Home > Articles > Business & Management > Personal Development

How to Build and Maintain a Support Network—Planning for When You Need Help

Jennifer Bray explains why developing a support network can be critical for women in STEM fields, and shows you how to go about developing a network, even if networking and socializing aren't your strong suit.
Like this article? We recommend

Women in Science Technology Engineering and Medicine (STEM) are often analytical thinkers who are great at planning. We plan projects, plan work and plan our careers. We are constantly planning and organizing, but do we plan for personal support?

Women in STEM can be in the minority. This has some advantages: we stand out from the crowd. Men who make their careers in STEM can struggle to be noticed but we will be marked out and recognized. Even casual passing acquaintances remember me and recognize my name because I’m a woman engineer, and in my field women are few and far between. However, there is a flip side to being in a minority: having a huge number of people know your name is not the same as having a huge number of people who are ready to support you. When you are in a minority it is easy to fall into the trap of being both very well known and very isolated.

You might wonder why this would be an issue. Anyone who chooses a career that is not typical for their group probably has a strong will and a healthy dose of independence. If you know what you want and are well on the way to getting it why should you worry about being isolated? Isn’t a degree of isolation a natural consequence of the path you’ve chosen?

If you think being isolated is par for the course in your profession, then I’d like to point out some of the benefits you can get from building a support network.

Advice and problem solving - Your problem solvers don’t even have to be in your field: many times I’ve solved a problem as I was describing it to someone else because the very act of explaining gave me the different viewpoint I needed to see the solution I’d missed before.

Reducing stress in a crisis - There is an old saying that trouble shared is trouble halved. It’s not literally true, but it certainly feels like it. Having people who will help you in a crisis, even if only by lending a sympathetic ear, will work wonders for reducing your stress levels. You may not be in a crisis at the moment, and perhaps there is nothing but blue skies on the horizon, but surely it’s better to be ready for possible problems rather than wait until you’re hip deep in trouble before you realize that planning for a little help would have been a good idea.

Mentoring - This can benefit both sides, as teaching gives you a new and valuable perspective. In most martial arts you can only progress through the higher levels by teaching. There is a good reason for this: when you try to teach a subject you look at it in a different way and you learn it more deeply yourself. Mentoring is a two way relationship that benefits both sides: the inexperienced person gets the benefit of their mentor’s longer view, and the mentor gets the benefit of a fresh viewpoint, and also learns from the very act of teaching.

Practical help - Practical help can take many forms. It can include personal help such as sharing lifts or babysitting. You’ll also find that if you’ve taken the time and trouble to build good connections with people they’ll be more inclined to help with work matters and prioritize the items that you need. Be careful because calling in personal favors can sometimes cross the border into unethical behavior, but at other times helping you is not going to hurt anyone else. For example, I have used connections to get information I needed faster than I could possibly access it on my own.

Identify Groups

If I’ve convinced you that building a support network to combat isolation is a good idea, what should you actually do about it? People are social animals by their nature, so it is almost inevitable that you’ll get to know some useful people just by living your daily life. But forming a deliberate strategy of building a network and targeting any areas where you are isolated will give you more, better and deeper connections that will bring extra benefits beyond just bumping into people as you go about your daily life.

The first thing to do is to identify groups where you can find people to add to your support network.  There are no rules here: family, friends, colleagues, competitors, suppliers—anyone you meet is potentially part of your support network. Here are some unlikely examples:

  • I urgently needed performance data on a wireless network, and couldn’t find a contractor. I was chatting with a friend at a local motorcycle club. His day job involved biochemistry experiments, and he asked if he could help. We worked together to design and carry out the series of experiments and found that the analytical skills from his biochemistry work were ideal for analyzing the experimental data I needed. Because of our connection through the bike club he worked through the weekend to get my data in on time. I gained by getting good quality work done at very short notice. He gained a contract he wouldn’t otherwise have even tendered for, and widened his experience. When I told him my problems, I was just letting off steam. I didn’t anticipate that a biochemist from a motorcycle club connection could help with a wireless experiment.
  • My manager wanted me to attend a conference. I was keen to attend too, but I had to look after my daughter and my partner couldn’t stand in as he was away on business. My local pastor asked how my work was going, and I told him about my problems of arranging childcare. All my usual contacts were off on holidays or otherwise engaged. I knew the pastor was busy that night, so I hadn’t expected him to help. But he suggested one of the ladies who ran the Sunday school could babysit for me. She was very willing, and I knew her to be the sort of person I would trust to look after my daughter. With her help I managed to attend the conference. In this case I was using my network (the pastor) and his network too.

Hopefully these examples illustrate that help can come from unexpected places. You should deliberately cultivate a network at work, but don’t neglect other opportunities to make connections. Many career minded women neglect their social lives because they are focussed so strongly on work, but by doing this you fail to enrich your network with people who could make your working life easier. The good news here is that for most women social skills and collaborative tendencies are a big strength, and these are just the qualities you need to building and use a support network.

Make Connections

So if you’ve seen some groups you’d like to network with, how do you actually set about making connections? The first and most obvious thing to do is to find common ground. Social events, clubs, and classes are all places where you can meet and connect with people.  It can be difficult if you’re moving in a male dominated environment and not finding things that suit, so if you don’t find common ground make your own common ground. Ask people what they enjoy. I have a colleague who makes a point of asking people at the first opportunity, “So, what do you do for fun?” and this often leads to him identifying a shared interest. There are many areas where you may have something in common with people: work, children, hobbies, entertainment. Start conversations, invite people to share activities and interests you have in common, and be sure to accept every invitation you possibly can.

Support networks are like plants: it’s not enough to just get a plant—once you have one you have to care for it. Building a support network is not the end; you need to keep your network alive. Maintain it by keeping contact. If you can’t make time for activities at least check in with people and see how they’re doing. Take opportunities to strengthen your connections. Women in STEM are often fiercely independent,  but you must learn to say YES! Accept any help that is offered, even if you think you don’t need it. Take it as an opportunity to build a connection. Exchanging favors is a great way to strengthen a relationship, but of course you have to keep it balanced. Giving favors and help creates obligations, and nobody wants too many of those. Asking for too much help makes you needy and unpopular; giving too much without ever taking back also creates embarrassingly unbalanced relationships that can also push people away. Over time try to balance giving and receiving.

Don’t Forget to Say Thank You

This brings me to the final part of maintaining your support network: acknowledging help. Don’t ever take help for granted. If you need to call upon your network, let them know how they helped, that they made a difference, and that you’re grateful. This can be difficult if you’re not used to thanking and being thanked, but you need to do it; it’s all part of reinforcing connections. Then pat yourself on the back for having the foresight to build the support network so that it was there when you needed it!

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020