Monday, March 21, 2011

Making Connections

Sometimes I'm shy. I find it hard to advertise myself and my work. Sometimes I even find it difficult too post status updates. In part this is due to only beginning to learn to toot my own horn, but it is also partly due to my reluctance to network. Until relatively recently "networking" has been a term that has me thinking of suits, firm handshakes, and back room deals. But seriously, networking is an important part of what we do.

Recently one of my colleagues and blogging
mentors noted that she'd finally watched The Social Network. I had twitter updates and RSS feeds on my mind when I came across the fact that Tenured Radical has also recently mentioned social networking. Specifically, Tenured Radical thinks through the dictum that networking is a crucial part of the academic's job.

I've been thinking about networking as the crocuses outside peek through the detritus of winter. Conference season is nearly upon us here in Canada, and as a voice from the un-tenured stream the pros (networking! paper writing! public presentation of self!) and cons (cost! cost! cost!) of conference travel weight heavily on my mind. Furthermore, I've had some former students contact me lately asking about how to network which I suspect means 1) how do I do it? and 2) does it really matter?

So, following TR's lead I'd like to think through some of my own networking in the past several years. It hasn't landed me a tenure-track job (yet) but what has it accomplished?

Fall of 2006: I attend a conference at the other large university in the province where I was completing my PhD. I give a paper which was...poorly received (to say the least!) and am shaken. This isn't my first conference, but it is early in my PhD programme. I leave, convinced my career is ruined.

Spring 2006: I attend the annual ACCUTE conference at York University where my dear friend is the President of the Graduate Student Caucus. I tag along with him to the meeting because I hardly ever get to see him. I wind up volunteering to co-steer the GSC for the following year and to take over the year after that. Enter my first experience of being involved in a national committee. Invaluable!

Spring 2007: I return to the same aforementioned university to give another paper. I am chatting with a friend who introduces me to her supervisor, the incomparable Susan Brown. Susan introduces me to Heather Zwicker (the very same!) and they tell me they'd like for me to write a reflective piece on my hard conference experience for an anthology they are co-editing. You can read about it here. This was my first invited piece of academic writing.

Spring 2008: I head once more to the close-by university where my PhD supervisor had been invited to join a discussion for a new project. The project was being initiated by Susan Brown and the weekend was co-facilitated by Heather. I was the only graduate student in attendance. I was able to sit in a room full of my now colleagues, then mentors, and watch a project be planned from the ground up. That project is now the path-breaking CWRC. If you're interested in seeing what it is all about you can send in a conference paper proposal, they are due March 31st.

Spring 2010: I am at the ACCUTE conference in Montreal where I am chairing a roundtable for CWRC and giving a paper called "Hopelessly Witty or Witless Hope: Notes from LTA-Land" for the Committee for Professional Concerns. Heather is in the audience and we reintroduce ourselves. She has an idea for a feminist academic blog. We talk about it, she introduces me to Aimée, we start planning for what is now Hook & Eye.

Fall 2010: Hook & Eye is launched. I feel I am able/responsible/willing to speak about my experience as a woman in the non-tenured stream (trying to get into that other stream) and that I have a productive and receptive space in which to do this.

Granted this is an abbreviated list of networking moments, and I've presented one branch of my career that follows a somewhat straightforward pathway. Would I have started a blog about my experience of this profession otherwise? Who knows. Will blogging count as public intellectual work to a SSHRC committee? I couldn't say. Do I know exactly what the quantitative benefits of networking have been in my career thus far? No, but I can make some educated guesses.

It can be easy to feel jaded, or even intimidated by networking. Its hard to know how many conferences are enough, or when you've over-introduced yourself, but I can say that I'm consistently surprised by the ways in which moments of networking (or moments that didn't even seem like networking but did require me putting myself and my work out in the world) have come back in exciting ways.

I'll leave Tenured Radical with the (second) last work on this:

"The ability to get things done not only makes life more pleasant, and far richer when you consider time consuming projects like program development and the hiring of new colleagues, but it frees up time to write. It also brings interesting and novel projects -- book series, journal articles, special issues, conferences, and Internet-based exchanges -- to fruition. This, I think, reveals the basic value of networking: when it works, it isn't about you. It's about you in relation to others. Scholarship, at its most effective, is about exchange, not about the grandiosity of one person."

Yes!

What about you, dear readers? Have you any surprising networking successes?

2 comments:

  1. Yes, I have..and they were quite unexpected and it gave me strength and imputus to carry on with my research at a time when my will was wavering and I was full of doubt about what I was doing.

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  2. I am really bad at networking but I'm glad that others are more skilled. The break in my career--I mean the moment when I felt "launched" and stopped ever regretting that I'm doing this for a living--came when I got an email inviting me to attend a meeting attached to a conference on autobiography in 2000. At that conference, an international array of superstar autobiography scholars gathered, including just about everyone in Canada who works in the field. One of those superstars (whom I had never met and did not recognize) happened to sit beside me at one of the keynote addresses. She introduced herself. And from that initial meeting have followed years of collaboration: researching together, going to conferences together, editing together. It has been grand.

    What strikes me now is the generosity that woman showed in introducing herself to an unknown younger person sitting beside her. As soon as she said her name I gasped (hopefully not audibly). And I could never have imagined that we would work so closely together--and become firm friends. I now take it as part of my responsibility to do the same for younger colleagues. To pay it forward.

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