Ethical and time constraints equal network failure

Researchers' scruples about networking may be hampering their careers, a report has suggested.

April 5, 2012

Nearly 500 researchers from a variety of universities completed a questionnaire on networking devised by Vitae, the research careers organisation.

The resulting report, Straight Talking: The Role of Non-specialist Advice and Networking in Career Conversations for Researchers, reveals that although only 15 per cent of respondents do not feel the need to network, many are held back from doing so by a variety of factors.

Lack of time is cited by 48 per cent of respondents, while lack of self-confidence is blamed by 36 per cent.

Nearly half have approached people they did not know at academic conferences and seminars, but less than a quarter have targeted senior academics.

The report quotes one respondent as saying that professors are often "too busy" to speak with junior academics at conferences.

The scholar goes on to claim that trying to initiate conversation is "demeaning", "hard work" and "quite embarrassing really".

Ethical concerns about networking are cited by 32 per cent of respondents. The report says this reflects some researchers' "highly restrictive" view of the practice as "an exploitative and forced activity rather than a collaborative and naturally occurring one".

The study also speculates that the solitary nature of academic work and universities' bureaucratic structures lead researchers to believe that academic jobs are distributed in an entirely "rational and autonomous manner" on the basis of research records rather than personal relationships.

"So asking people for help might be seen as a sign of weakness, and networking as an underhand way of getting jobs that, on objective criteria, you should not get," it says.

The study urges researchers to make better use of contacts outside their immediate environments and not to shy away from sending information about their work to senior figures in their fields.

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