It used to be that mothers counseled their kids not to brag. But in academe, as in the rest of our Facebook- and Twitter-obsessed society, the days of genteel modesty are over. In an essay in Inside Higher Ed, Rachel Connelly and Kristen Ghodsee of Bowdoin College advise that “one of the most important things” a young would-be faculty member can do to advance a career is to get the word about publications out to influential senior members of his or her field.
Letting aspring academics think that mere merit, hard work, excellence, and achievement will bring the advancement they seek is a “cruel disservice,” write Connelly and Ghodsee, who recommend much more focused and strategic efforts toward this end. As evidence, they mention an economics study that found that gender did not affect the ratings or acceptances of submitted manuscripts, but “‘mutual affiliation’ of author and journal editors and co-editors” did. In other words, you’ll have a better chance of being published if the people making the decisions know you and your work.
To get attention where it counts, they suggest informing important figures in your field about your publications by sending them hard copies, accompanied by handwritten notes telling how helpful you have found the big shot’s own work and asking for advice on how you can do even better. It’s best, of course, if said big shot is actually cited in the article. Indeed, they write, “you should be citing all the senior people in your field, even if their work is tangential to your own. Citation is a way of demonstrating that you know your field and you know who the key thinkers are.” You can never tell, they note, when such a figure “will be asked to referee your work.”
Up-to-date personal and faculty websites are, of course, also de rigeur for the ambitious academic, they note. They mention some useful strategies and list helpful websites for uploading citations to your articles. And, of course, the old-fashioned tactics of attending conferences and giving talks still work. Connelly and Ghodsee even suggest getting your name around by applying for lots of grants. Even if you don’t win, influential people will read your proposals and may be impressed.
Some of the people who commented on the essay suggest that currying favor with headliners in the way described carries risks and can sometimes border on — or even cross the border to — the unethical. But the stars of your field whom you’re trying to impress probably didn’t reach the heights by being shy about their accomplishments. Using honest methods to let them know about yours is, Connelly and Ghodsee argue, fairly likely to pay off.