Write a personal message when inviting people to connect on LinkedIn

Strangers send requests to join my network on LinkedIn every week, sometimes every day.  When I get such a request, the enclosing message is usually

“Hi Eric, I’d like to join your LinkedIn network.”

This is the default message, which means that the sender did not take the time to write a personalized invitation.  This is very disappointing, especially because LinkedIn suggests you to write a personal note before sending every request.

When you don’t write a personal message, it shows a lack of effort to engage with that person and develop a rapport in this new connection.  In this age of social media, it is easy and common to add new contacts just for the sake of increasing the size of one’s network, whether it’s “Friends” on Facebook, “Followers” on Twitter, or “Connections” on LinkedIn.  Although social networking is virtual, connecting with people is still a human endeavour, and your effort level in that endeavour will reap proportional returns in the long term.

In your personal note, here are possible things to mention:

  • how you met that person
  • what you valued in your past professional encounter(s) with that person
  • what you hope to learn from that person

 

If you accept a thoughtful invitation from someone on LinkedIn, then write a personal message in return to thank them.  Either way, read their profiles carefully, and ask insightful questions based on what you learn from their profiles.  Your new connections will recognize your efforts in noticing their work/education and trying to learn from them, and they will likely appreciate your initiative.

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A tip about the word “college” to my American neighbo[u]rs who wish to work in Canada

Canadian English and American English are very similar, allowing Anglophones in both countries to work and live with ease when crossing the border.  However, there is a subtle difference in our vocabularies that can have big consequences for job searches and professional development.  To my American neighbours (or neighbors, as it is spelled in the United States of America), I offer this tip to avoid any confusion.  It concerns our different usages of the words “college” and “university”.

Peace_Arch_Monument,_Canada_-_USA_border

The Peace Arch is a monument situated between Blaine, Washington and Surrey, British Columbia. Near this monument is a major border crossing between the USA and Canada.

Image courtesy of RGB2 from Wikimedia.

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My Silver Medal from the Canadian Society for Chemistry – Reflections After 10 Years

In June, 2008, I received an email from Dr. Ken MacFarlane, then the Undergraduate Advisor in the Department of Chemistry at Simon Fraser University (SFU).  He wrote to inform me that I had won the Canadian Society for Chemistry‘s Silver Medal, given to the top undergraduate student in chemistry entering their final year of study at each Canadian university.

I won the Canadian Society for Chemistry’s Silver Medal for being the top fourth-year student in the Department of Chemistry at Simon Fraser University in 2008.

Later in November of that year, I received this medal at a dinner banquet, which honoured all of the award winners from the universities and colleges in the Vancouver Section of the Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC).  (Awards were given to the top students in their second year, third year, and fourth year of study.)  Here is a photo of me receiving my medal from Dr. Daniel Leznoff; he was then the Chair of the Vancouver Section of the CIC and a professor specializing in inorganic chemistry at SFU.

Eric getting medal from Dr. Leznoff

I received the Canadian Society for Chemistry’s Silver Medal from Dr. Daniel Leznoff at a dinner banquet in November, 2008.

The CIC publishes a magazine called Canadian Chemical News, and it covered the above award banquet in January, 2009.  You can find a photo of the award winners from that night on Page 29.

Dr. Cameron Forde succeeded Dr. MacFarlane as our Undergraduate Advisor in 2009.  In an email to me in October, 2009, Dr. Forde wrote that 100-120 students were eligible for the CSC’s Silver Medal in our department in 2008.

This is one of the greatest achievements of my life.  I am even more excited about it today than I was at that banquet, because I now have 10 years of perspective about how this medal has benefited my career.  In this retrospective article, I write to share my reflections about the impact that this medal has had on my professional trajectory – which has been unusual, to say the least.

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Include a professional photo of yourself in business attire in your LinkedIn profile

One of the easiest ways to polish your LinkedIn profile is posting a photo of yourself in business attire.  I strongly encourage every LinkedIn user to spend several hours to take at least 100 such photos of yourself.  Ask a friend or family member to take these photographs, if they would be so kind and willing to do so.  Alternatively, you can hire a professional photographer.  After this session, you will have a large stock of photos that you can use for various purposes.

Position yourself with many backgrounds, and take those photos from many angles.  You should always look straight into the camera, smile, and maintain an upright posture.  Here is what my LinkedIn profile looks like.

When you build a professional network and an online brand, people need to know who you are and what you look like.  When they meet you in person, your photo allows them to visually connect you with the online profile that they saw on LinkedIn.

This is especially crucial for people with common names; showing your photo allows others to easily distinguish you from others who share your name.  It turns out that there is another person named Eric Cai who works as a data scientist!  Not only do we share the same name, but we also have the same profession.  Without photographs, it would be quite difficult to distinguish between us in a professional setting.

 

Common Mistakes

I recently spoke at the Canadian Statistics Student Conference and at the University of Toronto’s Biostatistics Research Day, and I talked about this with students at both events.  Here are the common mistakes that I see in LinkedIn profile photos, and I urge you to avoid all of them.

  • Not having a profile photo
  • Not wearing professional attire
  • Not smiling
  • Covering your eyes with sunglasses
  • Looking away from the camera

Remember: This photo is for your professional branding, and your future employers or clients will look at it.  It is not for Facebook, Tinder, Grindr, or other social networks that are personal in nature.  Do not try to be cute, funny, sexy, or controversial – be professional.

