I have always found networking among researchers odd - it seems that interaction should be based on overlapping interests or mutual friends. But, at the same time, I have always wondered if this aversion to networking for networking's sake was the wrong approach. Perhaps networking could make me a better researcher somehow. Ultimately, I find approaching or adding people on Facebook that I do not know and am only trying to form a "relationship" with because they are well-known or well-respected in the field to be too awkward and insincere. This sentiment was echoed in an article in Science Magazine. The author perfectly summed up what "networking" among scientists should be:
"Perhaps the term “networking” has come to encompass too many meanings—kind of like the word “friend.” There are valuable steps you can take to support your science career that some would call networking, but you can just as easily call them what they are: attending conferences, learning new things, having interesting conversations, meeting people. You can do all of these things without “Where’s the value for my career?” at the front of your mind. Just do them, enjoy them, and become a better scientist."
Sometimes it's hard not to get caught up in the "who do you know?" aspect of conferences, but it's also important to remember that attempts to form relationships on the basis of "advancing your career" are often transparent and not well-regarded. As the author of the article points out, "You assume that everyone wants to help you, simply because they meet you once..." My best advice to a young researcher hoping to make contacts at a conference is this: approach someone selectively and with purpose (they do research you are interested in, you have a project pitch for them), or wait to be introduced by someone you know who also knows your intended target. Make the interaction sincere and don't immediately follow it up with a Facebook friend request.