Networking 101

This post has been percolating for a while…in part because I know there’s probably a post out there in the world already that is very similar to what I’ve been thinking. But you know, sometimes, it’s just easier to write your own instead of spending hours trying to find that perfect link to share.

Over the past two years that I’ve been writing this blog I’ve connected with students, prospective students, as well as currently practicing midwives and other health professionals. These connections have been both personally and professionally enriching in ways I could not have imagined. I had no idea when I started this blog how many people it might reach. As a student or prospective student, it’s easy to feel like you’re out there all alone on your journey, especially when your politics may veer in a slightly different direction than the mainstream culture of your profession.

I’ve loved connecting with the many prospective students who have reached out, hearing their stories, hopes, and dreams about midwifery, while also sharing my own experiences and bits of insight gleaned along the way. I know when I was in the midst of researching and applying, I was so hungry to hear those stories and use that information to help me decide what my own path to midwifery was going to look like.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that many folks start out their emails in a general, “Hey, I’d love to connect and hear more about your experience!” kind of fashion. While I would love to sit down with each person and have a heart to heart about midwifery, the reality is everyone is super busy. So, in the spirit of encouraging effective communication, I thought I’d share some tips on how to reach out to other students or practicing midwives and get the most out of those “cold calls” or “cold emails.”

Do your research. Before you write that email, that is. While I love helping folks connect with each other and with good resources, I think it’s also just good manners to do your own research before you send that first email. Know the lay of the land, which for prospective midwifery students, means researching the professional organizations, knowing the pathways to midwifery, and having a sense of what appeals to you about those pathways. If there are things that are unclear as you peruse the professional websites (and student blogs, etc!), write those questions down! Which leads me to my next tip:

Get specific. I get a lot of emails from folks asking something along the lines of, “I’m thinking about midwifery school, can you tell me more about your program?” I could tell you a lot, for sure…but realistically, each program is a universe unto itself and I could spend days talking about the ins and outs of my programs and the ones I’m familiar with. So think about what you really need to know. Get really clear on how you think the person you’re reaching out to could help you. Is it that they know something about a specific program, or faculty member and their research, or practice climate in their state? It’s okay to ask several questions, but it sure is helpful to have a concrete list. An email asking me to share my experience and thoughts on my program leaves me feeling overwhelmed about where to even start. An email with two or three bulleted questions is much more manageable.

Think about timing. When you reach out and make an ask, it’s really helpful to have a sense of both your own timeline and that of the person you’re connecting with. Emailing at the beginning and end of terms, for example, may not be ideal…and you should know that those emails may not get the speediest reply (as badly as we students feel about that!). Also, tell us what your timeline is, and if a reply is more urgent, it’s ok to be honest about that. I’d rather know that you’re coming up against a deadline and then I, in turn, can be honest about whether I realistically have the time in that moment to give a thoughtful response…or whether I might need to pass your request on to someone else who might be better situated to answer your question.

Keep it brief. The shorter, the better, really. When I’m sending these kinds of emails, I try to keep it to what can fit on one window without scrolling, in easy to read paragraphs.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. Having said all that…I want to underscore how valuable I think it can be to reach out to someone you may not know personally but suspect could help shed light on your path. My philosophy when I was applying to programs was the more perspectives I could hear, the better. That’s also part of how I make decisions, too…and I would say that knowing your own decision-making process is a really useful insight that you can use to your advantage when considering midwifery and midwifery programs and how you craft those emails.

I think all these points apply to midwifery students networking with other students…and with connecting with midwives in practice, too. I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you’ve been on the reaching out or responding end. What’s worked well for you, what would you add to this list? What have you learned about networking over the years?

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