How to build and grow an international research network

You may have heard that collaborating with international colleagues is important. It is not only important because it makes a good addition to your CV, but because collaborating with colleagues from different countries and backgrounds is an enriching experience. Asking for their feedback will give you a fresh perspective on your research topic. Discussing your ideas will strengthen the arguments that underpin your thesis and clarify your supporting evidence.

So how do you build, grow, and maintain an international research network? Here are some ideas:

1. Attend and present at conferences

Conferences are excellent forums to meet other researchers in your field. Select the conferences you attend wisely – you can check the scientific and organising committees, the keynote speakers, and – if available – the programmes of conferences in advance to shortlist who you should talk to. Meet with fellow PhD researchers as well – they may become friends and collaborators for many years to come.

2. Collaborate through service appointments

Volunteer to serve on technical committees, which typically consist of members from academia and industry. Through these committees you may discover opportunities to co-author whitepapers with other committee members, thus widening your professional network and contributing to your publishing record at the same time.

3. Go on an exchange

If you have the opportunity to do so during your PhD or post-doc, and your family/life situation will fit around it, then go on an exchange during your studies. The contacts you will make will be invaluable for future projects and joint publications.

4. Keep in touch

Meeting people is one thing, but staying in touch requires discipline and organisation. Follow the progress of your fellow PhD colleagues and send them a congratulations note when they graduate. Connect on LinkedIn and actively engage with their content. Be sure to compliment them when they get a promotion or change jobs.

5. Reach out to authors

If you read an interesting paper, don’t be afraid to reach out to the corresponding author. Let him/her/them know that you found it interesting, ask some questions and get a discussion going. This is how alliances are formed. You may be surprised by the opportunities that arise.

6. Develop an online presence

Build and online presence through LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Google Scholar, Twitter, and a personal blog, so that other researchers can find you and reach out.

7. Send your students on an exchange

Participate in exchange programs with your students when you are further on in your career. Send (good) students out to build working relationships with international colleagues.

8. Invite international colleagues to thesis committees

When your students are ready to graduate, invite international colleagues to form part of their thesis committee when the topic relates to their area of interest. Doing so will further strengthen your working relationship, deepen mutual respect and give you the chance to showcase your own research, where appropriate.

9. Take a sabbatical

If you’ve already established yourself and have held your post for an extended period, consider taking a sabbatical. Make time to work in collaboration with a respected colleague at their home university. Take the opportunity to develop ideas and share your research findings with each other and, if appropriate, ask for introductions to their own extended network.

Research is built on a foundation of collaborative relationships. By expanding your research network beyond your own institution and around the world, you’ll create a rich and enlivening academic career for yourself. Through your professional contacts you’ll form lasting relationships that will see you through your career and beyond.

Further Reading

A force to be reckoned with — how to collaborate successfully

Seven tips for academics moving to Ecuador

51 tactics for getting things done faster in collaborations

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Dr. Eva Lantsoght is a Full Professor in Civil Engineering at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador and a part-time researcher at the Concrete Structures research group of Delft University of Technology. She blogs at PhD Talk about her research and general academic topics and is the author of ‘The A-Z of PhD Trajectory: A Practice Guide for a Successful Journey’ Springer, 2018).

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