Networking is Hard-Working

by on 2013-08-15 in Duck- 11 Comments

The question of networking tends to arise as conferences approach.  With APSA less than two weeks away (which means discussants are going to be getting papers any day now–ok, in about a week if they are lucky), I thought I would post some thoughts about networking.  There was a post earlier today that did address such stuff, but, well, stuff happened.  A key point was lost in the course of events–that networking sideways and down is far easier and perhaps far more fruitful than trying to connect with the big names in the discipline.

For many networking is pretty uncomfortable stuff, as approaching strangers can be a bit of a challenge.  While my friends and family do not consider me to be shy (and that I post here at the Duck and elsewhere would also suggest that I am not shy), I do feel shy in a crowded room and I feel awkward approaching strangers.  Yet, I have managed by accident and by time to be fairly well connected.  How does one do this?  Here are some clues gained from my two decades in the discipline (!).

I have always been more comfortable hanging out with the junior folks than the senior folks at the APSA and ISA.  I never liked approaching the big names who are very, very busy, and perhaps I am ageist as I am more comfortable chatting with younger folks than older ones.   So, the first suggest is not to focus all one’s efforts on connecting with a big name but just meet people.   Just because someone is junior does not mean that they cannot contribute/matter either in the short term or long term.  Junior folks may be more more likely to read your stuff since they don’t have masses of dissertation chapters to read from their herds of supervisees.  The folks you meet may also have interesting connections that may lead you to be connected to a big name (more on that in a minute).

I made a lot of good friends by going to the reception held by my old school, and meeting the next generation of folks. We had something in common–experiencing the same profs.  We could compare notes and so forth on that common topic, plus we have compatible views about methods/research/whatever since we received similar training.  So, perhaps go to your PhD dept’s reception and introduce yourself to the folks produced by your program before or after your time.  These strangers will be less strange and thus easier to chat with than other ones.

The business meetings of the APSA and ISA sections to which I belonged tended to be populated by younger folks, so that was an easy way to meet people. These folks led me to a poker game that introduced me to a senior faculty member who has become a mentor and mensch for me, but that was not my intent (I like poker).  This year, there will be some side activities that will be fun but also potential spots to meet people with at least one similar interest (soccer or ultimate). Besides networking at conferences, you can do stuff at your institution.  When I worked on a speaker series at my old job, I wanted to include younger/newer/female voices since the previous person to organize them tended to focus on big male names. As a result, I met several really interesting people who are doing fun work that changed how I look at the world and at my research.  So, if you have a chance to organize a speaker series or just bring in a speaker to your campus, don’t always go for the old guy with the big name but choose someone who is doing exciting work.

As I get older, the potential set of “younger” folks widens, and I hope to keep meeting new folks at these conferences while remaining connected to those I have met before–the time does tend to fill up (contact those people you already know that you want to meet up with ahead of time as dance cards do get full). This is a very social business, and you never know where your research will turn. The new scholars are more likely to turn you on to a new set of ideas or perhaps be excellent co-authors as they have the latest methods training.

To be clear, my networking at conferences was never very strategic–only once did I try to meet someone with the purpose of establishing a co-authorship (that did work out real well). But my non-strategic behavior has largely paid off in the sense that I know a larger community of people who do interesting work, some have become pretty influential people in the discipline, and I am now pretty well connected even if I am not wired into some big names/networks.  And, most importantly, I have made a heap of friends in the business, which is its own reward (especially when they buy the beer).

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  • Colin wight

    All good sense and I’d endorse all of this. But just a few comments. I think big conferences like ISA and APSA structurally generate unsociable behaviour. That seems counter intuitive perhaps, but here’s why. If you are as old as me and have been to so many conferences chances are you know a lot of people (and I don’t just mean powerful people, just people lots of them). Now if I’m standing in a corridor, at the bar, or wherever talking to someone, or a group of people chances are other people I know will wander past. If I don’t acknowledge them, with even just a hello, a raise of the eyebrows, a smile, then they may feel slighted. And some of these people might be my closest friends, so if I were to ignore them they’d rightly maybe think, ‘arrogant shit’. I also, however, have a responsibility to the people I’m talking to, and if I’m constantly acknowledging other people all the time, they can feel that I’m not really interested in them, or the conversation and that I’m on the look out for ‘bigger fish’ to talk to. In addition, I’ve met so many people over the years that I struggle with names (I struggle anyway, with face/name recognition). So much so that I spend half of my time in panels, having recognised someone when I walk in but not remembering their name, checking the participants list to see if I can jog my memory.

  • Colin wight

    Tried to say more on this but my ipad wouldn’t let me. But the point is, networking is difficult even it’s your first time, but also if you’ve done lots. I always reflect on my own experiences about this and give people the benefit of the doubt. Mostly my nights are filled up with prearranged meets with old friends, get together after panels, meetings and so on, although I often try and set one night aside to just hang out and meet new people at the bar. Mostly, however, for me, major conferences end up being about reconnecting with old friends that are scattered across the globe and its often the only time of the year I get to see them.

  • Stephen Saideman

    Indeed, that is why folks should look to network with junior people–because old farts like you and me cannot remember names and have limited time. I tend to fill up my schedule before the conference so that I can make sure I meet a bunch of folks. Still, I tend to have time to stand in lobbies and bars….

  • Colin wight

    LOL, ‘old fart’…I should also add that although I had laser treatment on one eye years ago, I’m still not brilliant at distances (wear glasses for driving), so I often can’t really make out faces at a distance, sorry! Which probably just adds further weight to the ‘old fart’ description; well if the cap fits….

  • Stephen Saideman

    Ok, I am the old fart. Sorry to include you ;)

  • Jarrod Hayes

    Thanks for posting this Steve. I think networking with the goal of making new friends is the only sane way to go.

  • Robert Oprisko

    I know that I am junior enough to matter less than nothing to the academy, but I feel that everyone is shuffling around, but never landing on the center problematic of this discussion: we, as members of the professoriate of political science and IR, engage one another far too often because we want or need something.

    The power dynamics between haves and have-nots can get amplified. Tenure-track, but untenured members feel real anxiety, inadequacy, and powerlessness vis-a-vis their tenured colleagues. Non-tenure-track members feel it toward those in more permanent positions. The anxiety of being a woman seeking a job in this market must be overwhelming. I say this as a man, on the market and overwhelmed.

    I implore all of you this – be generous to your colleagues, whomever they are and whatever their affiliation. I hope you realize that we are, just as you are, a whole person – faults included.

  • Colin wight

    No, no, I’m more than happy to be described as an ‘old fart’…as I say, with the eye sight issue, forgetting names (I could go on) the cap fits, probably too comfortably. Besides although a (very) late entrant to the field I am old…:)

  • Checkmate

    The ageism in this thread disgusts me. I’m offended.

  • Colin wight

    You are either joking checkmate, or if not, lacking a sense of humour. Others might be touching on ageism in certain ways, but Steve and I are jokingly using the label ‘old fart’ to refer to ourselves. I can tell you, I’m not offended by it, nor do I think is Steve. And since the term has not been applied to anyone else, I don’t know how they could be offended. I’m hoping you are joking though. :)

  • Stephen Saideman

    I was made aware that my perspective here might not be so universal, so I blogged about the semi-universality of my perspective here