Best practices: What organized sections can do to enhance academic networking

The problem with "networking" is that it places most of the burden on the "networker".  For reasons cited in many of the posts, it can be difficult for networkers to get into this process.  What can institutions do to facilitate the process? The political science blogs have lit up lately about the value of academic networking.  David Lake has offered his view from the senior professor perspective.  I've offered mine from the mid-career Associate Professor's perspective.  Sara McLaughlin Mitchell has put up a post about the special challenges women face in networking.  Will Moore noted that there is no one universal way to do academic networking and that a lot rests on considerations of the person's race, sex, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics.  As others have already pointed out, I agree that no amount of networking will make up for bad research.  But all of these posts do also hit the value and indeed the necessity of netoworking and note that career success and personal well being is not just about doing good research.

I've been a member of several sections in APSA and MPSA and I've noticed some best practices carried out by organized sections and individual policy entrepreneurs that work.

1.  Reach out to junior people.  The Law and Courts section of APSA has been very proactive about this. A kind word from one of the more senior people inviting a grad student or Assistant Professor to a reception or other event makes a difference.

When Wendy Martinek was section chair at MPSA several years ago, she created a book panel for my first book that was coordinated by Mark Graber who invited the other panelists.  It was an unexpected and generous gesture especially since I am not well known or at a fancy school.  When I served as MPSA section chair several years later, I did the same and went out of my way to look for a younger scholar whose book had just come out who could use the exposure.  Not that you should never have a book panel for senior scholars, but senior people don't need those author-meets-critics book panels as much as pre-tenure people. 

2.  Reach out to graduate students.  The newly formed Migration and Citizenship section has a graduate student member on the governing council.  This is a great idea and the only section I've seen do this.  The graduate student member, elected with the leadership slate of candidates, is working on programing that is of special interest to grad students, some of which is networking opportunities. 

Virtually every section at APSA and every other political science association has a graduate student paper prize or dissertation prize.  Why not put a graduate student member on those prize committees?

3.  Include new members immediately   When sections gain new members, they should integrate them immediately and put them to work on a committee.  When I joined Law and Society years ago, Howard Schweiber not only introduced me to a bunch of fellow LAS members in Chicago and at my new university but immediately stuck me on a paper prize committee.  The many committees of each organized section always need staffing.  Rather than going to the same people over and over, the sections should try to rotate the membership on these committees especially by making an effort to include new members.

Similarly, although I am new to the federalism research, the Federalism Section of APSA immediately put me on a prize committee.  When the sections do that, it makes the new person feel immediately involved, invested, and connected.  Put the new people to work quickly!

4.  The "Constitutional Schmooze" model of conference.  One of the most fun and intellectually invigorating conferences I attended was a mini-conference organized by Mark Graber.  The conference is unique in it's organization.  It invites ten law professors and ten political scientists to a location for 2 days of intensive discussions.  The invitees are a mix of senior and junior people.  The conference that originated with Mark Tushnet has now been taken over by Graber and others and runs regionally with the east coast, midwest, and west coast schmooze.  Here's an example of a recent east coast schmooze.

Graber explained that the reason he invited both law professors and political scientists is not only because the two groups don't usually talk to each other or attend the same conferences, but that the law professors wouldn't know who the senior political scientists were to be scared of them and vice versa with the junior political science people not being intimidated by the senior law professors to hold back from critiquing their work.  This model worked because the group was small, there was a good mix of junior and senior people, and there was great forethought about who to invite based on the chosen topic (that year it was constitutional interpretation).

Others like Karthick Ramakrishnan have a version of this model in a program called The Politics of Race, Immigration, and Ethnicity Consortium (PRIEC).

Like the Constitutional Schmooze series, PRIEC is a series of small meetings bringing together graduate students and more established scholars and the meetings rotate among different academic institutions that host. Unlike the Schmooze, PRIEC actually has the attendees present their ongoing research to get feedback.  There are many other groups that run mini-conferences like the Constitutional Schmooze and the PRIEC that center around different research questions and topics. 

These smaller conferences are much less intimidating to younger scholars and grad students than APSA and MPSA and they provide realistic opportunities to interact with senior scholars.  The problem is that they only come into being through the huge amount of work of a few organizers.  Perhaps academic departments could volunteer to host one of these conferences or create a similar one.  It would be an investment of resources for sure, but it would get the ball rolling and that institution could hand it off to another department the following year.

Networking is not easy.  APSA, other political science organizations, and organized sections can do their share as can other smaller groups of researchers.  This is hopefully just the beginning of a list of best practices to make the networking process smoother.