Wednesday, January 03, 2007

In the Network

On the first day of MLA, after I'd gotten settled in my hotel room, I wandered over to the convention to get a plastic holder for my nametag and to see whether I saw anybody I knew wandering around. I ran into a friend from grad school who is currently in a VAP and who before that was in another contract job. He's basically been on the market in some fashion for about five years, if I figure it rightly. He has basically had no chance to develop courses in his field of specialty until this year. This year he had one interview. That interview was on the second day of MLA, and as soon as it was done, this friend was leaving the convention.

On the third day of MLA, I was supposed to try to meet up with another grad school friend. This friend is also not in a tenure-track position, and this friend has been on the market pretty solidly for what is now four or five years. I never ended up being able to meet up with the friend, as he was staying outside the city and not at the convention and I'm a social butterfly who made plans with about 47,000 people and so this friend slipped through the cracks, but we did talk on the phone that night when I returned back to my hotel. He also had one interview this year.

Now, I don't bring up these examples to be uncool to these people whom I know from grad school, but I suppose both - in conjunction with a conversation I had with Bitch, Ph.D. in which she talked about the difference between her previous MLA conventions and this one where she was in kind of an "in crowd" - got me thinking about insiders and outsiders at MLA and how the social aspects of the profession play into the material and, well, professional aspects of it.

People talk a lot about "networking" and its importance in the World of Business, and people do mention it in an academic context, too, but I think that the idea that networking is crucial to one's ability to make a success of oneself in the profession is a dirty little secret. We're all supposed to be brilliant, right? Academia is a meritocracy, right? It's not playing fair to use connections to get ahead, right? I think that is what many would say, as if this profession is somehow above such things. I also think that all of those sorts of responses are multiplied because many academics can be somewhat introverted people and they make a ready alibi for those who feel uncomfortable with networking - they can say that they just choose not to sully themselves by networking, when really the thought of it makes them miserable.

I think it's a mistake to look at networking as some sort of optional activity in this profession. I think it is crucial to be "in the network" instead of on the fringes (at MLA, at other conferences, etc.) in this profession. And the only way that I know how to talk about that is to talk about my own experiences in this regard.

I was lucky. I had an undergraduate thesis adviser who threw me into the network before I even knew what the network was. I was 21, it was my first ever conference (a small one, to which my adviser had encouraged me to send an abstract), and somehow I found myself (because I was following my adviser around like a puppy) inside an "in-crowd." I surely didn't belong in this crowd, but somehow I did become lasting acquaintances with a handful of generous people who also just so happen to be pretty important contacts in this tiny little subfield within my field of specialization. So how did I do it? Again, part of it is luck. I was in the right place (a Holiday Inn bar) at the right time (the last night of the conference). But the other part of it is capitalizing on opportunities, which is not luck but rather something that one has to learn to do and something that one gets better at the more that one does it. I was so naive and wide-eyed at this first conference of mine that when people asked me what I was working on or what I was interested in, I told them. I didn't worry about how I appeared because I felt so out of my league already that I figured I could say anything and it wouldn't matter. Because that was my first experience, and because it worked out so well, I pretty much continued in that fashion, and that is where you see me at the present day. So luck, yes, and my own personality, yes, but also the willingness to use situations for professional gain, which may sound crass, but it's what we're all trying to do at the end of the day, so let's just call it what it is and be done with it.

I don't think that this is the experience for most people who enter graduate school and attend their first conferences. I think what happens to most graduate students is that they hang around with other graduate students, which, to put it bluntly, isn't going to get you anywhere. Now, at my first conference, none of the graduate students would talk to me because I was not yet a grad student myself, and so I ended up talking to all of the "important" people. Once I became a grad student, I did end up in the "grad student group" at a number of conferences, and while I did make some friends out of that experience, I've got to tell you: kvetching with other grad students is not going to get you publications, it's not going to get you a job, it's not going to get you, well, anything other than some pals that you kvetch with for a few days, and you probably won't even keep in touch with the great majority of them afterward. Hanging out exclusively with grad students from your grad program (or grad school friends if you're out)? The dumbest thing that you possibly could do.

Sure, it's more comfortable. It's really anxiety-producing to talk to strangers (yes, even for Dr. Crazy, depending on the situation), but if you don't, then you have no engagement with your profession. It matters if you know somebody who knows somebody else. It matters that you don't waste your time at conferences like they're summer camp or a vacation - they are a professional activity, and what you do at them (and which ones you choose to attend) can make a huge difference in your reputation in your field.

(Aside: I do have friends in my peer group within my field - I'm not totally careerist in developing relationships with people - but I'm trying to drive home the point that as a junior person, one has to be aware that any time one spends with other junior people may mean that you're not having a conversation with a senior person who can help you right now with your career.)

I feel like a pompous ass for writing this post, but the people I cited at the beginning clearly didn't get the memo about this stuff. I'm astonished by the fact that I got the memo, but I think I did because I was always more confident in my ability to chat people up than in my ability to wow strangers with the brilliance of my mind. Also, I'm an academic whore and I have no problem with the idea that the quality of my ideas isn't necessarily the only thing that's going to get me where I want to go in the profession. What that means now is that I'm an officer in one professional society and active in two more. I've organized and/or chaired panels for conferences including MLA. I've been invited to publish things.

Those things all matter in this profession, and they mattered on my CV when it came to the job market this time around. Who knows whether I'll get further in the job search process, but I'll tell you what: I had more interviews, having sent out far fewer applications, than a lot of the people to whom I spoke who finished their Ph.D.s around the same time as me. I've got to think that being Miss Congeniality and networking to my advantage has played some role in that success.

So what did my MLA look like?

