An Anti-Networker’s Manifesto

Every year, I visit a conference organized by my professional association in Canada. Once, I met a colleague, let’s call her Claudia, who went out of her way to be nice to me and kept suggesting we hang out together and keep in touch afterwards. We did, and during the next year’s conference, Claudia was even nicer to me. The year after that, however, Claudia saw me at the conference again and pretended that I didn’t exist. Gone was her interest in my research and her liking for me. When I approached her, she looked bored and used the first possible pretext to run away.

“What’s happening?” I wondered. “Why is she behaving so strangely?”

And then I realized that Claudia had no interest in me any longer because, instead of a tag saying “Cornell University”, I now wore a tag with a much more modest name of my current state school. On the next day, when she saw me having drinks at the bar with the leaders of our association, however, Claudia’s affection for me skyrocketed yet again.

“Oh, it’s my friend Clarissa!” she announced, approaching us. “Clarissa, please introduce me to these people. I always wanted to meet the leaders of our association!”

And then I finally got it. Claudia never had any genuine interest in me. She was simply networking. My relevance to her depended completely on whether she found me useful.

I was flooded with intolerable vicarious shame. My colleague’s behavior was so blatant, so obviously insincere that I was ashamed on her behalf. At that moment, I decided once and for all that, come what may, I would never network. Here is the result of my musings on networking, my Anti-Networker’s Manifesto:

1. I will never network. I will only meet, talk to and keep in touch with people who genuinely interest me.

2. If my professional success depends on networking, then I don’t need this kind of success and this kind of profession.

3. I will avoid people who treat others on the basis of their usefulness.

4. Seeing people as professional assets is for those who have no other assets to speak of.

5. Networking entails blurring the line between the public and the private, which is always fraught with danger.

6. We spend a lot of time working as it is. Letting work invade my personal life is more than I get paid for.

7. Networking entails calculating people’s value as if they were objects. But if you trade in people as if they were objects, what does that make you?

8. Selling friendship for possible financial benefits is in no way different than selling sex.

I’ve seen people who are obsessed with “making useful connections.” It’s never a pretty picture, which is why I refuse to join their ranks. And the funny thing is that I have never seen anybody who uses others in this way achieve any kind of professional success. They hustle and bustle, making themselves look ridiculous to everybody else by their boundless desire to accumulate potentially usable people. Yet, the results of all this industriousness are usually quite pathetic.

P.S. By networking I don’t mean, of course, things like creating a database of companies that are hiring in your area. I mean very specifically engaging is friendly interactions with people with the sole purpose of using them for professional and financial advancement.

13 thoughts on “An Anti-Networker’s Manifesto”

  1. Oho, I feel like showing this to my mother’s boyfriend. He wanted me to go to this disgustingly prestigious private school which he’d graduated from himself years ago. He boasted that “the type of connections you can make at [school’s name] can help you out for the rest of your life!”
    I responded with two quips from one of my favourite TV shows, Daria, “So why study when you can network?” and “I already go to a school where people think they’re cooler than me, why would I want to go to one where they think they’re smarter than me too?” But my parents made me apply anyways, and I wasn’t accepted. It’s been about five years since I graduated high school, and I think I’m doing just fine without having to resort to elbow rubbing. Can’t say the same about my mom’s boyfriend, whose only talents seem to consist of name-dropping and elbow rubbing, and has no success of his own to brag about.

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  2. I guess you will have to define networking. I think that if you are an honest, genuine human being, you can network with individuals and still give them the respect and courtesy when the relationship does not benefit you. It does not mean you have to be friends with them, the two can be mutually exclusive.

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  3. Its nice to enjoy that comfort zone of beliefs but personally I dont think its avoidable. I was raised to believe in personal merit, my experience tells me such a belief is foolishness. I loathe the plastic case of networking and the primate social antics it promotes. We are really not more than street gangs protecting our turf. Even Sunday special once a week idolaters are networking for a better inquisition. Rubbing elbows with the lord amd networking their way to heaven. See you there Ill keep a harp warm for you.

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  4. Funny how words can mean different things to different people.

    To me meeting, talking to and keeping touch with people who interest me, or who share common interests with me, is the very definition of networking.

    What you call “networking” I call “brown-nosing”.

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  5. Okay Clarissa, so you don’t think the same way than ricketson. He says:

    “In the context of academic research, “networking” means going to meetings, conferences, and departmental coffee hours and talking with other scientists about their work… or their administrative headaches, or whatever. Everyone understands that they are on the job. Also, we mainly interact as peers — at worst it is “student-professor”, but even then the professor recognizes that the student has his own, independent research project. Sometimes people are looking for jobs, sometimes people are recruiting, but that all just comes off as part of the normal academic career path.”

    http://anagory.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/quotebag-66/#comment-342

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    1. I think it’s all about motivation. Are you going out for coffee with people simply because you dig their company or because you think you will be able to use them later on?

      As for looking for jobs and recruiting, if it’s done right then it’s not done through meetings and coffee hours. In academia, there is a very strictly defined multi-stage process of applying for positions. I got both my professorial positions by following the procedure. Of course, there are people who got their jobs by sucking up to important academics during coffee hours. I, however, view such people with disgust.

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  6. Yet another anti-networking manifesto:

    In this case it’s me riffing on a screed (actually a howl) by one elise, blogging at Robert Fuller’s Breaking Ranks blog back in 2006. The comments are some of my favorite examples of what I’ve posted online, and the original article also resonates deeply with me. Some may read parts of it as privilege scratching or bellyaching, but I hear a legitimate complaint in there. The post in question no longer appears at the blog in question, but said blog is covered by Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.5)” license. All of the posts by elisa no longer appear in the blog. Hopefully that’s not the result of someone pulling rank. 🙂 In the spirit of “CC BY-NC-ND 2.5”, I re-posted it as a zipfile here.

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