For a number of years I kept bees, hence the photo accompanying this post, and spent many a happy time sitting under a tree on a sunny day watching the comings and going of the hive. Bees flying in ladened with pollen and full of news. Their complex waggle dance alerting others to the locations of the richest sources of pollen and nectar, a sharing which ensured the continued growth of the community and honey reserves to see the colony, and of course the happy beekeeper, through winter.
So why the focus on sharing the news and growing communities in this post? Last week I co-facilitated a workshop on effective networking and collaboration for health and social care researchers and have been reflecting on the perspectives we explored during the day. The differing views and challenges people voiced; differing approaches adopted; feelings about what is involved; why some people enjoy it and others find it nerve-racking; how much time people were prepared to invest in it; what kind of networking takes people out of their comfort zone and the oft voiced challenge for clinicians when required to network with members of the academic community.
One of the topics explored was the need to move from a general approach to networking, defined as interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts, to a more strategic approach, defined as networking with a defined goal. To network strategically mean to think carefully about our career progression and aspirations and the kinds of networks we need to cultivate and sustain to support our progression. For some this led to a feeling of discomfort associated with the perceived need for self-promotion, especially when adding intent to the relationships you seek to forge and the networks you aim to join.
For anyone challenged by the perceived egocentricity of such networking a presentation by the shy connector offers a differing perspective – “It’s not about selling yourself, it’s about helping others, it’s not about becoming popular it’s about learning and sharing.” Sustaining networks requires a level of mutuality, whether it is with an individual or group such reciprocity is essential for researchers seeking to develop their networks into more formal research collaborations.
Mid week I was listening to an interview with Dr Matthew Green talking about the coffee-house culture in London in the late 1700s. A vibrant, buzzing scene in which politics, philosophy, the arts and science were debated freely. He described how the usual welcome when someone entered a coffee-house was ‘share your news’. Joining the discussion and the community was as much about giving as it was about receiving.
Whatever your perspective, networking is a fundamental skill for researchers at all stages of their career and the foundation upon which research collaborations are built. Successful collaboration requires investment in time, resources and trust and rarely happens by chance. Relationships are forged over time and require nurturing by all concerned. The people we meet, the conversations we have with others which spark ideas, the person whose world view opens a new window on something we have been grappling with for a long time. Each time we connect there is potential but only if this is a two way process.
For those just starting out on a research career publications or presentations may be sparse but active involvement and participation in relevant networks, provides visibility and something to write about which demonstrates the efforts being made to become part of the research community. It shows that you are starting to make a contribution which is an important statement. For any clinician concerned about networking in an academic community do not under estimate the contribution you have to make informed by your clinical skills and expertise.
So perhaps, when we think about our networking activities as researchers, a fundamental question to ask ourselves is what news are we sharing and contributing. As we enter a workshop or meeting or join a twitter chat are we sharing our news or solely taking away the news shared freely by others. Are we sitting on a piece of information which we know would be helpful to the discussion. To develop effective networks skills getting used to sharing your news is an important skill to nurture.