  • Arrived in Philadelphia, met a colleague on the shuttle and planned to have lunch on Friday
  • Ran into friend from Grad School and hung out with him for about an hour
  • Prepped for interviews
  • Attended a panel
  • Prepped for interviews

  • Interviewing
  • Blogging panel
  • Lunch with stranger, who it turns out submitted an article at a journal whose editor I know, so I took her card so I could pass along a good word
  • Went shopping for wine and cheese for one of my societies
  • Went to grad school party
  • Went to society party #1
  • Went to society party #2
  • Thought I was going to stay in, but ended up at Blogger Meet-up #1 late-night

  • Slept in (as I was very hung over and tired)
  • Lunch with colleague from Wednesday
  • Popped in at the end of a panel to say hello to professor from grad school who is no longer at grad school; also to get directions to society party #3
  • Went to society party #3
  • Went for a drink with friend from society party #3
  • Met up with many bloggers and had dinner

  • Went to a meeting for MLA allied societies
  • Went to blogger panel
  • Went for coffee with bloggers
  • Went to airport and collapsed from exhaustion

Now, people, that's what a strong networking MLA looks like. It doesn't look like attending a ton of panels (although sometimes attending a panel can be good networking, but my point is that many times it's not and it really depends on the panel), and it doesn't look like yucking it up only with people you knew from grad school. And yes, meeting up with bloggers totally counts as networking. It's not that one needs to be mercenary about making connections, but being alert to the fact that it's a good thing to do never hurt anybody. And you don't need to be a nametag gazer to get this done - because I'm really quite an oblivious person and I never end up meeting people because I've scoped them out and so I fail miserably at the nametag gazing thing - you just need to be active in your specialization, and particularly in the tiny subspecializations within that broader field. If you show up enough, you're bound to get sucked into the network, you know?

You won't, however, get sucked into the network if you don't belong to any societies, if you don't go to any parties, and if you don't talk to random people at lunch or on the airport shuttle or whatever. If you don't hang out alone. That's the way it goes. And being in the network matters, I've got to think, in terms of one's ability to get jobs. Most of us just aren't brilliant enough to manage that on smarts alone.

Again, I apologize for being so absolute and arrogant sounding in this post. I think part of that comes out of frustration. I hate looking at my friends who've been slogging away at this year after year, who've been utterly beaten down by this profession, and feeling like I want to shake them because they're not doing some things that I think might help them. I also hate feeling like my friends resent me because of the successes that I've had - I got a job my first year on the market, ABD, so yes, it can happen - like they think I'm a fraud and have succeeded as I have only because I'm such a social butterfly, rather than realizing that one has nothing to do with the other. I may or may not be a fraud, but the social butterfly stuff helps even those who are not frauds, if that makes sense. I don't know. I just wish that this networking stuff wasn't so mystified, that in smaller professional organizations there was more of an effort to bring junior people and grad students into the network (and there is in some - but notably not in others), and that there was more emphasis on this part of things as part of grad student training. Sure, your "ideas" matter, but there are so many parts of this profession that have nothing to do with the quality of one's ideas.

Ok, I think I've run out of steam. Maybe people can comment about their own experiences with networking and about their experiences with making professional connections? Or about why they opt out of being in the network? I feel like this would be a good discussion to have, and might be of use to grad student readers especially.


Anonymous said...

But aren't there multiple ways to be "in" the network? I'd like to think I have professional connections (friends of friends, former professors and their friends, colleagues who are or know editors at journals, etc). So I'm agreeing with your larger point, I think, even as someone who actively refuses to participate in networking at conferences, at least so far. I've also gotten two tenure track jobs and, yes, I believe networking and that whole six-degrees-of-separation thing had something (or a lot) to do with it.

Dr. Crazy said...

Gwinne, I think you are right, that there must be a range of ways to be in the network. Again, I wrote what I wrote out of frustration, and it came out a lot more blustery than it probably should have. I suppose the thing is, though, that I think that one needs to be plugged in in some way - conferences aren't the only way, but for me I suppose they've just been the most obvious (and this in part because my grad institution wasn't particularly... involved... in my professional development). My question for you is, how do you do it outside of conferences? (That's a genuine question, because I really don't know how I'd do it were it not for conferences.)

Anonymous said...

You just reminded me of something that I was thinking about writing a post on, and maybe I still will: my realization, post-MLA, that the important people to know, professionally, aren't necessarily the IMPORTANT people, but the friendly ones.

Here's one story: I'm an officer in one society, now, because I met some amazingly warm people the first time I attended that society's annual conference, and they were so wonderful that I made attending that conference a priority. Someone who works on something I do invited me to be on a plenary panel one year, and my paper on that panel led to my meeting someone else who, upon learning that I also work on a different and relatively obscure writer, invited me to give a keynote address at a conference on that writer.

Giving that keynote introduced me to the two other (and quite important) keynote speakers, who subsequently decided to put together a volume with a top university press, and they invited me to contribute an essay.

Here's another story: at MLA this year I was really nervous about inserting myself into different (and what I perceived to be a much more "serious") society. I went to a couple of the panels they sponsored, but was too intimidated to talk to any of the Famous Names I didn't know and who all knew each other. But then! Two people I knew from Society #1, who are also members of #2, showed up, and after I went over to chat they invited me to Society #2's dinner as their guest. Neither of these two people publishes all that much, and they aren't at "important" institutions--but they're wonderful people who know absolutely everyone, and having those connections made me feel that I could in fact talk to some Big Names at the dinner itself.

This is all to say that I agree entirely that networking is essential in our profession, and although I've got a serious case of imposter syndrome & it can be hard for me to talk to important people unless I have a good reason to (a sufficiently small conference, say, or having just read their latest book), I force myself to do it, and I've had good results.

