Network or Perish: A Must for Assistant Professors or Those Who Would Like to Be

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Network or Perish: the What, Why, Where, Who, and How

You’re on a hiring committee. You look at the name on the next folder. Beatrice Murgatroyd-Fauntleroy! She’s that graduate student that you chatted with at the last conference, who had read your paper, and had such intelligent comments. And in her follow-up email, she mentioned that she had asked her department if you could give a talk there. “Wow,” you think, “I hope she gets the job.”

Wouldn’t you like to be in Beatrice’s shoes? Let’s look at the “what, why, where, who and how” of networking, a skill that Beatrice seems to have mastered.


What is networking? I define it as getting to know people and nurturing relationships, in order to advance your professional goals. It’s hard to decide what is THE most important behavior that you can engage in to get ahead in academia. Certainly publishing excellent work is important. But almost as important is networking. I’ve gleaned the following networking tips from my own experience, the experience of my clients, a fantastic article by Phil Agre called  “Networking on the Network”,  and several other texts, including the Academic Job Search Handbook , by Heiberger and Vick.


Phil Agre states it bluntly: “people who don’t learn to network are less likely to succeed.” Academia is a social endeavor, and moving up the academic ladder is completely dependent on other people. Here is a list of answers to “why you should network.”

  • It will help immeasurably with your job search
  • You will be more likely to win awards and be recognized
  • It will help you with promotion and tenure
  • It will help you find your own scholarly voice
  • It will bring more fascinating people into your life
  • Your life will be enriched with more give-and-take on your scholarly interests

Some people are loathe to network. Here are some reasons for this attitude, with my somewhat non-empathic responses:

  • You are shy (get help from a friend or a coach with this – it will impair your career)
  • You think networking is manipulative (no more manipulative than making a friend because you don’t want to be lonely.)
  • You believe that at times you will have to brown nose (this is true; get over it.)
  • You are too immersed in your dissertation to arise from your bed of misery and socialize. (If that is the case, you really do need to get out more. Believe it or not, interacting with others around your topic can be refreshing and even exhilarating, as you notice others taking you seriously.)


Simple answer: everywhere. In the hallways of your department, dropping in on colleagues, advisors, going to conferences, writing – by snail mail and email, telephoning, visiting, joining committees at the departmental, university, or national level (within your professional organization), and anything else creative you can think of!


Yes, it makes sense to think about the best people to get to know. There is only so much time. Here are some suggestions, paraphrased from Phil Agre’s paper:

  • People whose work you cite
  • Ask others who they recommend (your advisor would be helpful here)
  • People whose work you respect and whose values you share
  • People in slightly tangential fields, so as to broaden your horizons
  • A caveat: don’t forget that the colleagues or fellow students that you dislike could someday be on a hiring committee for a job you want. You might not like them enough to include them in your network; just don’t burn any bridges.


How to network – the “meet” of the matter. Sorry, that’s my last corny joke. Here are some tips, borrowing heavily from Agre:

  • Enter times for networking activities in your calendar, and do them regularly (e.g. once a week)
  • Scan your work and related work, to see who you would like to interact with. Agre suggests looking at bibliographies.
  • Create a list of people
    • Become familiar with their work
    • Think about how your work intersects with theirs – the “articulated commonalities”
    • Also think about differences between your work and theirs. It is great to explore areas of disagreement, as you “find your inner professor.” (the latter is my term)
  • Think of yourself as building a personal work community
  • Wait until you have published an article, then write the person, sending the article, an intelligent cover letter mentioning their work, and a statement of the relationship between the your research and theirs. Mention that you would be glad to hear any comments and ask if they are going to the next conference.
  • At conferences, make a concerted effort to meet the people on your list
  • If you are a graduate student, get to know the students a little ahead of you, both at conferences and in your department
  • If the person is at a similar level to you, you can send drafts of papers for comments
  • Keep in touch, with just a few, low-key contacts a year
  • Be very careful about what you write in online message boards. Even with a pseudonym, you’re not that safe.

You can learn to network, and to do it with integrity and value system intact. These tips only scratch the surface. If you have the time, read Agre’s article yourself – it is invaluable. And see you at the next conference (I loved your last article – so insightful!)

© Gina Hiatt, PhD.
Gina is a dissertation and tenure coach. She helps academics, from grad students wondering about their dissertation topic to faculty members who want to maintain a high level of research and writing, to reach their goals more quickly and less painfully. Get Gina’s free assessments & ezine at

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