NPF: NETWORK

No, I'm not referring to the classic 1970s Sidney Lumet film. I mean the kind of "networking" that is essential to success in…essentially every profession. I can't decide if it's a terrible thing or the absolute worst of all things.

Certainly I would hate it less if I were better at it, but I have a very low tolerance for people who are full of themselves and the painfully socially awkward. Since that covers about 94% of people in academia, I find this process to be painful in the extreme.

Hi! I noticed that your life is infinitely better than mine because you went to the Correct grad school. May I pretend that you're interesting for a few minutes in the hopes that you'll throw me a few crumbs at some point? Fantastic! Gee, where's a carbon monoxide leak when you really need one?

26 thoughts on “NPF: NETWORK”

  • Spiffy McBang says:

    About a week ago Chris Hayes had a couple of striking fast food workers on his show, and the difference between them and the professional "thinkers" (for lack of a better term- I don't think they were pundits, per se) was striking. I don't think the workers were any less intelligent, especially the guy who's a KFC supervisor, but even coming from a point of general agreement on the issue of low pay for service employees, they were hitting the subject from very different points of view. And because the "thinkers" were more practiced at this public speaking schtick, they came off sharper even though their points weren't necessarily any more relevant.

    I bring this up because trying to get to know people, especially when you're making an attempt to network, makes me feel like that supervisor talking to the suit-and-tie folks. I'm just as good as them, but I come at things so much differently than those who have bought into the game (be it in academia or a given profession) that, even having spent the last few years improving my socialization skills, I can only get along with them for a relatively short time on a superficial level. And because they're the ones who have bought in, I'm the one who needs to find another way to get where I'm trying to go.

    I know this is where people say you're just making contacts. But I do not understand, at all, the concept of maintaining contacts so that you can hopefully get something out of them later. If they're not people I would stay in contact with for personal reasons, the mere idea of doing so because I might get something out of it makes me feel like an absolute cock. And if someone you barely know hears from you two years after your last interaction, are they really going to help you? Not unless they were particularly impressed by you previously, in which case you'd probably have maintained some level of contact.

    Having been painfully socially awkward, I have patience for those people. So it's less bad for me than for you. And I still despise the networking process. You are entirely not alone in this.

  • You can be smart and driven and competent, but if you don't know how to market yourself you'll never get very far.

    That said, I do respect the fact that academics have to "show their work," so to speak. Compared to business or journamilism/punditry, it's the closest thing we have to an actual meritocracy in America.

    Not that being good-looking and knowing how to schmooze won't help you at the MLA conference but it's all relative.

  • God I fucking hate conferences. Hate with a capital "FUCKING." I'm always amazed at how nobody pays attention to what anyone else says, at how every session is forgotten the second its over, and how the conversation only ever revolves around "God I fucking hate conferences." They are a massive and utter waste of time and effort held under the delusion that the kind of intellectual exchange that once inspired them still exists inside the academy, which IT DOES NOT. I swore a long time ago that I would only ever do them if A. they're located someplace exquisitely cool, B. I'm on a panel with friends, or C. my tenure committee tells me I have to. Mostly C. I never feel worse about my decision to be in academia more than when I'm at a conference–in that respect, conferences are the opposite of classroom teaching for me.

    Personally, I prefer writing in furtherance of publication. Yes, it's mostly about rejection and misery and long waits. But at least you can do it in the comfortable privacy of your own home.

  • It IS awkward if I don't already know people there.

    When I do already know and like a few people there I feel safe; I can always go talk to Joe or Tony and I will have someone to sit beside at lunch.

    In that case, it's fun to actually get to know — i e spend at least twenty minutes talking to — a few new people in a conference. We really will remember each other a year or two later if we've talked at some length.

    I attend some conferences because that is a time effective way of reconnecting with a group of people I like, enjoy, and yes, benefit from. In other words, I'm one of those who talks to old friends at conferences, laughing and remembering glory days in small groups.

    I think those groups,which are impossible to break into unless you ALSO worked in that same group fifteen years ago, probably make everyone else in the conference feel worse and more awkward. "Why can't I actually laugh instead of going over to fetch my fourth glass of fancy water in order to escape yet another awkward conversation? "

    relax…

    /Jane

  • c u n d gulag says:

    OY!
    I used to also hate conferences, or mass group training sessions.

    There's something about being away from the environment where others know their foibles, and errors of their ways, that makes the smug, self-satisfied, boastful, self-agrandizing jackass come out in some people, and they try to dominate the conference, and all of the conversations.

    There's no one around to say, "Yeah, that's what YOU say. But we know you fecked up 3 of the last 5 projects given to you, and you have drinking and sexual harrassment issues, end up in HR a few times a month, and probably have 2 strikes on you. We know your wife told you to leave, and your kids hate your fecking guts. Even your dog bit you in the ass on your way out the door."

    When someone was going on and on about themselves, or their company, and what they'd done, I always wanted to use this great line from "The Maltese Falcon:"
    Sam Spade: "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter, eh?"

  • Middle Seaman says:

    People in academia are not much different than any professional crowd you know. We have: a criminal, several hoodlums, arrogant arsloches, pretenders, decent folks, a brilliant guy or two (both sexes implied) and tons of average/mediocre folks. Faculty at the very top schools has more brilliance, arrogance and solid workers.

    Unless you are a recognized genuis, you have to dance to the academic music. By that one means: write good papers in areas the community considers important. Publishing has to fit the journal hierarchy. The higher the journal is the more browny points one gets.

