Published in Non-Clinical

Networking 101 for Optometry Students

This is editorially independent content
8 min read

Review this step-by-step guide to networking successfully as an optometry student to build genuine connections and uncover job opportunities.

Networking 101 for Optometry Students
Optometry is a close-knit community where connections play a role in professional growth. Picture this: your first-year professor just might be the close friend of the residency director or practice owner you’ll be interviewing with in your fourth year.
There’s always a chance someone will call and ask, “How was so and so as a student?” Building professional connections can open doors to mentorship and job opportunities.
Networking takes various forms, from group settings to one-on-one interactions, in-person events, and on social media. It involves cultivating genuine relationships with professors, fellow optometry students from different schools, and practicing optometrists at optometric events.
While networking might seem intimidating, this article will guide you through some easy steps to follow.

1. Recognize your progress.

Remember, networking started when you were a pre-optometry student seeking a letter of recommendation from an optometrist or other professional/academic mentor. Give yourself credit for the shadowing, pre-testing, or optometric tech opportunity you sought out before optometry school.
Now, in optometry school, networking continues starting in first year. Introduce yourself to your professors at the start of every term! After class, ask questions in person or via email. Make time to attend office hours.
Get to know your professors as you will spend the next 4 years with them. They are truly invested in your optometric education.

2. Register and engage in optometric events.

During your first year in optometry school, you have the most free time (as your schedule is not as packed as the coming years, believe it or not). Attend optometric conferences, industry events, guest speakers' nights, and local optometric society gatherings.
Registering for such events is the first step toward effective networking. Many times these events are held on campus or locally in the same town or city.
Conferences can be expensive, but consider the following tips:
  • Student registration fees are usually waived.
  • Share a hotel/Airbnb with classmates or students from other schools to save on costs.
  • Choose a hotel/Airbnb within walking distance of the convention center to save on transportation costs for Ubers/Lyfts.
  • Apply for travel grants such as the Academy Student Travel Fellowship or Academy Resident Travel Fellowship.

3. Create a positive first impression.

When it comes to meeting someone new for the first time, you want to set yourself up for the best experience possible.
Consider these two well-known studies by psychologists:
  1. In 2006, Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov studied how long it takes for humans to make an impression on a stranger from their face and concluded it takes a tenth of a second.1
  2. Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication Model from 1967 concluded that the communication of emotions and feelings was the sum of three sections: spoken words (7%), voice and tone (38%), and body language—specifically, facial expressions (55%).2
There is disagreement and debate when it comes to any study, so please don’t take these studies or numbers as absolute truth.

Tips for making a positive first impression

Be aware that first impressions, especially when networking, are made up of several factors!
I would focus on:

Dressing for success

When choosing what to wear, always opt for business casual—unless otherwise noted.
You do not need to spend an overwhelming amount of money on business casual clothing! All you need is one to two staple blazers, one to two dress pants and/or skirts, and a blouse/button-up to go under. Mix and match or accessorize differently and you’ll be set!

Cleaning up your act

Though it seems like a given, do not ignore personal hygiene. Make certain to shower, brush your teeth, and apply deodorant. Packing gum/mints or a mini-disposable toothbrush is also great to have in your pocket.
Additionally, avoid heavy perfume or cologne, as it may be offensive to some. Heavy scents may also provoke allergies in some individuals.

Remember, smiling is free

In addition to smiling and making eye contact, be cognizant of your body language. We all recognize it is not easy to talk to someone with a grim or bored expression and arms crossed tightly across their chest.
Adopt a welcoming, open-body stance and smile.

On-time is great, but early is better

Be early. If big groups intimidate you, my best advice is to go early to an event. When you're early, you’ll have time to find a seat/table/drink in a low-stress setting and watch as the room fills with attendees instead of entering a busy room and frantically searching for an area to set your items down.

4. Craft your introduction

Think back to how you practiced for optometry school interviews. Now, it's time to practice introducing yourself effectively. I usually mention my name, optometry school, year in school, and something I'm interested in (i.e., private practice, research, etc.) OR I ask a question.
If I recognize someone from Instagram or LinkedIn and I’ve never met them in person before, I mention that I follow them and love their content! This is a quick and easy way to begin a conversation with a genuine start. Also, keep in mind to maintain an enthusiastic tone (and smile) when you speak!

5. Ask questions and actively listen.

When you get nervous, you may find yourself taking over a conversation because you are rambling. Instead, combat nervousness by being mindful of how much you speak. Aim to listen more, take pauses, and ask engaging questions.
Seek common ground when chatting, such as attending the same school, growing up in the same town/state, or relating to similar cultures. I mention these examples to remind you that common ground does not limit you to eye-related topics only.

6. Go with a partner.

You don't have to navigate networking alone! The best networking conversations I had were in groups. I love networking with close friends. It takes less pressure to maintain the conversation and keeps the conversation engaging in a small group!

7. Follow up and maintain communication.

After meeting someone new, ask if they would like to connect on LinkedIn (or any social media platform) and hand your phone over! Sometimes, you’ll receive a business card.
At the end of the day, send a quick message on LinkedIn or a quick email with a personal touch (such as mentioning your favorite part of the conversation). Maintaining communication is as simple as that.

8. Foster the relationship.

Keep in touch with every connection you make! It can be as small as liking and commenting on their recent LinkedIn/Instagram post or sending a message to congratulate them on a new accomplishment/see how they are doing! It is a small gesture that begins to build a true connection.

In closing

What you put into networking is what you will receive. Your mindset matters. Approach it with the goal of: I am here to build genuine connections and relationships (rather than solely seeking job opportunities).
Network to get to know like-minded people, and the benefits of networking will come naturally.
If you try any of these tips, let me know on Instagram!
  1. Willis J, Todorov A. First impressions: making up your mind after a 100-ms exposure to a face. Psychol Sci. 2006;17(7):592-598. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01750.x
  2. Mehrabian A, Ferris SR. Inference of attitudes from nonverbal communication in two channels. J Consult Psychol. 1967;31(3):248-252. doi:10.1037/h0024648
Svetlana Nunez
About Svetlana Nunez

Svetlana Nunez, a third-year optometry student at UC Berkeley's Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry & Vision Science, discovered her passion for optometry when her mother faced temporary vision loss following eye surgery. As a first-generation Latina, she's dedicated to providing academic and career guidance to aspiring optometry students. Her post-graduation plans include pursuing a residency and eventually opening a private practice. In her free time, she enjoys painting, pilates, surfing, and baking gluten-free desserts.

Svetlana Nunez
How would you rate the quality of this content?
Eyes On Eyecare Site Sponsors
Astellas LogoOptilight by Lumenis Logo