This is a guest post by Brent Sasley. Sasley is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington. He blogs at Mideast Matrix and Open Zion. Follow him on Twitter.
The political science/IR blogosphere has been engaged in an interesting discussion in recent days: whether and how junior scholars should network at academic conferences (just follow the links from this piece to get them all or scroll down through Duck of Minerva’s main page).
My own two cents is that it depends on the conference, on the specific sub-field, and on the individual academic. Some conferences—like APSA and ISA—are so big that giants in the field are always going to know they’re in demand, especially if they’ve been established for awhile. They will choose according to their own criteria whether and how to respond to people clamoring for their interest, and that doesn’t bode well for most of us.
Some sub-fields, though, are small enough that you can contact the big names and you’ll likely get a positive response and—even more importantly—genuine interest in meeting. The same goes for smaller conferences: The Association for Israel Studies is really small compared to APSA and ISA, and there is a much more intimate feel to its annual conventions. You can pretty much go up to anybody there and expect some engagement—although like at the bigger ones, you can (I know from experience) still get scholars who treat you like you’re a first-year undergrad excited simply to be in the same room as them, regardless of your own standing. Ego isn’t field-specific.
And, of course, some people are simply better at networking in person than others. Some people are more outgoing, charismatic, and insistent. Others, not so much.
My sense, in keeping with what most of the bloggers have already said, is that if you’ve got a good publication or two in a relevant journal, you’re more likely to engender the interest and attention from the bigger names.
What does work, though, is social networking. My professional networking has expanded considerably through the people I’m friends and friendly with, who introduce me to people who introduce me to people. At the same time, what’s worked at least as well is social media networking. Twitter, blogging, and op-eding—participating in these venues has opened many doors for me that would otherwise have remained closed. I’ve gotten to know a ton of people in this way, and have had opportunities to publish op-eds and similar on-line pieces, been invited to speaking engagements, and simply amassed a great many sources of information and analysis I can draw on when needed. I’ve also been able to exchange ideas and suggestions and comments more quickly and more often with my on-line interlocutors.
This is the alternate angle I’d suggest, then. Junior scholars might engage in different elements of social media before conferences in order to get their names and work out there and increase the chances of recognition. Certainly more academics are blogging, but there is more and more discussion even in more traditional academic publications about the benefits of engaging in the public sphere through social media.
Opening a Twitter account might be a good way to start; asking a friend to write a guest post on her blog (because surely most of us know a colleague who blogs); commentating on posts at political science or International Relations-related blogs like Duck of Minerva, The Monkey Cage, Lawyers, Guns & Money, Abu Muqawama, Political Violence @ a Glance, or on online publications like Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, and The National Interest—these are some things that junior scholars might do rather than waiting until academic conferences begin or just before.
The drawback, of course, is that you’re less likely to get one of the bigger but older names in the field. But you are more likely to get younger names, regardless of how big they are. This, too, fits with what some of the bloggers have already said—that networking with other junior scholars or people with more similar ranks will be more productive. And this way, you’ll develop a comfortable cooperation with your peers that makes it easier to interact with in person.
Why wait to get to know someone when you can easily get to know them over the course of the months long before the conference actually begins? That’s why we call it social media.