Communication Tip – Write the message of the email BEFORE the subject and the recipients’ email addresses

In every email service that I have used so far,

1) the address fields are on the top

2) the subject field is in the middle

3) and then the text editor for the message is at the end.

However, when I write most emails, I usually write these 3 things in reverse.  This has several important advantages.

Email on laptop

Image courtesy of Pixabay on Pexels.

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Forgot a new co-worker’s name? This could be an opportunity to establish a positive relationship.

Meeting new people is a constant part of my life, whether it is through new jobs, social events, or networking events.  The first task in establishing rapport with a new acquaintance is to learn their name, yet I sometimes forget it after our first conversation.

shake hands.jpeg

Image courtesy of rawpixel.com on Pexels.

Forgetting new names is very common and forgivable, especially if you are meeting many new people at once.  However, I notice that most people are afraid to admit this.  Perhaps they are embarrassed or worried that their new acquaintances will feel offended.  Thus, they often greet them many times without referencing their name, and this could continue for days, weeks, or even months!

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Maximizing Your Learning Potential at Professional Conferences – A Detailed Guide

Introduction

During last summer, I attended the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Statistical Society of Canada (SSC).  I spoke on the career-advice panel at the 2016 Canadian Statistics Student Conference (CSSC), and I met some colleagues and professors to share ideas about our mutual interests in statistics, statistical education, and the use of social media to promote statistics to the general public.

From observing and talking to many students at this conference, I realized that most of them did not use it effectively to maximize their learning potential.  A conference like this is a great opportunity for networking, career development, and – eventually – finding a job, but I suspect that most statistics students do not comprehend the depth of its value, let alone how to extract it.  Thus, I’m writing this advice column to help anyone who attends a professional conference.

Image courtesy of Rufino from Wikimedia Commons.

Objectives

Most statistics students want to succeed academically and find a job after completing their education – that job could be within or outside of academia.  Thus, at any professional conference, they should have the following objectives:

  1. To learn new ideas in your fields of interest
  2. To meet others who share your professional interests
  3. To learn soft skills from veterans in your industry for developing your career
  4. To build valuable relationships in your professional network

Unfortunately, based on my anecdotal observations, many students in statistics, math and science don’t seem to grasp Objectives #3-4.  These students tend to be passive in their attendance and shy in their participation.  When they do try to pursue Objectives #3-4, they are often unprepared and do not take advantage of all of the learning opportunities that are available to them.

The first step in maximizing your learning potential at a professional conference is recognizing that it takes preparation and hard work.  To do it well, you need to take all 4 objectives seriously and practice them frequently.  Attending a professional conference is a skill, and developing this skill requires thought and effort.  It involves much more than just showing up, talking at your turn, and listening at all other times.

Hopefully, the rest of this article will help you to develop this skill in an intelligent way, but you must realize that there is no substitution for hard work.

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University of Toronto Statistical Sciences Union Career Panel

I am delighted to be invited to speak at the University of Toronto Statistical Sciences Union’s first ever Career Panel.  If you plan to attend this event, I encourage you to read my advice columns on career development in advance.  In particular, I strongly encourage you to read the blog post “How to Find a Job in Statistics – Advice for Students and Recent Graduates“.  I will not cover all of the topics in these columns, but you are welcomed to ask questions about them during the question-and-answer period.

Here are the event’s details.

Time: 1 pm to 6 pm

  • My session will be held from 5pm to 6 pm.

Date: Saturday, March 25, 2017

Location: Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, Ontario.

  • Sidney Smith Hall is located on the St. George (Downtown) campus of the University of Toronto.
  • Update: The seminars will be held in Rooms 2117 and 2118.  I will speak in Room 2117 at 5 pm.

 

If you will attend this event, please feel free to come and say “Hello”!

Interview with SFU Office of Graduate Studies & Postdoctoral Fellows: Using Social Media to Advance Your Career

Jackie Amsden, the Coordinator of Postdoctoral Fellows & Professional Development Programs in the Office of Graduate Studies & Postdoctoral Fellows at Simon Fraser University (SFU), recently asked me to share my experience in using blogging and social media to advance my career.  I am pleased to have shared my advice with Jackie in an interview, and she summarized our conversation in a blog post.  I am especially delighted to hear that my advice generated valuable discussion about professional development for a new group of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows during their orientation at SFU.

sfu_logo

Jackie and other members of her team have written a series of blog posts on professional development for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows – check it out!  You can follow Jackie on Twitter @jackiecamsden.

It is always a pleasure to give back to my alma mater and help university students to develop their careers!  Thanks, Jackie!

Using Your Vacation to Develop Your Career – Guest Blogging on Simon Fraser University’s Career Services Informer

The following post was originally published on the Career Services Informer.

I recently took a vacation from my former role as a statistician at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. I did not plan a trip out of town – the spring weather was beautiful in Vancouver, and I wanted to spend time on the things that I like to do in this city. Many obvious things came to mind – walking along beaches, practicing Python programming and catching up with friends – just to name a few.

sfu csi

Yes, Python programming was one of the obvious things on my vacation to-do list, and I understand how ridiculous this may seem to some people. Why tax my brain during a time that is meant for mental relaxation, especially when the weather is great?

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