An Introvert’s Guide to Networking

Irrespective of how clichéd this title is, for quite some time now, I have been meaning to write about the role of networking in my life as a “budding” scholar (or for any scholar, if I may), who happens to be an introvert. I have been thinking a lot about what I need to do professionally as a researcher and academic to be taken more seriously. Yes, I know–less puns. But, other than that, perhaps a list of strengths and weaknesses that I need to be focusing on?

The more I think about this, the more I realize the value of networking with other researchers and socializing. I know some people are naturally good at it. Unfortunately, I would categorize that as a weakness for me. I am awkward; although I wear my awkwardness with pride. And I consider myself better at writing than speaking, especially when English is not my first language (and not even second for that matter). This often puts me in even more awkward situations, especially when it comes to communicating with strangers.

So, to deal with this challenge I had identified, like any decent scholar, I started to make a list of possible steps or changes that I need to make to overcome this weakness. Therefore, I started with a suggestion I saw in the following Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy, where she highlighted this idea of “faking it till you become it.” In other words, pretending that you are good at networking, and doing things that someone who is good at networking or socializing would do. Eventually, and arguably, you become this person. Now, I don’t quite accept the validity of this study it. I have my doubts. But, there was nothing for me to lose. So, I tried her suggestions.

I realized that if I wished to pretend to be good at networking, I might need a frame of reference–a list of traits of a person who is good at this. Because if I knew what I needed to do to become better at networking, I might have just gotten better at it by now. I clearly did not know. Therefore, I decided that I will form an imaginary person who has these traits that I desire to have. Then, I will pretend to be that person. It may sound weird at first, but it is not something radical. I recall watching Jason Alexander and Jack Black talking about a similar approach in their acting, on different occasions. They pretend to be an actor who they think would be perfect for the role they are working on, and just do whatever they think that actor would have done. If you get a kick out of Star Trek references, this can be defined as the “What Would Picard Do?” approach.

Long story short, I decided to think of academics and scholars who I have met in person, and made a medley of their qualities that I admire. I then decided to pretend how I think they will handle a situation; which in this case is networking with people.

Now, I would not bore you with details, but here is what I have learned from trying to execute this approach at an international conference:

  1. It helps losing the inhibition. The biggest obstacle when trying to meet new people, especially when these are some established names in their fields, is what would you say? My adviser once told me that there is no point being a groupie running behind big names at conferences. What is important is to follow up later. What he meant was that most of the big names in education are nice people, but they would not remember who they had met. It is better to talk about something short and substantial at first, ideally something interesting that you do, and then follow up with an email later, with better detail. In the email, you can coherently get your thoughts together. Now, all this is assuming that you wish to learn something from this person, or wish to collaborate, and are not just bugging them because of their celebrity. If this is the case, pretending to be someone who can approach such a situation can help you lose that inhibition of approach someone new or relatively famous.
  2. Rehearse and improvise. You can never be ready for any possible situation, but you can always have a few tricks up your sleeve. Getting a handful of self-introductions ready can help. How would you introduce yourself in 5 seconds? In 1 minute? If you had a dinner appointment? And so on. Then being flexible with these guidelines lets you improvise when new things come your way.
  3. Insightful comments (being useful). You don’t have to be an extrovert to be good at your job. You know your research well. If you are in sessions at conferences where you have common interests with the presenter, saying something useful and insightful can always earn you some points. This is clearly no breakthrough here, but we often tend to forget to be nice and to compliment other people’s work. If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it. Unless there is something seriously wrong with the research.
  4. Finally, promoting the brand: you. As corny as it may sound, this is what it boils down to. And this is something I have brought up in conversations with my adviser quite a few times. Modesty is something I value, and it is also something that acts as a weakness, when it comes to sharing what you do. Modest people tend to undersell themselves; and this can be bad when you are in a field when you are the brand. As scholars, when we go into the job market, we are selling our ideas and what we stand for. Our job is to convince other people that we have something substantial to say. The problem is that no one else is going to sell your ideas for you. You need to do it yourself. This is why, we sometimes need to keep modesty on simmer, and find a way to get its flavor as you promote your achievements. The balance is hard. And I think it can be developed with practice. I also think this is a skill people often lose easily. For instance, writing this post in itself is a struggle. How can I say what I genuinely mean to say without sounding precocious? Well, using the word precocious does not help.

