Monday, August 6, 2012

Getting connected: why you should get connected to people, and how

Getting connected to professionals in your field can be difficult, but it’s worth the effort. Here’s why, in no particular order:

  1. you exchange ideas, find new ways to approach problems, share career experiences, and learn to navigate the multitude of aspects of your profession
  2. you form connections that can potentially  help if you need to change jobs
  3. it’s fun to be social (even if you are an introvert like me)
  4. you can potentially add a lot of value to your company, leading to career advancement opportunities
  5. you can justify going to cool conferences, if you enjoy those
  6. you have a better chance of new opportunities to publish, get invited talks, or collaborate

The above is fairly general, but for the how I will focus on statisticians because that is where I can offer the most:

  1. Join a professional organization. For statisticians in the US, join the American Statistical Association (ASA). Other countries have similar organization, for instance, the UK has the Royal Statistical Society, and Canada, India, and China have similar societies. In addition, there are more specialized groups such as the Institute for Mathematical Statistics, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, East North American Region of the International Biometric Society, West North American Region of the International Biometric Society, and so forth. The ASA is very broad, and these other groups are more specialized. Chances are, there is a specialized group in your area.
  2. If you join the ASA, join a section, and find out if there is an active local chapter as well. The ASA is so huge that it is overwhelming to new members, but sections are smaller and more focused, and local chapters offer the opportunity to connect personally without a lot of travel or distance communication.
  3. You might start a group in your home town, such as an R User’s Group. Revolution Analytics will often sponsor a fledgling R User’s Group. Of course, this startup doesn’t have to be focused on R.
  4. If you have been a member for a couple of years, offer to volunteer. Chances are, the work is not glorious, but it will be important. The most important part, anyway, is that you will gain skills coordinating others and meet new people.
  5. If you go to a conference, offer to chair and try to speak. It is very easy to speak at the Joint Statistical Meetings.
  6. Use social media to get online connections, then try to meet these people in real life. I have formed several connections because I blog and tweet (@randomjohn).  You can also use Google+, though I haven’t quite figured out how to do so effectively. I also don’t use Facebook that much for my professional outlet, but it is possible. Blogging offers a lot of other benefits as well, if you do it correctly. Blogging communities, such as R Bloggers and SAS Community, enhance the value of blogging.

Getting connected is valuable, and it takes a lot of work. Think of it as a career-long effort, and your network as a garden. It takes time to set up, maintain, and cultivate, but the effort is worth it.