Margi said...

First time commenter here, and a relative new-comer to your wonderful blog. This post really resonated with me, mostly in a painful way, since I'm very much like those two clueless grad friends of yours, except that I managed to get not one but two job offers 10 years ago when I was on the market. I now have tenure at a big state school, not my ideal job but nothing to be ashamed of either. But my point here is that while I accomplished these things in spite of my intense dislike/fear/avoidance of networking (I sometimes feel like a freak for how nervous conference, or any other kind of, schmoozing makes me), I now find myself quite out of the loop as I face the need to go back on the market (so that my partner can finally have his turn at an academic job, and my family can stay together). I've managed to publish several articles in high places, but the fact remains that I have virtually no relationship to others working in my field, no support system other than the one I forged in grad school and at my current job, and an otherwise unspectacular CV. Furthermore, while I used to rationalize that I could succeed by my own intellectual merits and didn't need to pander, I now see that, by isolating myself, I've stagnated intellectually as well as professionally. And I fear it may be too late for me to get back into the game. Anyway, sorry to take up so much space here--but I do appreciate your laying out the hard facts here for those of your readers who can still turn things around for themselves.

BrightStar said...

I think that connecting with people who are at the same stage in their careers as you are could result in collaborations and longer-term support than connecting with more senior people, sometimes. Senior people will retire soon, and folks who are at the same stages in their careers will be folks you will interact with for longer. I agree that connections with senior faculty are important, but I wouldn't discount connections with people at the same stages in their careers, either.

Anonymous said...

it's hard to talk to people who are mostly interesting in ignoring you.

more than that, what depresses me about this conversation is that people in my apparent subspecialization don't actually do what i do nor are they interested in it. In fact, many of them don't believe I really belong in my field.

the other field I play with? they don't think I belong either.

I'm writing my own post about this before I highjack your comments.

helenesch said...

One thing I wonder about is how much of this is personality... I guess I'm a fairly social person, and so "networking" (of a *very* informal variety) has come pretty naturally to me. While I have never made a point to talk to the "important" or even senior people in my sub-field, I find myself getting introducted to them or just striking up conversations with them pretty easily. But this is only within my specific areas of specialization (in the larger field of philosophy, I have little/no connection with the hotshots--nor do I want to know most of them!)

I wonder, though, to what extent I could--or would--do this if I were really shy, as some folks who go into academia are. How does one overcome that? I think your point is that it's important to try to do so, but that doesn't make it easy for everyone to do.

One thing that helped me early on (midway through grad school) was attending a relatively small conference wihtout any of my grad school friends. Because I didn't know anyone, I had to talk to new people and not just rely on my usual networks. And since the conference was small (and focused on something that is of interest to me), everyone was quite welcoming and friendly, regardless of one's status. Acutally, there were few very "important" folks at this conference, but I met quite a few people who I've been in touch with over the years; this kind of networking is important, too, even though these people aren't at the top of their fields.

So I guess I'd just add to what you've said that one way to force yourself to network is to go to a conference where you don't already have friends to fall back on. And some of the smaller conferences (at least in philosophy) are far more welcoming than the big ones.

Anonymous said...

I think there are two thigs that aided you, Dr. C. The first was your naivete. As an undergrad at 21, and even as an entry-level graduate student, you were likely unaware of, and immune to the job scramble going on before your eyes. And so in your encounters with others you were able to be utterly without pretense, and there was none of that have versus want-to-have taint coloring your interactions. And then, becasue you got a job your first time out, your subsequent mla encounters were similarly untainted by the always toxic have/want-to-have dichtomoy. Your "networking" could thus genuinely be academic, professional, intellectual lighlty personal, but always free of the toxic need to please and impress.

Sadly, this is not so for the rest of us. I'm an affable fellow, not too shy, and able to converse widely. And I'm not too intimidated, even by the famous. People are people. I'm respectful, but not intimidated. But I was never able to shake the fact that I was looking for a job, and the majority of those I was speaking with had one. Even when I avoided the issue entirely, it still managed to come up somehow.

And so goes the Karamozovian dance to please the mad fathers and mothers of academe.

Another facet not mentioned in your post is that often times the people one talks to, be they senior or junior, can be rather powerless to help. Sure, maybe they can point you towards a journal, or recommend you for a conference, but hiring is a different, and usually politicized process involving department committies, and agendas and who-knows-what-else. And while publication and professional involvement are sine qua nons of employment, they are not the magic bullets.

I'm not crticizing your remarks or advice, Dr. C. Your advice is right on, I think. I'm just trying to offer some perspective from the other side.

Dr. Crazy said...

Thanks for all of the comments, everybody. Just to check in for a moment:

Brightstar: I think this is where fields can differ. In my field there is basically NO collaboration among people of equal rank in terms of publication or research. Maybe people could talk a bit about their experiences with networking in different fields? I'm sure there are discipline-specific things in play here....

Just a clarification: By "important" I think I mean exactly what Flavia said in her response - "important" in terms of generous and nice, willing to let you into the club and to treat you like you belong in it. A friendly, helpful, nice person is always going to be a better connection (in my experience anyway) than somebody with a fancy name who isn't particularly nice or interested in you. (Though sometimes the fancies are also nice, and then that's like winning the lottery.)

Second line - thank you so much for your comment. One of the things I've been thinking a lot about is how to welcome people into the society that I'm most active in. One thing I did is that for our second conference I organized a panel and I'm speaking on it with two graduate students. Also, in coming up with one of our two MLA panels for next year, I tried to pick a topic that would be more inclusive while still focusing on the thing the society is about. What else do you think people who are plugged in can do to draw in those on the fringes? I've brought people to parties with me and things, but at a certain point don't people need to strike out on their own? How can those of us who are more natural extroverts include those who aren't?