In sum, networking and promoting oneself is hard in itself. It becomes even harder when it does not come naturally to you. If you are already good at networking and think it comes naturally to you, help those who struggle. If you are an introvert like me, and struggle with it, I hope these thoughts help you, even if slightly.

Multimodal Book Reviews

As a part of the Visual Rhetoric course taught by the awesome Danielle Nicole Devoss, last Fall, I got a chance to play with some multimodal composition and writing in my own work. I often find myself ruminating about the process of reading and understanding multimodal content such as video and online content. But lately, having swum through the discussions and readings in visual rhetoric, I could not help but further explore the process of writing and composing multimodal texts.
One of the projects that turned out to be fine examples of writing in new media was our group project where we reviewed some of the most engaging books in visual and media literacy and rhetoric. Without rambling further, please check out the website for our book reviews here, and my attempt at a multimodal book review here.

The Game is On

Part 1: The Realization

“There is no way this is possible in 4 days,” I declared, pacing up and down the living room, “No way!”

First, a series of gigantic quizzes were due in 4 days in this statistics course that I was taking. Although this was just one homework due this week, the amount of time you had to put in to reach the level of proficiency to successfully make it “bite the dust” was overwhelming. Second, several summer work assignments, including teaching and grading a course, consumed almost a quarter of my day, every day. Third, and above all, a conference deadline approached, for which I had to write a paper that I had not even started. Oh wait, funny story, I had not even started analyzing the data… no wait, I didn’t even have the data, so to speak.

In coming 4 days, I were to download, watch, and analyze 13 episodes of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and then write a paper on it for the coming AERA conference. Watching 13 episodes in 4 days was not the troubling part. To be honest, I was looking forward to it, besides writing it. It is the analysis part that daunted me.

Being a first year, going on second year, doctoral student in Educational Psychology, and coming from an engineering background, had had mixed effects on me in my first year. Where my confidence to write had increased, I still lacked the flair to approach qualitative research with necessary poise that I observed in the professional people around me. My approach was imbalanced and entangled with my other responsibilities. I was now looking at 4 days of stats, grading, and watching and coding Cosmos. The Game was On!

Part 2: The Game is On

sherlock
source: bakerstreetbabes.com

This story starts on Thursday night. The deadline to submit the article was Monday night. Not that you care, but the stats homework was due Monday morning. I divided my days based on tasks. I assigned Saturday evening and night for stats homework. This was exactly as absurd as it reads. Sunday morning and afternoon went to grading. I left Sunday evening and night to writing the paper. This gave me Monday to review and rewrite the article with the two co-authors (which includes my advisor). I must acknowledge that my planning depended solely on my assumption that my co-authors will be available on Monday. You should know that this was the time when my advisor (a) was actually the busiest I had seen him in my first year at MSU, (b) was not in East Lansing, and (c) had no idea this was coming his way. Also, the second author was way busier than I pretend here to be. This arrangement was going down, I was certain.

With Thursday night through Saturday afternoon for me to watch the 13 episodes and analyze them, I put the episodes on download without hesitation. The second thing I did was send an email to my co-authors, informing them of my devious plan. Third, I kissed my wife goodbye, checked my parachute, and jumped off the plane.

Did I mention that at this stage I did not have a qualitative research software? Well, I could not afford one, and it was too late, I was mid-air, looking for a haystack to land. “A spreadsheet it is then,” I confirmed to myself.

Watching, pausing, coding, playing, watching, and pausing. There was a lot of this going on when I got an email from my co-author.

“You don’t have to finish the study by this deadline. When (and if) this paper is accepted, then you will have to submit the final study.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I think you should check the AERA website.”

She was right. I was an idiot. This changed everything. We were now looking at preliminary coding and writing. The first deadline needed a study in progress, which still needed some analyzed data. A proposal wouldn’t have done. The good news was that what I was doing was not a total waste of time, and I had more time on my hands than I had imagined. My eyes twinkled as I realized what this meant: a better conference paper.

The only thing between me and this paper was the fact that I had to write one.

 Part 3: The Evolution

Evolution-of-a-Writer-1
source: kristanhoffman.com

As I finished coding a few episodes, I had what I needed to write a paper about a study in progress. I had coded enough data to observe a pattern and write about what we expected to see.

The first draft had everything the conference paper asked for. All sections were covered but the results. It was academic without being dull. The language was straightforward and easy to understand. I was all set. But, like every doctoral student, I knew this was definitely not the final draft. I expected some changes and input from the co-author and my advisor. “I don’t think there will be drastic changes this time,” I thought.

