It would be lovely to think that, when it comes to an academic career, your work speaks for itself. It was a shock for me to realise that, as with most other jobs, you need to get out there and meet people. It’s a brave new collaborative world out there, so networking is a crucial skill (one I still struggle with, but I’m working on the “fake it till you make it” principle! Maybe I should try something different…). It’s always the people who get out there who do well, finding someone to work with on a paper or bid, or even proving themselves so keen that they get that elusive fellowship or lectureship. No one ever realises how important it is until they first realise they’ve missed out on an opportunity.
One of the best ways to start is to attend seminars and lectures within your own institution. You would be surprised how few people make use of such fantastic resources! There is probably already a lot of stuff happening in your own departments or centres, but the trend these days is for interdisciplinary research, so make sure that you keep your eye on what’s happening elsewhere. It might be that there’s something happening within your faculty, like APL’s fantastic public lecture series (next up: ‘The Credit Crisis as a Problem in the Sociology of Knowledge’, which crosses so many disciplines I can’t begin to list them all); or the new ELLLs ‘Medical Humanities’ reading group. With work happening on anything from the sociology of renewables, to the issue of obesogenic urban design, inter-disciplinary is clearly where it’s at!
Academics can sometimes be seen as loners, beavering away on their own specialism, but it’s important to be collegiate, to get out there and meet people, and to show willing. Who knows what kinds of ideas will be sparked when you take the time to engage with something a little bit different?