Anonymous said...

Dr. C, your post actually makes me feel (a tiny bit) better about the job market; I've been active in my subfield's Major Conference and the conference circuit generally since early in my grad career and feel this will be a real asset when I go on the market not just because I'm "in" the network but also because I've been able to take advantage of several opportunities that being "in" has made available (invitations to publish, speaking on sponsored MLA panels, GAships abroad, etc.). I'm well aware I'm "in" because of great mentoring, one of your favorite topics. I had an undergrad mentor who was an officer in my subfield's Major Conference who I know helped secure my M.A. fellowship at the top grad program for my subfield by calling another officer. Mentor #2 regularly assigned midterm conference papers and encouraged me to submit and become a familiar face at my subfield's Major Conferences. Mentor #2 sounds much like your mentor who introduced me to the Important and Interesting people in the conference. Like you, naively, I thought this was just how conferences work and have made it a point to introduce any other graduate students I have encountered to the Important and Interesting people I've met, not realizing (at first) that this confident congeniality helps secure my "in" position even more fully. I'm now familiar with many scholars in my subfield socially and academically, which just might come in handy when prepping for job interviews. And, having experienced and presented at the MLA already, the MLA seems less intimidating (because I get to see people I enjoy talking to!). Confidence goes a long way (once the quality of your work gets you in the door).

I'm now in a good Ph.D. program where I'm able to continue to work in my subfield despite the fact that it is NOT one of my department's or my director's specialties because I maintain a variety of connections. My director is not involved in my subfield and has been encouraging me to position myself more centrally (for good reasons) though this is a movement away from what I'm really interested in (to an extent). Now that I've come to understand the pressures of the job market more thoroughly, it's reassuring to be reminded that I do have this aspect going for me. Thanks for bringing up this topic!

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, and Helenesch - I totally agree about going to a conference on one's own. I did the same about halfway through grad school - a couple of times actually - and it was a really good experience for me.

I also wanted to thank you for your comments, too, Anastasia, and again, part of the reason that I posted this is to get that perspective, too. I'm really invested in doing what I can so people aren't left on the fringes, and so I want to hear all kinds of stories about this - not just praise or something for what was actually kind of a screwed up post, tone-wise, and not particularly well thought through as I wrote it.

Anonymous said...

(As if my previous post weren't long enough. . .)

I wanted to add that I'm interested to hear how Gwinne suggests developing a network without doing the schmoozy networking thing, since I'm at a loss to imagine how that might happen, at least in our field. Unless one publishes a *phenomenal* amount--which is hard as a junior member of the profession--people aren't likely to know one based upon those pubs.

Let's face it: most of us only read journal articles that are a) immediately relevant to our research/teaching interests, or b) by someone we know. It's much easier to get your stuff read if your name already rings a bell with the person flipping through a given journal than it is to expect that the brilliance of the work alone will cause a person who doesn't already know you to seek you out to make contact. Sure, you can get published and get a job without schmoozing. But in my opinion/experience, the social element is essential to maximizing your work's potential, ensuring that all the hard work you're putting into research and writing actually finds an audience.

Most academics ARE a little shy and/or socially awkward; I think that's actually why many of the Important People hang out with other Important People--not because they're snobs, but because they already know those people, and in many cases senior scholars can be as uncertain of how to approach graduate students as graduate students are of how to approach them. But once you're senior and Important, it doesn't matter if you're awkward and if you prefer to hang out with people like yourself. You don't need to go out of your way to try to meet new people or expand your audience. When you're a grad student or a junior scholar, on the other hand, you've got to put in the effort or else you lose out.

medieval woman said...

A good post! I've only begun feeling a bit more like I'm moving toward the center of my field and it's been a bit longer in coming (due in part to the centrifugal force I experienced in my grad school - you could say I was a beloved only child - nesting and learning tons, but not being forced to play with others). But I was also thinking about some of the other ways of networking that you'd asked about. I think that societies are a great idea and I'd like to become more active in some of my own specific subfield's societies. But also, I think that *following up* is really important. When you go to a conference - either MLA or a smaller, more specific one - you usually meet people even at panels and discuss your work for a few minutes (you usually have something in common because that's why you went to the panel, eh?). You exchange cards, email addresses, etc. But then a lot of time nothing happens with that. I was at Leeds several years ago presenting on a panel that ended up becoming my first publication (the papers on two related panels were published in a collection). But after my presentation, a big scholar in my field came up and talked about some specifics of my paper with me. She also gave me her e-mail address and asked me to contact her to discuss it further. And I never did! I felt shy, like she wouldn't remember me, any number of things. But I should have followed up on that! (And I will one day, I *will* see her again!) But this MLA I made contact with a very prestigious scholar in my field who is working on very similar questions I am. The scholar now knows who I am, what my project is about, and has offered to read more of my work as I progress. And they will because I'm going to follow up on it!

Sorry this is long - but I think that's definitely a major part of the puzzle. You might not get a response 9 times out of 10, but if you're in their subconscious as "X who works on Y" then it's worth it!

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for that post, Dr Crazy. That and the comments here have been really interesting to read.

As an incredibly shy grad student myself, I am always anxious about the networking problem. I have been fortunate enough to have excellent supervisors and committee members who have introduced me to people at conferences, but it's hard to have the confidence to keep working those connections when you are "only" a grad student.

On a similar line to what Anastasia said above, although I don't work in an unusual field, I work in an area that is not at all well-represented in Australia. The major conference for linguistics in Australia usually has around 200 people attend, and of that, maybe 10 do work similar to mine. So the chances of the people I get introduced to being "relevant" for me are very low. Which means I should actively seek out the relevant people myself. Which comes back to the shyness thing.