In a couple of hours, I got the second draft back from the co-author. There were some significant changes in language and a lot of rearrangements that I did not expect. To be honest, the paper looked a lot better. It had a voice. My first draft looked dull now.

Alright, this must be it then. “I should ask my advisor if we are good to submit,” I thought as I wrote him an email asking the same. I got some suggestions back in return. As I worked on the suggestions in the third draft, I could see the paper getting better. I had no concept of ego when I brutally chopped off what I had written to make way for better ideas. This time I knew it was over. We were ready to submit. I emailed a copy to both my co-author and my advisor. You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Hours later, I get a similar email from both of them. Talking about the same things in different ways, they pointed out what they felt was missing. They drafted, I drafted. They agreed, I disagreed. They wrote, I edited. He wrote something, she edited it out, I waited. This went on for several drafts. All I can say is, the end result was not close to where we started, but you could still see how it may have evolved from the first draft.

The evolution of this research paper was significant. It evolved from an acceptable run-of-the-mill conference paper, to something that is interesting and meaningful. It was written under the usual pressure and amidst busy schedules, but collaboration and absence of ego took it to a stage where it would never have gone if I had written it alone. Paraphrasing what my advisor said, the lesson to take from here for every graduate student is:

(a) Not to lose your voice trying to be academic or scholarly (which fortunately returned in this paper through collaboration)

(b) Every paper is an attempt at convincing your colleagues why what you do is important.

We often miss these key points trying to meet the criteria before deadlines. Being scholarly is important, but so is not losing yourself in the process. I understand that this one experience will not be enough for me to gain that confidence, but this is one cobble on the road that we are building.

I will keep writing. The Game is so On.

A Promise to Keep or: Why should we write?

This is not my first attempt at blogging. I started using blogspot.com (now blogger.com) around 2006 (I guess) to write weird poems, and analyze songs I liked. It died abruptly, due to some external pressure (long story). Nevertheless, I started again in 2010ish, this time about something I love the most in the world: films. This was about the same time I was watching about 500 movies a year, and enjoying most of them, which gave me enough motivation to write. I like to call this time the iCheckMovies era.

During this time, besides watching 3-4 movies a day, I spent hours (whatever were left) talking to people all over the globe, on forums that some of us build, and Facebook, about films that we all loved to watch and talk about. These were not the “typical mainstream trash” (inside joke, no offense intended). These were the movies that could change the way you think about yourself and the world as you know it. At least I can say that about myself. I became deeply involved with films, and wanted to do something about it. There are several things about films that I love. From the art of making films to the sheer genius of critiquing them. I love it all. But the thing that I love the most is the power and influence of cinema (and any other form of visual media for that matter), and its educational implications. I knew I wanted to write about films, so my love for critiquing films got me into blogging after a hiatus. As you might have predicted, I failed to foster the excitement, since it did not satisfy any intellectual purpose for me. I was writing mainly about the things I hated, and eventually, the mere thought of a blog started to vex me. I realized soon enough that it was the educational aspect that could allow me to both cherish and respect films without starting to hate the process of analyzing them.

When I started the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology program at MSU, even I did not think I’d do things this close to my interest. In short, I get to watch, analyze, discuss, think, and, finally, write about films and visual media. The best part is that I also get paid. Here, in EPET, I am surrounded by interesting discussions and topics of intrigue. Meaning making, neuroscience, cosmology, politics, theology, science, films, history, geography, we enjoy talking about it all. The ebb and flow of new ideas is more vivid than ever. While I get to academically write about some cool things that I like, there are still ideas that I wish to talk/write about. Everyday I promise myself, “I should write about this” or “This is so blog-worthy.” But as you can see from the blog, the last time I wrote was back in the good old days of 2013. I have been procrastinating more than ever, and this time I have no reason not to blog. So, this is it. I will blog regularly now (failure to commit is evident). Once a month (that’s more like it).

Consider this my first blog post of a new age of blogging (for me, that is). You must be thinking, “Who gives a sh*t?” Well, I do. Writing about the wonders of the world we live in is the best gift we can give to ourselves. Our words are all that will live on. If I do not start writing today, I am wasting another day. And why just me, everyone is. Don’t be like me. Start writing about the things you love. Science, Art, Math, Poetry, Language, Humor, Films, and all the things that make you happy. Things that you want to be remembered for.

This is it. This is all we have. Leave your mark. Bloggers will rise!