Phil Agre’s Networking on the Network, which I’ve mentioned before, is an amazingly thorough article on how to succeed in academia, from the grad student phase through the first ten years, at least, of having a “real job”. One of the reasons I appreciate my PhD advisor so much is that he actually taught me a lot of this without my even realising I was learning it. But the more I learn about navigating academia the more new territories appear.

Right now I’m finishing the last revision of my paper on distributed narrative for the AoIR Annual. Turns out I’ve done exactly what Agre would suggest – identify an emerging theme, give it a name, and start by writing a paper:

One way to get started on this is to write a (short or long) survey paper that describes the pattern you see emerging, puts a name on it, sketches in a sympathetic way how various projects (your own and others’) seem to fit within it, explains what can be learned by looking at things this way, extracts a set of axioms or principles or methods or organizing concepts, and outlines some suggested lines of future research. Another approach is simply to write a paper that explains your own research in terms of the emerging pattern and then, as a secondary matter, explains how the other projects fit in. And a third approach is to attempt to organize a workshop or other small-scale professional meeting around the theme you’ve begun to articulate.

Looking at this, I need to work on “extracting a set of axioms or principles or methods or organizing concepts”, don’t I. The rest of my paper pretty much does what Agre suggests.

Following this are detailed instructions on how to arrange a workshop on the topic – by a fairly long-winded but very sympathetic process of asking people their advice and not presenting a fait accompli. After this should try to edit a book on the “emerging theme”, preferably inviting a senior colleague to do the diplomacy while you, as the junior, do all the work. And so on and so forth.

It sounds kind of cynical, but if you read it, it’s actually very much weighted towards community-building, inclusiveness and the social networking that’s a necessary part of ideas and, sure, careers. I rather like it. And it will take me twenty or thirty years to do everything it suggests. That’s probably OK – I still have 33 years and a few months left to do this, after all, if retirement age remains 67.


THIRTY-FOUR YEARS! Good grief, there’s certainly no rush!

1 Comment

  1. jean

    I agree, phil is an unsung hero for writing and distributing “networking on the netork”. – it’s helped me out a lot. Can i just point out, though, how bitter it is for me to read your tastefully hidden age-angst, considering I don’t even have a PhD yet…

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