I am never going to be the sort of person who can walk up to a complete stranger at morning tea and make small talk. But I am gradually learning, I think, to exploit the "legitimate" opportunities to make connections. Ie. to serve on committees, ask questions during talks and follow up on them after the session, to go to every conference reception, dinner and informal open drinks thing that I can afford to, and to request favours of people, e.g. to send me a copy of their paper, etc. I think if you put yourself in those sorts of situations, you will automatically end up talking to people even if you are shy, because it is weirder to sit next to people at a conference dinner and NOT talk to them than it is to strike up a conversation.

life_of_a_fool said...

A few years ago, I was lamenting to my advisor how awful I was at networking at conferences. He said that all I needed to do was hang out with my friends. This was liberating, and has been true, on a few fronts: one is in the sense that Brightstar suggests (and I think we're in similar fields). Don't undercount the value in other junior people, as potential collaborators, etc. But also, I have friends who are MUCH better schmoozers than I am, and through them I get introduced to people I don't have the nerve to approach on my own. I have (very slowly) started making some connections -- some of which have resulted in being recommended for committees, potential collaborations, etc., and some of which are just familiar faces. Baby steps.

I am still awful at networking, and I do think this has hurt me to some degree. But, being on the job market and publishing also help -- both help with name recognition, and it's kind of nice and easier to talk to someone who already knows even a smidgen about you.

I do think there are good and annoying schmoozers -- some junior people manage to network smoothly, and seemingly casually. Others (the kind I fear being) just seem cloying, awkward, and annoying.

Anonymous said...

Dr. C.,
Be grateful you went to the MLA, not the APA (American Philosophical Association) meeting that was held at the same time, in Washington D.C.. Early in the morning (circa 5am) of the last day of the conference, the hotel caught fire! It was a two alarm blaze on the 7th floor. Imagine the 'networking' opportunities with all those sleepy job seekers and interview panelists, all in their pajamas! I even had one job candidate try and 'schmooze' me, whilst we waited for the fire guys to do their stuff. This was not appreciated.

The CP

helenesch said...

CP, I'm in Philosophy and hadn't heard this yet (my first year of several not having to go to the APA to interview for my dept). A couple years ago (my first year on the "other" side of the interview table) an elevator at the APA convention hotel broke down. Luckily, I ran into 2 old friends from grad school who were also trapped in the stuck elevator. I proceeded to tell them all about how I liked my job (a lot), but mentioned that I really didn't like living in this smallish college town.

Well, I later found out that one of the candidates our dept. was interviewing that afternoon was stuck on the elevator with us! Her first question was "what is it like living in X town?" I was pretty embarassed.

So, yeah, people can talk to you (and listen to you talk!) in the strangest of circumstances.

sorry for the thread hijack!

Mel said...

Really interesting post & own experience has been a bit different from yours, largely because there weren't any "societys" relevant to my area of dissertation/pretenure research. I'd second life-of-a-fool about junior people also being helpful -- I've had a couple of publications made easier from my grad school connections. Connections are definitely important -- though I'm probably much less social and less proactive in this regard than you are. You make me wonder if I should make an effort to attend the relevant Division Luncheon at MLA sometime-- but my impression is that it is all Fancy People two or three generations ahead of me, not really my crowd.

MommyProf said...

What a wonderful post! I am not in an MLA field, but in mine, there are various interest groups that have business meetings, and I have found those invaluable for networking as well, because not a whole lot of people bother to show up. The IGs I belong to have a few offices informally reserved for grad students. They are not the most glamorous - stuff like newsletter editor or membership chair, but they do tend to get those students' names in front of large groups of potential employers repeatedly.

Anonymous said...

Dr. C, I tried to respond twice last night but Blogger ate my response. Anyway, to keep it short: I just wanted to make a distinction between being "in the network," as your title suggests, and "networking," as an active (often schmoozy) verb. I'm in the network: I have connections from grad school, former job, current job, places I've interviewed at and people I've interviewed, friends at journals, speakers invited to campus, etc. We *all* have this, no matter what we do or don't do at MLA or other big conventions.

That's to say I don't "do" much in terms of "networking," but I am very aware of where I sit "in the network." Basically, I just do my job, talk to other people when I need to. I can't say if that will be enough to get me tenure but, if it's not, honestly, I'm not sure that I want it.

I do appreciate your post, as I think about my external reviewers on my tenure committee. But I'm not sure that going to more receptions at big conventions would really help me out anyway...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post and your blog.
I am rather introvert but also noticed that i did my best networking and found great collaborators for projects at times when i was really driving my own reasearch instead of doing work i thought i should do for external reasons.

Dr. Crazy said...

I like the distinction that you make between "networking" and being aware of one's place in the network. I guess what I'd say is that I think for a lot of people, if one is missing, so too is the other. They just feel entirely marginalized because they feel uncomfortable with "networking" and so don't think about where they stand "in the network" if that helps.

I also think another reason why grad school connections haven't been something I've focused on here or that have helped many of my friends is because a LOT in this regard depends on department size. In my department, I was the ONLY PERSON in about a 4 year span who worked on my particular field. Under 10 people were admitted each year, and the likelihood was that there would be no more than a couple of peopl who generally worked in the same period. Thus, collaboration with those people (on panels, for example) ultimately can turn out to be a bad thing, because it doesn't solidly affiliate you with a specialty within the discipline and doesn't attract audiences of people from one's own sub-speciality in the same way that, say, being on a panel with all people from one's subspecialty would.