    Networking helps especially average and mediocre faculty. After 30 years of the academic circus act things are quite clear. 99% of the published papers are crap. (That is, it may be technically solid but the paper's contribution is zero or less.)

    My advice: acquire proper academic writing skills; just devote the time for that. Concentrate on better results listenning carefully to the music. After that, suffering fools is much easier, i.e. networking.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Why are all you fuckers anti-extrovert? I love conferences, networking, and schmoozing!

  • A friend of mine says it's helpful to imagine yourself as just disguised as a human, standing on your hind legs and pretending to do what they do. Dissociation I guess.

  • Conferences/training sessions are the Brussels sprouts of the working world: we know we should, but jeez, do I have to?
    Remember when Spanky and his crew had to line up for castor oil? Kinda like that.
    Some day you won't have to go, in fact, you won't even get invited. That kinda sucks too.

  • Social skills aren't that hard to fake, as long as you can find one thing about the person you're talking to that's genuinely interesting.

    Increasingly, I regard a Caulfieldian distaste for "phonies" to be self-defeating and immature.

    Who really wants to live in a world where everyone keeps it real at all times? Sure, LA is full of empty assholes, but at least they're fairly polite. When I'm in New York, I usually wish that people would keep it less real.

  • I've always felt that a self-consciously self-righteous hatred of 'schmoozing' was a kind of arrogance, but ymmv. I learned way back as a teenager that a few moments of sympathetic attention and listening to some unhappy and awkward person was a huge help to me: first off, it made me less self-conscious about my own imagined problems, and second (and more important), I sometimes gained a useful ally in difficult times. Milton is not always a useless cretin; sometimes he's a cretin with very useful resources available to him. I graduated from that to my preferred 'cocktail/holiday party/conference' tactic of looking for the most uncomfortable person in the room (other than me) and striking up a conversation. Sometimes it's a wash-out, because that person has nothing to say, but sometimes it becomes a very interesting conversation, and both of us leave it refreshed and looking for someone more interesting to talk with. A win-win!

  • The flip side of being a social animal is definitely…having to socialize. Teamwork is effective, but having to cooperate sucks.

    A so much more satisfying high to be the independent lone wolf…apart from the getting killed more quickly thing, of course. That sucks, too.

    This is probably why we invented booze.

  • When someone was going on and on about themselves, or their company, and what they'd done, I always wanted to use this great line from "The Maltese Falcon:"
    Sam Spade: "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter, eh?"

    BTW, tnx for this bit of excellence, C U N D.

  • I know that 'ironic' is the wrong word, but what do you call a post about having to endure the slings and arrows of social interaction followed by a block that says:

    Be Sociable, Share!

    I guess fake social networking is preferable to actual human interaction.

  • Consider yourself lucky for having something to say and feeling somewhat able to share your concerns with people outside your organization. I went to an industry conference for my 'specialization' in March where there were hundreds of people who do sort of what I do, but in vastly different businesses. I had no idea how to strike up a conversation with anyone, didn't really want to divulge any of the issues we have, and got a funny look the single time I tried to initiate networking.

    I did learn that I know my field pretty well and can get some certifications out of the experience, but it was a mind-numbing few days.

  • Obviously, networking sucks. This is so obvious it's like saying eating poo sucks. Only the most fetishized person likes eating poo or networking. That said, it is necessary and like most things that are painful and necessary or necessarily painful, I find that the best way to cope is to turn it into a game. For me, when I have to network, I basically try to figure out how much personal information I can get out of people before they step back and realize they just used me for a free therapy session. The shock on their faces when they realize they stepped into the ultra personal without realizing it and know basically nothing about me is quite pleasing. Besides, the next time you see that person, if there is a next time, any personal detail you remember is going to bond you to them immediately thus helping your career considerably. People want to surround themselves with people who they think care about them and their nonsense. It's the greatest game of manipulation. Love it or love it.

  • I *so* hated that aspect of insurance. Even if you weren't in sales, we were all grubbing for CEUs, attending brown bag luncheons, doing charity stuff… Which means HUR HUR HUR how's the golf game, haven't seen you in church lately, did I tell you about that cruise I won, where is that drinks girl? Keep an eye out for fraternity handshakes and try not to snarl.

    At least we had a healthy minority of young / single / irritated folks who were up for snarking all day and drinking all night. Screw networking, but do look for the cool kids corner. You'll find them.

  • Gerald McGrew says:

    I have to agree with Comradde. It's fascinating to see so many introverts express so much angst over having to socialize, oftentimes for nothing more than its own sake.

    At my previous office, pretty much all the staff HATED going to meetings or conferences. When I got there I was begging to go to them, and they just couldn't figure out why. They figured something was up (e.g. I was trying to get out of "real work"), so they kept denying my requests. Then we all took some personality tests, and it turned out that literally, I was the only extrovert in the entire place. I left quickly thereafter.

    It's always interesting to see how different personalities approach the same situation.

  • I don't mind academic conferences so long as attendees confine discussion of their brilliant research to the hours between 8:00 am and 4:00 p.m. when the formal presentations are scheduled to end. After 4:00, shut the fuck up about research and talk about other shit that will make people think your life is more exciting and varied than it is.

  • "But I do not understand, at all, the concept of maintaining contacts so that you can hopefully get something out of them later. If they're not people I would stay in contact with for personal reasons, the mere idea of doing so because I might get something out of it makes me feel like an absolute cock."

    This. Yes, a thousand times yes. Thank you, Spiffy.

  • I hated conference so violently that I gave up on academia. I'm a computer guy so had other career paths, but it was really depressing to realize that even most other computer geeks do networking and have much better social skills than me.

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