Networking - From the Academic Viewpoint

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Networking - From the Academic Viewpoint

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Jan 27, 2013 2:06 pm

There was a recent thread on the importance of the cover letter. I found this comment from one of our Academic posters of great interest:

That said, cover letters are over-rated when it comes to searching for a faculty position. While a great cover letter will not hurt you, it might not help much. This is because networking is what really works for finding a faculty position.

What caught my eye is that this PI considers networking very important to the academic job search. For years, I've had a networking presentation that includes a line that networking is more important when you want to leave the academic world behind. I knew that some top academics are great networkers, but I never really considered that the best way to get a job in academia is to network. It seemed to me that most people find their positions by scanning ads and following the procedure as outlined "Send full CV with publications and three letters of reference to our hiring committee").

This site is chock-full of networking examples from the industry perspective. Can someone give me some examples of networking on the academic side? Are there differences? I'm sure you can't expect a Department Chair to throw her weight behind a hire simply because you know that person from a networking call.

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Re: Networking - From the Academic Viewpoint

Postby P. Lues » Mon Jan 28, 2013 4:18 am

I totally agree. I have no first hand experience, but I know of at least two PIs who got tenure simply because of their networking skills at conferences (grad students come to know everything about their PI and they tell their buddies). And one new assistant prof was recently recruited to my previous institution even though there was no job posting. Basically a prof who knew a prof who knew a prof thought this guy would be a valuable asset to the department and they hired him on the spot. He still had to interview but there was no competition (so of course he go the position).

I think in academia too, it's all about networking and how you present yourself. They just pretend that networking isn't important to keep the competition out of the game! The ones that got in had to network their way in.
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Re: Networking - From the Academic Viewpoint

Postby NKC » Mon Jan 28, 2013 8:35 am

I made the jump from industry to academia using the "networking" approach.

To facilitate my move back to academia, I approached an up and coming undergraduate institution about possible adjunct teaching opportunities. I also want to point out that I didn't know anyone at or affiliated with the school. I spent the next year (while still working in industry) teaching introductory evening classes. Over that time I went above and beyond what was expected, formed relationships with faculty/administration, and did my best to make them realize what I could offer the students (industry perspective). The following year they were allowed to hire two new tt faculty. Fortunately, one of the positions fit my background almost perfectly. I still had to apply and interview, but I do believe that my history with the department was a bonus.

In addition, I was able to test the waters of undergraduate teaching and the institution. Ultimately one of the best career moves I've made so far.
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Re: Networking - From the Academic Viewpoint

Postby R.S.D. » Mon Jan 28, 2013 9:13 am

In my experience, a successful search for an academic faculty position is all about who you know, and, more importantly, who your mentors and advisors know.

In my case, I had a K99/R00 award co-mentored by two senior PIs. I had over 10 interviews at top-notch R1 schools during my search, and 3 offers.

Several interviews came from networking at conferences - I'd present my work and network during sessions/meals/breaks - people liked the work and then checked with one of my PIs before inviting me to apply for a position. In two cases, PI friends of mine who thought I'd be a good fit gave my CV to the search chair - I made these friends by networking at conferences. Only one interview came from a cold application I'd sent in response to an advertised position.

I only got offers for positions where I had network connections to the department chair or search chair. Of my offers, one was from an old PI of mine (I had been his tech) who was now a department chair, one was from a search chair who had connections to my PIs, and one was from a department chair who invited me to apply for an unadvertised position after getting a copy of my CV from a colleague who is close friend of one of my PIs.

My network also played a role in deciding which offer to take - I used my connections to figure out what resources were available, vet collaborations, and get info on the department.

Some readers will think "she had a K99 so she was going to get a job anyway." For those readers - I got the K99, in part, because I used networking to find my postdoc PIs (positions unadvertised) and to set-up a novel research program based on a collaboration between their labs - these PIs did not know each other before I came along.

While this highlights my experience, I can assure you that lots of my PI colleagues used similar tactics.
Last edited by R.S.D. on Mon Jan 28, 2013 10:09 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Networking - From the Academic Viewpoint

Postby R.S.D. » Mon Jan 28, 2013 9:33 am

On the general topic of networking and why it's important:

For new faculty hires, departments in my field are looking to invest around 1 million dollars in a new research program. They want to invest in people that are a sure bet, rather than in people that spent their postdocs being glorified technicians - it's nearly impossible for search committees to tell the difference using CVs and letters from references they don't know. Being referred by their trusted colleagues gives a candidate credibility that a cold applicant does not have - this credibility is golden and is worth more than a high impact publication.

Lastly, a candidate for a new faculty position still has to earn the offer by interviewing and negotiating well - networking is good practice for this since many of the skills needed for successful networking and interviewing are the same.
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Re: Networking - From the Academic Viewpoint

Postby Rich Lemert » Mon Jan 28, 2013 9:39 am

Both of my post-doc opportunities came through networking - one where I knew the PI from various conferences, and the one I took through my PhD advisor.

