Networking and Contacts

  • Being aware of scholars, their rank in field, their word of mouth reputations, how they work (or not) with others
  • Network, network, network! Use social media to your advantage, and seize opportunities to get face time with academics and colleagues.
    • Understand your place in the hierarchy. As a graduate student you have limited power and/or influence. How much this matters day-to-day depends on faculty. Some may see themselves as your peers, others may see themselves as your overlords. Know how to spot the difference quickly.
    • Understand the ranking system (hierarchy) of faculty in higher ed. I had no idea going in there were so many levels.
    • Start practicing networking ASAP, ideally at your undergrad university. Some professors can help you get into fellowships/programs that will help you get into grad school (and they can help you start research projects). Also, mentors at your undergrad may have good relationships with professors at your graduate program of choice, so their recommendation may add more weight to your app. Admission to a grad school is not solely based on merit, unfortunately.
  • Don’t overlook your peers--people at the same ranks as you (either at your own institution or at others). Network with people at your level at conferences and don’t ignore them for the “stars”--eventually the “stars” will retire and your generation of scholars will be the new leaders. Your fellow graduate students will be the people that you serve on committees with, co-author papers with, etc. Ask graduate students at other institutions to join you on a conference panel, for instance.
    • This should not be under-estimated: no matter how you feel about people in the present, those you encounter in gradschool/at conferences will be your peers for the rest of your professional life. Some might be employed by your institution. Never underestimate the power of professional courtesy (and the long-life of casual discourtesy, or, worse, drama) even if you can't see the connections right now.
  • Cultivate goodwill:
    • Send follow-up notes via email when you meet someone at a conference. You never know when someone you meet, even casually, will be the person who reviews your article or grant ro tenure case.
    • Send thank you notes (email is fine) when someone helps you out.
    • Don’t get involved in departmental (or institutional or disciplinary) drama. There will be gossip. There will be feuds. People may try to confide in you to get you on their side. Keep your head down and try to remain neutral.
    • I'm not sure this is a fair comment. A lot of drama stems from the treatment of women (for example) in a discipline or the treatment of graduate students. While we shouldn't feed the trolls, we should also take a stand if the situation calls for it.
  • ALWAYS give your professors good marks on their end-of-semester course evaluations. Whether they are or are not tenured, were awful and they know it, no good will come of a poor review. They know who you are, and after a semester they can easily tell who wrote what.
  • Find a place within your department that you and your cohort can chill. See if you can get people to invest in a coffee pot; this will keep you from going out to buy coffee. Bring snacks from home to prevent ordering out (if you forget, always remember the hunger pangs will pass). Walk everywhere as much as possible. Most schools don't have a dress code, but dress for success anyway; you'll feel more confident, others will take you more seriously, and it'll make the program look put together. Take advantage of free things the university offers, whether it's food, movies, game nights, and don't worry about what others will think of you. Most importantly, don't assume that you will be worth more on the job market after you graduate just because you have a master's or PhD. Reality check: you're not.