Skip to content

On the importance of networks in graduate school and beyond (and the challenges of switching disciplines and fields)

NetworksBy all measures, I’m pretty well networked now. I have a globally popular blog and Twitter account (follow me there if you want, @raulpacheco). People from all over the world read my blog, regularly use my resources in their teaching and their own teaching, and I have solid networks across multiple fields and disciplines (political science, human geography, public policy, public administration, qualitative methods, mixed methods).

It wasn’t always like this, and I wanted to write about this, because my current situation (extremely well networked) was far from what I experienced as a graduate student. I woke up this morning (September 4th, 2022) pondering about the role and value of networks in graduate school and post-PhD, and how I did not have “the correct networks” leading to my studying a Masters and a PhD.

I studied chemical engineering as an undergraduate. From that vantage point, I knew more or less where to go if I wanted to do a Masters (Instituto Tecnológico de Celaya, of course) leading to a PhD. The Tec de Celaya’s chemical engineering department is top-notch, and at the time I was finishing my undergraduate, ALL faculty members were Mexicans with foreign PhDs. I had met several of them through events I organized as a student (I brought them to my university to speak), so I knew that if I wanted to do my PhD in process control, I would have to go to University of Wisconsin Madison (where Arturo Jimenez did his PhD).

I switched fields for my Masters (economics of technical change), and for my PhD (human geography and political science). This meant that I had ZERO networks in any of the 3 fields. I joined programmes literally walking in without knowing anyone and very little about the actual disciplines I was about to study. Moving from natural sciences and engineering to economics was a shocker, but entering political science and human geography absolutely shattered my understanding of the world and how I was supposed to study phenomena. They’re different! In chemical engineering I knew what I needed to do to analyze a chemical reaction. I had blueprints, equations to analyze distillation towers, design chemical plants. In political science, human geography and economics, analysis meant something entirely different.

Paper, pen, HP TouchPad, coffee, scone. All important tools of the trade #academia

No networks, no tools either.

So, for my Masters and PhD, not only did I not have the right networks, I didn’t have the right tools either. I entered completely unrelated fields and had to be fully retrained to understand description, analysis and many other concepts in an entirely different way.


So when I see a social scientist (say a political science PhD) who did an undergraduate degree in political science, followed up by a Masters AND a PhD in the same discipline and sometimes even the same field, I immediately think “you moved within the same discipline, the challenges you faced are completely different from those crossing disciplines in such a stark way”.

Certainly, my knowledge of chemical engineering and economics enhances what I study and shapes how I conduct research as a political scientist and human geographer, but I say this now as a tenured, senior professor with a pretty decent publishing career.

As a graduate student, I was TERRIFIED.

So, my experience also colors my approach to mentoring and teaching students, and makes me more inclined to continue writing my blog and sharing resources others may need. Because God knows I sure needed them, didn’t have them during graduate school!

You can share this blog post on the following social networks by clicking on their icon.

Posted in academia.

Tagged with , , .

0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.