Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pondering Universal Arrogance

My post on networking in academia got some fire from an unexpected direction: Will Moore.  He suggested that I (and a few others) was tone deaf about networking.  Will is a friend and a sharp person (not all my friends are sharp, not all sharp people are my friends)* so I take his concerns quite seriously.  Also, I am self-aware enough to know that I can be oblivious if that makes any sense.

* Will's post makes me want to qualify everything I write.
His essential argument is that my experience (and the other folks listed in his post) is not universal, and I should probably not offer unsolicited advice that ignores my privileged position.  So, let me first consider the advice I offered to see if it is universal-ish or not and I will ponder my privileged-ness in another post (since this one is long enough)  Of course, explaining any of my thinking risks man-splaining, but I am a man and I explain.  Crap, I am so screwed.  Alas, I am not because I am privileged.  Oh, double crap.

My post at the Duck developed what I had written here and at PSR just a bit.  The major points are:
  1. Networking with peers and with juniors can be as/more rewarding than networking upwards to the stars.
  2. Go to the receptions thrown by the department that gave you your PhD and talk to the next generation of folks, not just the profs and your friends from grad school.
  3. Go to business meetings of the various sections at APSA/ISA.  
  4. Poker and other activities.
  5. I was mostly looking for interesting interactions and not being very strategic.
Ok, would I advocate these things any differently if I was behind a veil of ignorance where I didn't know who I was and where I came from (trying to shed all of that pesky privilege for a moment in an amateurish Rawlsian way)?

  1. I do think that networking with junior/peers has heaps of value for everyone, not just me.  I think there is a universal logic to this piece of advice, especially for those who are shy about networking (which was the intended audience).  Indeed, this post has a semi-mathematical logic to it.  And math is ... universal, right?  On the other hand, Christian Davenport does a nice job of arguing that one can and should network up.  But I am not sure how universal his experience is either, since Christian is not very shy or reticent.  He may have been some time ago but that is not my experience of him (crap, I am generalizing from my experience again).
  2. Ah, this is the one that reeks of privilege--as networking at the UCSD reception every year is something I can do but others cannot.  I went to a top ten program, so I have a super-sexy label, and I have connections to the makes and shakers in the profession.  People who get Phds from programs with lesser reputations do not have these advantages, and I didn't think about that when I recommended going to such receptions. I get that.  I was surprised to learn this morning that the 1993 National Research Council had UCSD ranked at 9!  So, damn I must be privileged.  However, as I will explain in my next post, there are some offsetting factors.  Still, this advice may not be so universal, although I still think it makes sense for people to meet with those from their programs as they have a common background which makes the first conversations easier.
  3. Business meetings?  Again, pretty universal--as women and minorities have the opportunity to take part in such stuff, and have become officers in ISA/ASPA sections.  I did parlay my ability to write web-pages back in the old days to get more involved early on.  My skills sucked but existed, which put me ahead somewhat.
  4. Poker?  Ah yes, that was a privileged institution.  It was a male only game for a few years, which made me uncomfortable.  Now, we have a handful of women play in the floating poker games at ISA/APSA.  The stakes are incredibly small, so it is not a rich person's game, although the most well paid prof who plays does tend to use that status to win a few more pots.  Still, any game like this relies on word of mouth and having connections already.  Other activities, such as the soccer and ultimate games at APSA this year and ISA in in 2012 in San Diego, are more inclusive.  I cannot speak for the soccer folks, but I just want bodies on the field--I want to have enough folks to play.  And ultimate has long been a sport played with males and females on the field at the same time.  Indeed, the least sexist teams are the ones that excel in ultimate.  But ultimate is a white-dominated sport played mostly (or at least best) at the elite schools.  Neither soccer nor ultimate are really available networking opportunities for those who are not athletically inclined or differently abled.  So, Will has a point here that these sorts of networking opportunities are not universal.  
  5. Not being very strategic....  Ah, I think this is the point that really peeves Will--that privileged folks can afford to be random or less than instrumental since they are born (hatched from a phd program) with a silver networking node in their mouth (sorry, couldn't come up with a better substitute for spoon).  That several men with big pedigrees could say "hey, chillax", "don't sweat the networking" is what infuriates Will, as far as I can tell.  In my defense, my point was not to not think about networking but how to figure out how to do it with less stress and anxiety.
I do think Will is right (and Laura Soberg in a post to go up soon at Duck) to argue that the value of networking varies for people, that our business is not entirely a meritocracy--that connections matter, not just the value of our ideas.  I also think Will is wrong to lump me in the "networking does not matter" crowd.

Will's post gets to something I have been accused of being: arrogant.  I am far more comfortable thinking that I am narcissistic than arrogant.  Why? Because I am self-centered but I don't think I am better than other people, which is how I think of arrogance.  Indeed, I am fully confident that there are plenty of people who do what I do far better than I do it.  There are better lecturers, better teachers, better writers, better researchers, smarter scholars, more productive scholars, and so on.  I feel the imposter syndrome quite strongly.

Yet I am apparently confident enough to offer unsolicited advice here at the Spew, occasionally at Duck of Minvera and at Political Science Rumors and elsewhere.  Why?  Because I have been there... sort of.  Yes, I had a privileged start--Oberlin and then UCSD.  But the road has not been easy or inevitable.  I got to enjoy two years as a visiting instructor at a place that said halfway through the first year--we don't want you.  Being a dead man walking for 1.5 years at the start of a career had its downsides.  The liberal arts colleges that I had imagined as my destiny rarely had any interest in me. It took me three years to get a tenure track position at a place that was ranked 92nd or so out of 108 Phd programs in 1993.   And the first decision TTU made after I took the job was to say I could not pursue a post-doc competition in which I was a finalist (holy anti-networking!).  TTU was among the least connected academic spots in the US--nobody happened to go through Lubbock on the way to somewhere, nor did we have heaps of resources at the time to bring people in for talks (some of that happened after I left).  It took me several years and a bunch of job talks (some excellent, some awful) to get another job, which offered me a paycut.... which I took.  And yet here I am, endowed chair holder, published author of some books, blogger extraordinaire, finalist in twitterfightclub 2013, and all that.  I can declare success.  So, given this path, I think I have something to say about how to be successful int

I do have one last quibble with Will Moore's argument.  He is an adviser to graduate students, I am an adviser to graduate students.  Advising is a job requirement.  So, what do we tell them about networking if we do not study the stuff (ain't got time to read books on academic networking), if not based on our experiences and those of our previous students? 

What have I learned from all of this?  Will I stop blogging?  Will I not post unsolicited advice at Duck of Minerva and elsewhere?  Nay.  And I don't think that was Will's intent.  Will I think a bit before posting about whether my advice applies universally? Sometimes.  I think of my blogging as thinking aloud and not all of my thoughts will be fully formed even after I read and revise the post a time or two.  I do take seriously the reality that I am privileged, but I don't think I will ever live every day consciously aware of the implications of said privileged-ness.  I am just not that diligent. 

In my next post, I will explore my privileges--real and exaggerated.  Good times!

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