I just want to say again, I'm not dismissing my relationships with people who are at about the same stage that I am in the profession - or with people who are younger. What I am saying, though, is that what's been of most use to me in getting off the ground in the profession is people who are a bit further along than I am, who've been able to put in a good word with job searching, publishing opportunities, etc - not because I've asked them to, but because they've been generous and have done such things on my behalf on their own, just as I've now found myself doing for students or grad students I meet. I suppose part of where this post came from was from my frustration that I can't do more for those I've seen slip through the cracks from grad school - my connections won't help them (not in the same specialization) and I can't make them change what is now 10-15 years of not putting themselves out there in meaningful ways. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, Dr. Crazy. I hate the schmoozefest that often happens at huge conferences -- and this time at MLA basically stayed with friends (needed to, actually, since I was interviewing and needed friendly faces). But I will say that for the shy, listservs can be very helpful. Through a small listserv, I met a colleague only a year beyond me, but she introduced me to a big Senior Scholar who has taken an interest in my work.

But reading this post was great inspiration. Because my department leans one way and I lean a bit differently, I often go to conferences on my own. Do I follow up on the people I meet. I admit shamefacedly I do not. Better get on it!


Anonymous said...

Because I too am social and have made some of my most amazing and lasting connections through happy serendipity over tea or a beer and because I'm married to an introvert, this paean to networking worries me just a little bit.

So, yes, yes, yes. But, what about the introverts? Aren't we losing something when we turn the professoriate into a great big friendly cocktail party? Isn't academia welcoming to bookish people who might rather stay home?

Michael Berube, to drop a oft-dropped name, had a brilliant essay in the chronicle years back on a related topic: he found himself at a disadvantage for some named professorships (sob, sob, but bear with me) because he'd never held one of those fancy residential fellowships (at the Research Triangle or Harvard). He'd never done that because he & Janet Lyon were raising their sons. So, he reminded us, academia is still set up in a way that privileges childless folks or one-career marriages.

Analogously, I worry that overemphasis of the joys of connecting in person might also make us overlook great, commited scholars who don't get so much out of these meetings. (Possible remedies? Publishing. Volunteering to review books--even for a tiny, tiny journal. Blogging. Giving a conference paper [which forces some mild networking but in a controlled and less terrifying way for the shy]. Writing a note of appreciation to a scholar whose work has helped you. These all count and help, too.) (Too long, I'm sorry...)

Anonymous said...

(p.s. yes, bloglines is fine for my reading AND I'm so fond of your reasoning for the stripes that I'm committed to them in spite of myself)--Anne

Anonymous said...

As an introvert, the necessity of networking always scares me to death. I will echo what Helenesch said, that attending a small conference on your own, not knowing anyone there, can be a great way to meet new people. I did just that last summer, and I couldn't believe how many people would just walk up to me and start talking. I suspect that this wouldn't have happened if I had been with a group of people. And, while this can't be controlled, I think that the fact that I presented my paper during one of the first sessions increased my visibility - a number of people who approached me mentioned that they had heard my presentation, and when I asked questions in a couple q&a sessions the presenters (people I had never met) addressed me by my first name. It was all a little strange to this introvert, but easier to "get" because of the small-ness of the conference. Well, at least for me. But I do envy those of you who are able to do the networking-thing so well.

Anonymous said...

Academia may well be losing something (or someone) when it turns its back on the introverted, but it's fairly clear that academia doesn't care. No one misses the unknown, and there's no crying over the fates of the invisible.

All of this, Dr. C's post and the subsequent commentary, goes a long way toward confirming something that Tim Burke (at Easily Distracted) wrote about graduate school: it's less about learning ones specific fieled than it is about developing the needed social skills to function within the profession. (I'm paraphrasing)

I think this is accurate advice. I only wish I'd learned it before it was all too late.

Anonymous said...

May I comment as someone new to these blogs? I read your post with great interest, but also a lot of fear and anxiety. You see, I'm one of the introverts and your call for networking terrifies me. But more than that I also wonder about how class and race play in the dynamics of a "cocktail academe." As someone marginalized by social location--my parents didn't go to college, for instance, nor were they familiar with cocktail parties--I feel there's more of strain in trying to socialize with people who are not in my class, as so many academics I meet seem to have academic parents, or certainly a more privileged background. At the same time I'm also getting more and more socialized into the academic class and I'm learnt/am learning to pass. Those of us who didn't go to schools with great mentoring and networking in place (usually known as the lesser schools) are at a disadvantage; I was talking about this with a friend at MLA, in fact. I think that one of the upsides to the "professionalization" of graduate studies, with the greater demand for publications and production, is that it has made academe more open in terms of class, race, and gender. Instead of hiring in terms of the amorphous promise one sees in the mirror image of oneself in the young Ivy League man working on a recognizably serious canonical topic and author, we can start to evaluate people on the basis of actual work. And perhaps there can be less bias though never completely eliminated. For instance, something I witnessed one year at one of these MLA society get-togethers: one bigwig says to another bigwig, "I know someone who would great for [Name your favorite Ivy League School]." Not being in the network, I can't say I feel much cheered witnessing the network in action.

Dr. Crazy said...

Thanks for your comment, and welcome! First, can I just say that in part my take on this stuff comes from the fact that I also come from a non- "cocktail class" background - neither of my parents went to college, and there are more than a few in my family (even in my current generation of cousins) who did not graduate from high school. In other words, I had to learn how to do this crap, and the learning curve was pretty steep.

One of the things that I am most interested in, as this discussion has continued, is the number of people who've come out to talk about how terrifying the prospect of getting into the network ultimately is. I don't mean to suggest a one-size-fits-all model for this - and I think a few commenters have mentioned approaches that also serve to get one into the network even if one isn't particularly comfortable with the cocktail party circuit. What interests me, as somebody who (I think) has done pretty well with finding a place in the network is how to bring more people into it. This shouldn't be something that is terrifying or mysterious - those of us on the inside should be working to bring more people in, even as those on the outside should be aware of strategies for trying to break in themselves. (By the way, I want to third or fourth the thing about following up with people after conferences, whom you meet at panels o whatever. I've been guilty of failing to do that, too, and it's SO SO important.)

