How to (start to) make friends and influence people

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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?


4 thoughts on “How to (start to) make friends and influence people

    Jeff said:
    01/03/2011 at 10:56 pm

    I wondered if you’ve come across anything specific about ‘the sociology of renewables’? I couldn’t find anything on the Uni site that matched the exact phrase.


      Lorna Dargan responded:
      02/03/2011 at 11:43 am

      It’s a very interesting area! It came to mind because one of my former colleagues from Architecture, Planning and Landscape has published a lot on this subject, and I think that it’s a burgeoning topic of interest. I meet quite a lot of people who are interested in renewables from both sociological and political perspectives, but it often seems that the main focus (particularly when it comes to jobs) is on science and engineering. The Careers Adviser and Information teams are currently working to redress this balance!

      Anyway, if you’re interested in learning more, you could always check out my former colleague’s work – Dr. Claire Haggett at Edinburgh University (first link below). I would also keep your eye on what’s happening in disciplines such as geography, planning and sociology, as well as media, as there’s some interesting stuff going on regarding media representations of environmental issues. One of my other former colleague, Dr. Geoff Vigar, is interested in media representations of transport issues (second link). Hope that helps!


        Jeff said:
        07/03/2011 at 9:56 am

        Thanks for the references. My sociology research has drifted into green consumption, so media representation is part of that. I hope you’re right about interdisciplinarity. When jobs in renewables are almost entirely in science and engineering, there is a danger that these disciplines, through being less connected, become alienated and thereby much less relevant and supported than they could be.


    Lorna Dargan responded:
    11/03/2011 at 10:42 am

    I think that the role of social science in understanding green technology is becoming increasingly better recognised. I remember attending a conference at Durham a few years ago, which brought together enginners; scientists and social scientists, in an effort to understand the opportunities for cross-disiplinary research. I think that was led by Harriet Bulkeley.

    I had started work before I left APL on media representation, and found it very helpful to tap into some of the work being done in English and Media Studies here at the university – might be worth a look. That said, the ‘cultural turn’ in social science must be knocking on for 15 years old by now, so I’m sure there’s more out there!


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