My faculty position came about from a blind application, but while I was in this position I was involved in two faculty searches. In both cases the successful candidate's initial application came about through networking.

I was also present when a new Dean was brought in. He completely re-organized the college, and while many of his appointees were people that were already there he also brought in a lot of his cronies to fill the new positions he was creating.
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Re: Networking - From the Academic Viewpoint

Postby PG » Wed Jan 30, 2013 4:00 am

I think that this is an interesting topic and would like to extend the scope a bit. Taking into consideration that networking seem to be important in academia as well as in industry are there any differences between networking approaches, how to network, what information about yourself do you want to share etc.

Looking at this from an industry point of view it sometimes seem to me that the "rules" are different and I would like to hear the opinion from others on this.

Assuming that getting a position or a collaboration of some sort is the goal of your networking effort the rule in industry for any recruitment or collaboration effort is that you should do what is best for the company. This means adding the right competence and personallity at the right time to a project regardless of this is by recruiting someone or through collaborations. This means selecting the candidate with the best fit for the job regardless if there is another candidate with a longer track record, more publications, impact factors etc.

My experience from academic recruitments is more limited but I have a lot of friends pursuing that track and have also served in the board of directors of a European University as well as in a number of different commitees etc.
Looking at the official view of academic recruitments it is a lot more focus on the fact that the candidate with the best track record ie most publications, publications with the highest impact factors, best teaching experience etc should be offered the position. This means that at least officially there is a difference in how recruitments are performed. How does this impact networking efforts and is the difference real or does it only exist on paper?
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Re: Networking - From the Academic Viewpoint

Postby Jim Austin » Thu Jan 31, 2013 4:29 pm

Hi folks. RSD's message above is great. S/he(?) speaks from experience. There are two things in his story that are critical for assuring high-level research-university success: The K99/R00 (or another prestigious transition award) and the networking.

Networking is no less important in an academic setting than it is in industry, but the purpose is a bit different--and therefore so are the methods. The goal is to become known in your narrow field as a promising young scientist, a rising star. Obviously, the quality of your work is very important in accomplishing that--but so is interacting with others in your field, like a respectful colleague. You do that by presenting your work and following up to form personal/professional relationships.

However, in a world of LinkedIn profiles, personal blogs, and Twitter feeds, I need to add a note of caution. Your work should remain the focus of everything, and the traditional methods of dissemination--peer reviewed journal articles, conference presentations--are the appropriate venues. When you get into networking/marketing/self-promotion mode, you can start to seem, well, self-promoting--and many senior scientists hate that sort of thing. Get yourself out there, meet people, put your work forward--and recognize that those activities can make all the difference--but avoid seeming like a shameless self-promoter who is trying to gain advantage through relationships. A certain amount of that is expected in industry, but in academic science, that doesn't sell well.

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Re: Networking - From the Academic Viewpoint

Postby Rich Lemert » Thu Jan 31, 2013 5:11 pm

However, in a world of LinkedIn profiles ... I need to add a note of caution. Your work should remain the focus of everything .... When you get into networking/marketing/self-promotion mode, you can start to seem, well, self-promoting--and many senior scientists hate that sort of thing.

I would think the following types of LinkedIn posts would be perfectly acceptable:

"My paper on 'translational diffusion of blatant hyperbole' has just been published in the Journal of Ridiculous Nonsense."

"For anyone who's going to be at the GrantWaste conference, I'll be presenting some of my latest work in session 14."

Even better would be if the last one was modified to say "... my student, Upand Coming, will be presenting ...."
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Re: Networking - From the Academic Viewpoint

Postby R.S.D. » Fri Feb 01, 2013 9:38 am

I'd like to second Jim Austin's post. It's important in academic networking that you lead with the science, not the self-promotion. People can tell the difference.

In academia, there are several kinds of networking in which leading with the science can really help your career.

One kind is where you interact with colleagues in your field at conferences, local interest group meetings, and seminars - this is when you present yourself and your work to people who may not know you - here a professional demeanor is essential. This is when leading with science is important. To effectively network at conferences, I advise that people always present their work (always ask for a short talk), prepare for questions (do not answer them defensively), and be ready to ask questions of other presenters in either open sessions on one-on-one. The Q-and-A time right after talks (your's or their's), is the best time to connect with people.

Another kind is networking handled by your mentors and advisors. This requires that you build a fantastic working relationship with them so that, when the time comes, they recommend you, without reservation, to their friends and colleagues. This is highly relevant to postdocs looking for faculty positions. If you have a well-connected mentor/advisor, chances are that outside colleagues will ask him if he has a postdoc who is a good candidate for ongoing searches. I've seen the majority of faculty searches filled this way.

Lastly, if you've done well with the other types of networking, you'll have made some real friends among your colleagues at outside institutions. These friendships need to be maintained - make time to see these people at future conferences, ask them for help every now and then (eg., ask them for help tracking down noncommercial reagents or advice on a new protocol), connect them to people in your network who can help them with a question/problem, recommend them for an activity that helps them professionally, etc.
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