I suppose I disagree, though, that the drive toward more publication, the "professionalization" of the profession, ultimately allows for individuals to be evaluated more on the basis of their work alone. I think I think (how's that for a terrible turn of phrase) that networking for oneself becomes even more important - my adviser can't necessarily just put in a word for me to get me a job or a publication or whatever as an adviser might have done back in the good old days of the old boys network (I say that with tongue firmly in cheek). But this is where students in "elite" programs can get lost in the cracks - that they think it's the "good old days" when famous adviser + one or two well-placed publications will get one the job (or recognition, or whatever). At least in my experience, this just isn't the case. In my experience (at least as far as I'm aware) the networks that I've developed for myself have played a crucial role in my ability a) to secure t-t employment, b) to publish as much as I have even with a 4/4 teaching load, and c) to gain greater stature within my specialization. This, in spite of my disadvantage because of my class background, has allowed me to achieve things that some in my "academic class" cohort have not.

While it's true that having a connection may not "get" one a job, having connections can have a huge impact on one's CV, on one's professional development and reputation in addition to the CV, and in one's ability to sell oneself to those who are on hiring committees. In some ways, the networking is all preparation for job interviews - it helps one to feel more like a colleague and less like a beggar with his or her hand out.

Ok, I'm hijacking my own comments. If there are others out there who'd like to weigh in, please do so - I'm really pleased with the thoughtful commenting that this post has elicited from everyone. (And why isn't this the kind of discussion that goes on outside of the blogosphere? Because really this is the sort of thing we should be talking about in more "legitimate" venues but which more "legitimate" venues don't seem interested in hosting.)

Anonymous said...

Maybe the MLA or graduate departments should hold "Networking 101" seminars. or maybe some enterprising adjunct should write a "Networking for Dummies" book.

I think the answer to your question, Dr. C., is that were such conversations to be held beyond the anonymity of the blogosphere, academia would have to admit that it's meritocratic principals extend to measuring one's ability to hob-nob.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate second line's comments about meritocracy in hobnobbing. Sometimes when we emphasize networking, it seems that we just shift from ideas of merit in academic achievements to merit in networking. I wonder if it might not be harder to talk about luck. I know we all prefer to believe we have what we have because we worked at it, either by research or chitchat, but things like luck, especially being in the right place at the right time, certainly help--as Dr. C's story about her first conference demonstrates. Luck also plays a factor in appearance, for example--I'm sure you all remember the countless studies that have demonstrated that good-looking people are perceived as smarter, more likeable, more interesting, etc. I'm guessing that probably helps them both in job interviews and at cocktail parties!

I'm not trying to suggest that hard work, networking and talent don't factor into who has a job; I have a wonderful t-t job and I certainly like to think all three of those things played a role in landing it! But I'm disturbed by our (and I include myself ehre) willingness to believe that the job system _works_--that it reliably and fairly rewards something palpable and controllable--whether it be number of publications or willingness to network. By thinking that, we can assume that we deserve what we have, and avoid the bad feelings created when we encounter someone who doesn't have it. It seems that, the more someone's failure makes us uncomfortable, the more desire we have to insist that it could have been avoided if they had only acted like us.

BTW, there is a _fantastic_ primer on networking out there--I send all my grad students to it. It's called Networking on the Net, but it covers more than internet networking. It's wrtting by an information science person who's used his research specialty to think about the way academic networks are constructed.

PS. I hope this isn't so long it count as a hijack--my apologies if so as I am new to blogosphere and still learning.

Dr. Crazy said...

Millicent - not a hijack at all (my commenters tend to comment long!) and welcome!

To respond (I'm hoping briefly, but I promise nothing!) to your comment: First, thanks for the link to the networking book! I'm sure many will find it useful. Second, while I agree with what you have to say about luck, but I'm not sure that I agree with the following:

"But I'm disturbed by our (and I include myself ehre) willingness to believe that the job system _works_--that it reliably and fairly rewards something palpable and controllable--whether it be number of publications or willingness to network."

At least in my field, I don't think that many (any?) can really believe that the system works or that it reliably and fairly rewards anyone for anything that they do. I don't know how we could given the number of incredibly smart, engaged, hard-working people who end up on "the adjunct track." Ultimately, it is NOT fair, nor is it a meritocracy. That said, I don't think that those who do get jobs (including myself here) don't "deserve" them - I think it sucks when people talk about those who have succeeded as if they are big phonies who got totally "lucky" some way. I mean, yes, luck comes into it, but so does the willingness to take a "lucky" situation and to do something with it.

At any rate, my point is not to replace an emphasis on publishing with an emphasis on networking, as if either will control a person's success or failure on the job market. Rather, I think my point is to emphasize the way that professional success in traditional venues (publication, conference presentations, external reviews, letters of recommendation) is in many way dependent upon the relationships that we build through our professional networks. Unless we tap into those networks, it becomes much more difficult to succeed in this profession, regardless of publications or brilliance or good looks or whatever else. So yes, luck is a huge piece of the puzzle, but surely it's not the only piece.

Oh, and to Second Line: they already do admit to that - what do you think they mean by "fit" and "collegiality"? They just like to dress it up like it's not so crass as the regular rubbing of elbows :)

helenesch said...

millicent, I think hijacking is when you change ths subject to something else (and take over, steering the direction away from that of the original post/thread), which you certainly didn't do.

