In the academic world networking was, and often still is, mediated through a mentor or other superior. Collaborative opportunities often come through mutual projects or existing networks already established through your mentor. Often these networks, constructed slowly over time through common work, can be narrowly focused on subject matter that may be limited in diversity and scope. It may miss the work and collaborative potential of a key professional right around the corner simply because they weren’t in your mentor’s network. This could be because their subject matter was not obviously related to your mentor’s. Lost opportunities for innovative and productive collaborations may have a significant impact on your research and career.
To address these lost opportunities, academia has begun to encourage networking among faculty and trainees to enhance innovation and collaboration to advance a new research paradigm – Team Science. Maintaining a personal network is extremely important to engage in the vibrant nature of Team Science. Academic relationships are dynamic, reflecting the diverse expertise and influence of all individuals, which in turn are always in flux. These factors are often rapidly changing, and in an unpredictable fashion. To manage this ever-changing academic environment, personal network management is a crucial aspect of one’s professional information management. It is the practice of managing multiple collaborative contacts and connections for social and professional benefits. If you can successfully tap key influential networks within your institution and wider academic discipline, you will be more likely to be nurtured toward success. In other words, it is not just what you know, but also who you know and can work with that matters in achieving academic success. Who you know may facilitate knowledge of essential methods and processes ranging from the science itself to accessing funding to “grantsmanship” to policy impact.
Building and Nurturing a Network
Although it may be easy to build a network by simply accruing a list of contacts, the real challenge is maintaining and leveraging those connections effectively. Information fragmentation can lead to difficulties encountered in ensuring co-operation and keeping track of different personal information assets (e.g. Facebook, Twitter etc.). Simply maintaining a contact list with accurate contact information (office phone, cell phone, email address, etc.) is a simple yet essential piece of maintaining a network. Devising and committing to a sustainable and organized approach to personal networking including the use of social media resources is becoming increasingly important to academic efficiency and success
Being Engaged in Interdisciplinary Team Research: Is Your Network Working for You?
If building and nurturing a professional network is requisite to being a successful academic researcher, then to catalyze and seize opportunities for interdisciplinary team-based research, the argument for Academic Networking couldn’t be stronger. Each academic has a professional network. Some build a deep network of people mostly in the same field, which can unwittingly limit potential interdisciplinary opportunities. Some build widely diverse networks using carefully selected individuals who can optimize their chances for interdisciplinary research. Others have made it a numbers game, focusing on the quantity of people and longstanding list of mentees in their network. But, have you taken a moment to look carefully at what kind of network you have? What strategies do you use to connect with others in a way that helps you harness opportunities for doing research in interdisciplinary teams? How many interdisciplinary research projects are you working on now?
Having a targeted and effective professional network can make the difference between working hard and working smart in the Team Science paradigm. Effective professional networking on-line can provide access to quick conversations, expert opinions, issues or systems scans. It can lead to new ideas, new connections and provide real-time insights about your research or your discipline. It can be an efficient way to find out what people in your network are doing and whether to reconnect with them. It can facilitate connections at conferences and meetings, open doors and build relationships with experts, influencers, and others key individuals.
If you don’t know the answers to or have never thought about these questions, consider taking some time to review, enhance and nurture your network. Your self-reflection should focus on “who” should be in your network – identifying those individuals who best facilitate your participation in team science. When considering your personal network, keep in mind that to be effective, your core connections and relationships should bridge smaller, more-diverse groups and geography. These relationships should also result in more learning, less bias, and greater personal growth by modeling positive behaviors: generosity, authenticity, and enthusiasm. Once you have defined your core network and how they relate to you and others within your network, consider who in your core can help with your professional and academic challenges. Is your core network group diverse enough and are you generating new ideas from this core? Are there people who take but don’t give? Should you continue your affiliation to them? Are there gaps in expertise, skill, support or availability?
The “benefits” of effective and well-curated networks that facilitates your ability to actively engage in team science include: 1. Communicating with peers and colleagues to keep informed and up to date about who is doing what; 2. To learn about new methods and tools people are using; 3. To create visibility for yourself that can help you develop a reputation (your brand); 4. To build career stability for yourself; 5. To move new ideas through the network and test it out; 6. To seek placement opportunities for your trainees – just to name a few.
Remember that the type, degree and targets for academic networking will evolve throughout the course of your career depending on your professional and academic needs. The Academic Network required by a trainee during transitions (e.g. new GMS student or Post-Doc) will vary. But what they all have in common is the absolute need to establish and nurture a well curated network of supporters and collaborators as they proceed within their academic field. Networking continues to be important even in mid to late career as ones needs and capacity to support others evolves. Each collaborator plays a different but critical role in the scientific enterprise. At times, special networks may be important based on other important commonalities. For example, for women, networking can be particularly challenging because attempts at networking requires self-promotion (which can be unfamiliar or uncomfortable for some), and can be misunderstood by others. Similar issues may exist for underrepresented minority researchers, and having a robust and supportive network can be invaluable to their success.
Effective networking is a critical yes often underestimated factor in establishing and sustaining a successful academic career in an ever-changing, increasingly more collaborative and competitive research environment. In a future blog post we will address a key personal networking activity – networking at a professional conference.
By C. Shanahan