Who Sat Next to You in Chem 101?

When you’re building your professional network, it’s a good idea to go back to college—at least for a brief online visit.

Using the internet, I recently took a stroll down memory lane and was overwhelmed with the rich networking resources I found.  Both my undergraduate and graduate schools keep good track of alumni (I know because I receive fundraising phone calls and letters from them several times a year).  And the information is stored in a searchable database just a few clicks away.

The alumni directory database at my undergraduate college can be searched by major, class year, occupation, employer, and location.   To test it out, I searched all the chemistry majors who were on campus the same years I was and who now live in my metropolitan area.  I was surprised to learn that one of them lives just a few blocks away. In fact, I walk by his house nearly every Summer evening as I’m exercising. 

I next decided to search for all alums who work for Cargill, a major employer of scientists in my community.  The list was long, and as I scanned it I noticed two division presidents. They would be great contacts. Narrowing this search, I asked for all who had been chemistry majors.  I discovered that a chem major who graduated seven years after me is now a senior scientist in a research area I’d like to learn more about.

Even though I don’t personally know these individuals, I’m sure they will be helpful members of my network.  Because college was such an important and formative time in our lives, we’ll no doubt share many memories—of certain favorite professors, of the tasty cinnamon rolls at that coffee shop just off campus, and of the odd chorus of our college fight song (“Um! Yah! Yah!”).

My graduate university is 1400 miles away, but they have an active alumni group in my city.  I try to make it to an alumni event at least once a year, and they recently launched an excellent and informative website.  Even my high school has an alumni web site that’s been helpful for networking. And don’t forget to search on Classmates.com (it’s not free but the cost might be worth it to you).

Many colleges and college organizations (sororities and fraternities, clubs, athletic teams, and music groups) also maintain groups on social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or MySpace.  While updating my LinkedIn profile so that former classmates can find and contact me, I spent some time searching through groups affiliated with my alma maters.  I noticed, for example, that one of the research groups in the biochemistry department had established a LinkedIn group—an excellent idea. 

And it’s not just about professional networking.  As the memories came flooding back, I found myself wondering about certain long-forgotten classmates.  With the help of the alumni databases and Google, I located several long-lost friends and roommates.  I was especially surprised and delighted to get back in touch with one very special friend.  I remembered interests, skills, and dreams that I had forgotten or neglected.   These memories helped me place my current career situation—which, like yours, is fraught with financial worries, to-do lists, and looming deadlines—in a broader perspective. I found myself refreshed and energized.

And now I have that crazy college fight song stuck in my head.

* * * * *

Randy Wedin blogs from Wayzata, MN. After spending a decade working for the ACS and as a Congressional Science fellow, he launched a freelance science writing business, Wedin Communications (www.wedincommunications.com), in 1992. His blog, “The Alchemist in the Minivan” (www.alchemist.pro), looks at the intersection of science, parenting, and daily life.

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