I completely agree about the factors of luck, personality, and appearance (things we in many ways cannot control) playing way too significant a role in all of this. But I find the comments about class (raised by feirefiz above) to be the most disturbing, since class isn't just a matter of random luck but is a social hierarchy that systematically makes things so much harder for those who're not privileged. And it also makes it so much more important for folks like Dr. C to enter into this discussion and think about how others from similar non-privileged and non-academic families can be encouraged and mentored.

I have a close friend who went to one of the top-10 programs in my field, but given his upbrining in a poor, rural area (where many people never even finished high school), he feels pretty inadequate in terms of network/socializing. I often attribute his difficulties to his shyness (as does he), but this discussion here has reminded me that it's so much more complex than that.

Well, I'm getting long-winded again here, too. But this is one of the best threads I've seen on this topic, and it's got me thinking about things that I can do to try to make things easier for my own grad students who are having problems learning to "network."

Anonymous said...

Ah, Dr. C., I forgot that "fit" and "collegeality" are objective categories. A pox upon me a boorish lout. :)

Appearance is an ineteresting facet of this. Sure, one needs to be presentable etc., but some anecdotal experience tells me that in English and other humanities disciplines one can be potentially too good looking.

No, not me, I'm a schlump. But I've been to enough job talks etc. at which the candidates appearance (male and female) was critiqued mercilessly to know that there's a note one is supposed to hit. Frumpy chic, or what have you.

I had a friend in grad. school who was, well, there's no other way to put it, hott ... she was smokin' hott. She was also brilliant, and very personable etc. The problem was that even dressed down, she was still strikingly gorgeous. And added to it, she was from the south and had a bit of an accent. She had a very hard time on the market ... until one year when she dyed her hair brown (she was naturally blond). The the southern conection kicked in and she got a job at some southern school.

My point here is that had she been a troll, she was still very deserving of a job. But her looks were such that they were frankly intimidating to both men and women.

Ah, now I guess we're straying from networking. Truly sorry.

Anonymous said...

I've known ugly southerners to have exactly the same problem and solution--eventual employment by a school in the south.

Anonymous said...

anastasia: point taken, it's probably difficult to determine which bias was greater, the one against her appearance or the fact that she was southern. But the two together made for a kind of perfect storm.

NoviceChef said...

Good points all around - I sort of fell out of favor with my grad student friends because I was the one who played the network, and they all hated me for it...but I am far more well connected now and rarely ever see them, so I think it was a decent trade.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I'm pretty good at networking when I want to be. I credit being in a sorority with teaching me the skills to walk up to a stranger and introduce myself. I didn't do much networking at MLA because I didn't really want to. When I did, I really enjoyed it, meeting new people and chatting about all kinds of things. I think you're right, it is a key component of the market, one that's glossed over too much.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

My apologies for coming to this fascinating discussion late. I think there are tons of good points made here, very helpful to me as I'm no good at conscious schmoozing. What struck me about Dr. Crazy's post was the cocktail-party aspect to it, because like a number of you have mentioned, I SUCK at that part of academia. I'm not sure I've ever gone to one of the sponsored receptions (=cocktail parties) at Kalamazoo (the main conference in my field, at least in terms of size). For one thing, I'm shy, and for another, I don't drink, which kind of puts a damper on the whole open-bar reception thing.

But I do feel like I'm starting to carve out a little niche in a certain field - no, I'm not what I'd call well-known at ALL! But I can kind of do what someone above mentioned, identify my place in the network. Some of it is simply being around for a while. The more you present (and I do present at least once a year, even if I don't go to the receptions at those conferences!), the more you publish, the more you get to know people in your field - it just happens. Of course, a lot of this does depend on getting a tt-job, which is hard because it can also be a prerequisite for getting a tt-job, so you hit the catch-22...

I think Dr. C's point about the size/nature of your grad program is really pertinent here. I went to a pretty large program (a big 10 university), where we had 20+ students enter each year. Plus, my field is one of the big ones within the department there (to the extent that I knew someone who once said that if you weren't a medievalist or a US women's historian no one paid attention to you!), and the department has a strong tradition of collegiality. So if you run into someone who was in that program at any point, even when you weren't there, you're in a good position, which helps with networking. (Obviously you can't do anything about this after the fact, but it might be something to consider if you're looking at grad programs? Unfortunately most applicants aren't in a position to know/be worrying about this, I think...)

And I completely second the suggestion to go to conferences alone, especially small conferences where everyone attends the same sessions and stays/eats in the same place. If I know one person somewhere I'll cling to them, but if I don't know anyone, it's a lot easier to walk up to people and join their conversations. And if everyone has heard (mostly) the same papers, it's easier to join in discussion than at huge conference. Joining professional associations within your field is really good, too - I'm not great with the cocktail parties, but I do go to business meetings of a particular academic society I'm part of, and I often present in their sessions, and I've definitely got to know people/made connections through that. (Of course, it's a particularly welcoming group, which helps.)

So for me, it's always been easier when the focus has been on the work (i.e. chatting with someone about a session) than about the purely social.

But I'm definitely going to work on what someone mentioned above, staying in TOUCH with the people I've connected with. (That, and what Tony Grafton said about treating my mentors as equals/real people, and not only getting in touch with them when I need something!)

Sorry, this is rambling all over the place - just some thoughts/agreements.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

(I just remembered that the Tony Grafton comment I refer to above was over at Flavia's, just in case I confused anyone...)

Marcelle Proust said...

I usually haven't the energy to schmooze; I wrote about this somewhere, maybe last June--if I can get my paper delivered at a conference, all else is gravy. But I it's a great idea to be nice to grad students who are interested in your field: then they cite you, and you look more important!