. I met one or two terrific people I intend to stay in touch with, each of us with an eye to the future.
And more substance came with the sauce: our group included many convivial, successful execs with PhDs in several fields who made the switch, including Michelle. They came not just as inspirational examples, but ready to open the first door with advice, invitations to their offices, and to share connections of their own. The next week found me at Citigroup for an informative informational interview that lasted more than an hour. If not yet employed, I’m certainly more educated and have people I feel comfortable contacting again at any time—and that’s an essential start.
Getting one’s footing in the world outside of academia takes some practice. It’s noisy, bright, and predictably unpredictable. Just like happy hour.