There are several very cogent posts on networking that all students and scholars should read and ruminate over. A recent post at Duck of Minerva sparked a heated reaction owing to the sexually charged language and, in my view, rather inane attempt to be cute.
Recent posts on networking I’ve learned from include
Christian Davenport’s The Promise of Human Contact (or, Why You Should Network Your Ass Off but Love It)
Steve Saideman’s Networking is Hard-Working
Daniel Nexon Academic Conferences: From “Networking” to Forming and Nurturing Social Ties
Erik Voeten’s Sex and Networking at Academic Conferences
Will Moore identifies some of the ways networking experiences are not uniform in Some Dimensions over which the Return to Networking is not Uniform
For sake of disclosure, I am not someone in a position to engage each and every point made by these fine scholars. My goal in this post is to offer some thoughts about networking when you are not in a place of privilege. How should you approach networking when you cannot rest on advisor or institutional prestige? There are many dimensions to power relations in networking. By academic periphery I am referring to those of us who teach at places not considered by most to be top tier departments. Networking is not just for students and scholars in the academic core. In fact a case can be made that networking is more important for those who do not have famous advisors or a degree from a top-ten program.
Before you decide which nuggets of advice you decide to take-away from other scholars, first ask yourself what does it mean to network? I don’t mean this as some vague, what color is your balloon sense. You need to answer this question in the context of who you are and what are your goals. Networking is a means to a goal you set for yourself. Many of us want feedback from others, often well connected famous others, on our work. Making a positive impression on others is part of your networking and can pay dividends even if you do not get immediate gratification. Participating in professional development is an iterated exercise and the connections you make and nurture at one professional meeting can grow at the next meeting.
Always remember this is a very small discipline. I am often surprised how willingly some people are to burn bridges or outright engage in offensive commentaries. People talk and how you treat others may will get around. Even offensive actions by those in your department with whom you have little contact can impact your career. Once when I was interviewing for a tenure-track job I was asked about a major scandal in my department. The scandal did not involve my advisor or me. I knew about the scandal, as my officemate was the hub of departmental gossip. But…I had not thought about it enough to form an opinion. Here I was with a group of people assessing my competence for a TT job and I was being asked my opinion on the scandal. I was prepared to answer questions about my teaching, research, and training but I did not prepare for gossip.
A second question to ask and answer for yourself is why are you networking? Networking should not be a means to meet your heroes and or obtaining confirmation of your own sense of self-worth. Moreover, it should not be something you do only for your own self-interest. Networking is your opportunity – no matter how junior or insignificant you may think you are – to help others.
Thought on networking outside of privileged position
1) Make your own name; if your department and or advisor are not capable of opening doors for you, you need to establish that you belong in the same social fabric as those you want to network with. How do you accomplish this? Obviously this is accomplished by being a knowledge-generator and publishing on the subject.
2) Be realistic; some doors will never open. It is rare that if, like me, you earned your degree from a department outside the top 40, that your networking will open all doors. Princeton will never call me and I am okay with that. There are many productive, smart, and pleasant people with degrees from the periphery.
3) Keep perspective: what kind of networking will help you most when you return home? Always remember that ultimately you have to go home and justify your existence to your advisor (for students) or your chair and dean (for TT folks).
4) Take action; networking requires you to follow-through after the professional meeting. If you are successful networking at APSA in 2013 do not wait until APSA in 2014 to reach out to the people you connected with.
5) Let the prestige snobs be damned; some people will always dismiss your pedigree, research record, and institutional affiliation. How others react to your efforts to engage them is not your problem. I’ve come to the conclusion that some of the people who look down on my subaltern degree would find fault even if my degree was from Harvard.
6) Don’t be that person; learn from people who treat you poorly. At ISA2013 when I was checking in to the hotel there was a famous scholar in front of me in the check-in line. She/he was all upset with the desk clerk because he/she did not receive a free upgrade. This scholar basically said “don’t you know who I am?” Networking should make you better, not drag you down to the level of those who only appreciate sycophants.