Connected Academics Proseminar. October 2016: Networking as Problem Solving

This is the second in a series of posts about the Modern Language Association’s 2016-2017 Connected Academics Proseminar written by Connected Academics Proseminar Fellow Carolyn Ureña. You can read her first post here.

By: Carolyn Ureña

For the October meeting of this year’s Connected Academics Proseminar we visited The New York Public Library, where we met with Ph.D.-holding NYPL staff members working on exciting projects in the digital humanities, as well as curating and acquiring rare books for the library’s collections. What stood out most to me during our discussion, though, was the need to rethink the meaning of “networking,” which is vital to the work of building relationships and making strides in just about anything you do, but still manages to sound like a “dirty word” for lots of graduate students. In today’s post, I’d like to suggest a two different ways of thinking about networking to make it seem more familiar.

Networking as Problem Solving

This idea came about in a discussion I had with another proseminar fellow, as we realized together that networking is happening whenever you share a problem with someone or ask for help, thereby offering them the opportunity to help you out. Countless times I have shared a challenge with a colleague or professor here in Comp Lit, not really seeking anything in particular other than to express a frustration or road block. And countless times, the person with whom I was speaking would offer me a text, a resource, or suggest an actual person I should connect with in order to help me move forward. Having a conversation, in other words, and sharing something about yourself while also learning about someone else: that’s networking.

Networking as Acknowledging Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Which brings me to my second point. Networking can be a useful way of acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses. No one expects you to know everything – about your topic, your academic field, or a non-academic industry you find yourself drawn to. Acknowledging what you know and what you don’t know, and then actively taking steps to meet people who can help you address the gaps in your knowledge can both strengthen your projects and plans and help you reassess your goals.

For example, in my own work as a graduate fellowship advisor at GradFund, I was recently tasked with coming up with strategies to increase the reach of our services and make sure more students knew who we are and what we do. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I acknowledged that I wasn’t sure how to do this but considered who might, and I reached out to former supervisors in academic services roles with whom I’d been in touch on a semi-regular basis. These conversations led to new contacts who provided insights into my project I hadn’t considered, while also giving me the opportunity to test out new ideas before bringing them to GradFund.

The fact is, when it comes to networking you’re either already engaging in it or might soon be doing so without even knowing it. Sometimes it helps to reframe or rename things to help you realize how familiar they really are. It really isn’t much more difficult than having a conversation with someone known or new, and the more you do it, the easier it will become.

For more on what networking is and how to do it, check out the MLA Connected Academics website.