Networking is a two way street- I need help finding a job, so I need to help anyone I can find a job too. A former student of mine from my first TA experience posted on Facebook that he is unable to find a position as a science teacher, and is hoping to find a tech position in Pittsburgh somewhere. Since I am an expert job hunter, I weighed in to wish him luck, and he asked me to be a reference. Of course! He was a great student and would be a great addition to a lab!
This is the third time I've been asked to be a reference for a student of mine, and I always think- don't you have someone... like, important to write you a letter? I mean, my grandmother thinks my Ph.D. is cool, but will your future employer be impressed by a letter from an out-of-work molecular biologist? Of course, both past students got the position they were hoping for, so maybe I am placing too much importance on the role of the reference.
It also reminds me, these people (not kids- they are in their mid-twenties for crying out loud) look up to me, and that gives me an unnerving sense of responsibility. Being a role model shouldn't be taken lightly. Example- I really look up to all the post-docs in my old lab. Seeing all of them hesitate (struggle, battle, endeavor, be rebuffed and dismayed) to move their careers ahead makes me so hesitant to think about post-docing. If scientists that motivated, committed and freaking brainy can't rise in the ranks, what am I going to do? When I left Pitt, I was excited to find a way to have a career without a post-doc and other grad students thought that was cool. I haven't figured it out yet, but sometimes I tell myself I am sticking to my guns for other grad students who wanted to see some alternate road to success. This isn't about me, it's about something bigger than me. I'm trying to find some way to make the public investment in ME worthwhile.