In February of 2020, Dorie Clark wrote an article for Harvard Business Review titled “Build a Network — Even When You Don’t Think You Need One.” Clark’s main argument is that everyone — even the “lone wolf,” academic type — benefits from having a network of humans with whom they can collaborate. The last section of the her article addresses identifying a vehicle for networking, and I’d like to suggest that various online platforms and social media outlets are excellent networking vehicles. The following is a synopsis of the four digital platforms of networking I have found useful, as well as an outline of some of the pros and cons of those platforms.
The most obvious networking platform is LinkedIn. The “About” page on their site boasts “690+ million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.” Their company mission relates to connectivity across any and all professions. I have found that this platform is useful for my academic networking, too. Specifically, it’s a great way to find other people who work on my campus and who I may not interact with regularly. It’s a simple thing, but it helps me remember names by pairing people’s photos with their names. When I see my coworkers flick across my computer screen, I’m more likely to greet them by name next time we are at a large event. I’ve received a few cold messages from people looking to hire someone in my area with my skillset, but not enough to write home about.
However, to get the full benefits of the platform, one has to pay for a Premium membership and I’m not currently confident it’s worth the expense.
ResearchGate was designed by two physicians and a computer scientist who value collaboration and wanted to design a platform for the exchange of research, specifically. If you’re interested in using the platform, you create a profile and fill in information about your research and work experience. It’s a venue for finding other researchers in your field, who you can “follow” so you get updates if they post new work. What I value most — the profile functions a lot like a digital CV and providing DOI (digital object identifier) information as hyperlinks is very easy.
It also suggests jobs based on your information, but my impression is that the algorithm is not sophisticated enough to actually identify jobs I want. I’m wary of how the site calculates stats and scores, and researching the copyright information for each of my publications to upload full texts when possible feels like quite a chore.
The platform’s mission is “to make every scholarly and scientific paper available for free on the internet and to enhance academic discussion and collaboration.” In my experience, this platform does a really good job of suggesting papers I might be interested in reading. It’s also an easy way to keep tabs on what your colleagues on working on.
Academia.edu shares the cons of the two prior platforms: it wants you to pay for a Premium membership and it also has an analytics element that racks and stacks research productivity, though in a less mysterious way. To get you to subscribe to their Premium membership, they email you regularly and notify you of your “mentions.” The “mentions” feature makes the Premium membership especially tempting, except that some of the mentions they notify you about aren’t real — when I last looked into it, several of them popped up because someone had published a conference schedule with my name it.
Drumroll for my favorite networking platform…
If you’re willing to invest the time into figuring it out, Twitter is a great place to find academics who share your interests. I’m my experience, people will tweet about:
- recent publications
- upcoming talks and presentations
- calls for papers, applications, proposals and panels
- collaboration opportunities
- current events
Thanks to Twitter, I found myself in a reading group with strangers who share some of my theoretical interests. I’ve also come across the work of many people in my field, who live across the globe. If I share a new publication on Twitter, I find that it generates traffic because people who follow me on that platform are likely to be interested in what I’m doing.
The major con for Twitter cannot be overstated — cyberbullying, trolling, and doxxing are real. This digital platform allows for lots of people to run anonymous accounts and that inflict real harm on users, so proceed with caution.
Regardless of which platform is right for you, cultivating a network is part of being successful at what we do. After all, as one of my advisors recently pointed out, what’s the point of writing things if no one will ever read them? While it may not always be fun, cultivating an audience is part of our work as researchers.