The network

Sometimes, idealistic people are put off the whole business of networking as something tainted by flattery and the pursuit of selfish advantage. But virtue in obscurity is rewarded only in Heaven. To succeed in this world you have to be known to people.
                                         Sonia Sotomayor — Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

One of the important things I missed out on during my part-time and often pregnant PhD was the opportunity to network. Key opportunities often arose when I couldn’t get a babysitter. While my institution was incredibly supportive of mothers bringing their children onto campus for meetings, all it takes is a massive number 3 nappy explosion in the Deputy Dean’s office to realise it isn’t necessarily going to be advantageous networking (though retrospectively hilarious) when the children are involved.

hand-523233_1280So what are some networking tips for junior researchers? Especially those, like me that are behind the eight ball? The following outlines some excellent advice given to me by other early career researchers and senior academics. I would like to share that advice with you.

Not so long ago I was depressed about my lack of visibility in my institution and I had a whinge in a safe space for mums in the academic industry to offload and ask for advice. One member of the group told me (very kindly) to stop feeling sorry for myself, buck up and just network.

Taking her advice, I have been lurking on Twitter, watching leading academics in my field. Waiting for an opportunity to engage.

Today it happened.

A well regarded researcher in my field was interviewed by a newspaper where he called for studies to be done, very closely related to my PhD study. I nearly shot off a fangirl email, but thought instead I would ask for some advice from one of my many mentors. Below I have extracted key ideas from an email.

(1) Focus on getting good quality publications out, that is what is going to help your academic career. So basically calm down, don’t get ahead of yourself and think things through. I need to be strategic about contacting academics in my field. Everybody is time poor so an email out of the blue will either be missed amongst the daily millions, acknowledged but not necessarily followed through, or ignored. The most important thing is to approach another academic with an already thought through plan for how you are going to work together. So you could write to [the academic], tell him that you like his article, and that you are interested in a co-publication based on work form your PhD and perhaps some input from his large study. See if he is has time, interest etc. Aim the article for a high impact journal, that would elicit lots of citations;font-533232_1280

(2) You don’t need to be a fangirl … be strategic, make alliances where you think there you can develop productive research partnerships. It is difficult after completing a PhD, where you worked intimately with another person’s work, to not get starry eyed when you meet them in person. I really need to think through whether this alliance will help me eventually gain a position or spread myself too thin. I already have three writing projects that need my attention. It is usually better to impress the people you work with by doing a detailed and well considered job rather than spread yourself thin and ignore those that are already there.

(3) You have something to offer, and they need something that you have to offer, so it can be a win – win for both parties. This is an idea that has been formulating slowly over the past month. Maybe this blog is miss-named. Maybe I should be working towards being in a position that the Academy wants me rather than me chasing the Academy. Shall continue to mull this over and will probably blog my ideas in due course.

(4) I just read somewhere… about how experienced folk read CVs … it resonated with me. I look for single authored papers, joint papers, plus engagement with the profession and wider field. Single authored papers show me that someone can work on their own, joint authors that they can be strategic and work in groups/teams, and other papers connecting to the profession and public, that they have multiple writing styles and audience engagement.

This is really valuable feedback. As a newbie to the profession of academia, I didn’t realise how different my CV had to look to my teaching and curriculum consultation CVs. It’s always good to have an insight into how future employees read your experience. What I take from this is that it isn’t just about how much you publish, but who you publish with and what that relationship looks like on a CV. Do you publish regularly with one person? That could indicate a really good working relationship.

So accessing the online to increase your exposure is good, but how you go about it is probably more important.

Do you have any other networking tips for early career academics?
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4 thoughts on “The network

  1. Hey Naomi, great post with some interesting thoughts. I completed my PhD over a decade ago when as far as I’m aware an ECR wasn’t really a thing. I had no idea about or plan or thoughts around building my brand or networking, this was of course pre social media. I was very bad at seeking out opportunities and eventually decided (4 years post PhD) that an academic career wasn’t for me and I now work in knowledge transfer (and love it)…why am I telling you all of this? About 18mths ago I met a whole bunch of academics in a field I hadn’t previously connected with through an online campaign I’m involved with, never intended to be work related, so these guys were just my allies and we related on a human level…it was a good six months before I even realised how prolific some of them are! I’d just been my usual irreverent self, socialised with them, exchanged emails, asked for help and we were collaborating. In no small part due to my ignorance and the fact I wasn’t in awe of them (I am a little now in retrospect), but I guess I’d encourage you to remember that even the best in your field are just human!! The problem with courting is that there are unwritten rules and usually one party is keener than the other (at least to start with) but we’re all interdependent really, even the greatest in our fields, so don’t forget the human stuff and never be too over awed to just ask for help and suggest working together and don’t be too modest!! Best of luck with finding your fit, George

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi George
      Some wonderful advice. I particularly like your comment about the rules of courting. This blog started out with me being really keen but I am now continuously beginning to question the satisfaction I would get from a career where I want to be a part of it more than the institution wants me. I’ve always been “wanted”/head hunted etc so its a foreign concept until now. But I do love the idea of it. I think that’s why a lot of people actually put themselves through a PhD because the allure of academic life is so appealing. I have to ask myself whether it is still that way and maybe I’m just getting involved in an archaic ritual that is grasping with fingernails to still try to exist. The rules of courting have changed in reality so maybe they need to change regarding the academy. Maybe I don’t need marriage. Maybe a long-term affair where we remain friends after we no longer have anything to contribute to the relationship?
      Thanks again for your thoughts
      Naomi

      Liked by 1 person

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