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On the importance of networking in academic settings

I am currently participating in the National Meeting of the Thematic Network for Poverty and Urban Development in Mexico (luckily, being held in Aguascalientes, where I am based right now). This meeting is a self-organizing group of Mexican scholars (or foreign scholars who now teach at Mexican universities) and sponsored by the National Research Council of Mexico (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia). You can read some of my tweets about the meeting using the hashtag #MxPovertyUD.

Red Tematica de Investigacion sobre Pobreza y Desarrollo Urbano

While my work on poverty is rather preliminary (I am currently working on a water and poverty energy project with Dr. Hisham Zerriffi from the Liu Institute for Global Issues at UBC), I was delighted to be invited to this event, because at the very core, my research is driven by a philosophy focused on poverty alleviation and narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. What this meeting reminded me of was that in academia, as in any other professional activity, you are who you know. And by this I mean, it IS very important to attend conferences, seminars, scholarly meetings and a broad variety of forums to network with other scholars, or with policy makers who might be also the users of our research.

Red Tematica de Investigacion sobre Pobreza y Desarrollo Urbano

I do consider myself a public intellectual. I strongly believe that a large part of my role is to share my research widely (hence the #MyResearch hashtag, although sadly it has experienced some hashtag pollution and interference). Networking in policy circles or academic settings enables me to share my research with more people, and by introducing myself in person to other colleagues, I often find new avenues, methodological approaches and/or suggestions of case studies.

One of the pieces of (unsolicited) advice I always give my students is to network, network, network. Attend seminars, even if they’re not in the core area of what you are studying. Attend conferences. Present your work. Be a part of policy discussion roundtables. Participate in public forums where politicians can be reached more easily.

I not only encourage my students, but I often build those network relationships with policy makers and other scholars myself. Last year, for example, I brought with me a group of students from my POLI350A class (Public Policy) to a public debate where mayoral candidates for Vancouver were debating. After the debate, we sat down at a lounge and discussed what we learned from the process.

Another strategy I use is to bring the network connections to my students. Every term, I brought guest lecturers (amongst these, policy makers like Minister of Advanced Education in British Columbia Naomi Yamamoto, or other scholars I respect, like Dr. Janni Aragon from University of Victoria’s Political Science department, or practitioners, such as Mat Wright, who is a political communications advisor). By bringing these folks to meet my students, I enable small, one-on-one conversations that might derive either in an internship, a directed study seminar or even just a personal connection that can be of use for my students in the future.

Networking is perhaps one of the most shunned activities in academia, but I can’t emphasize enough its importance. For students and for professors alike. Networking enables academics like me to better fulfil our role as public intellectuals as well, I believe.

Posted in bridging academia and practice.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Advice for my #UBC would-be students as you come back to school – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on September 4, 2012

    [...] Network, network, network. I will fully admit that the minute I learned that over 45% of the Spaniard youth (18-25) is [...]

  2. Youth unemployment, teaching hire-able skills and the duty of a professor – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on December 2, 2012

    [...] bureaucrats and politicians to guest lecture in my courses because I know from experience that networking is a key pathway to gaining [...]

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