A fun gig today, addressing the PhD Colloquium at the School of Graduate Studies. My topic? Connecting to International Academic Communities.
Easy, then, to talk about the need and desirability of attending conferences, hosting conferences, asking questions, meeting folk, writing to them and such. Blogging, of course, featured prominently in my remarks, and I talked about the generosity of Jeffrey Cohen in encouraging his blog to become such an excellent exercise in collaborative work and community-building.
I talked a bit about how things had changed since an eminent US medievalist visiting Sydney, many years ago, said to me, "you've got to get on the map." She meant it kindly, I'm sure, but it was pretty devastating to think how far off the map I might be, not just as a very junior scholar, but as an Australian. These days, I am more likely to hear and use the phrase "being part of the conversation", and this is something that blogging makes so much easier.
I also talked about the difference between networking as a way of treating people instrumentally and competitively, and networking as community-building. I have very little time for the practice of brown-nosing academic celebrities (or star-f———ing, as we call it in Australia) or gratuitously attacking scholars of a different generation just for being of a different generation. But I am all in favour of graduate students and early career researchers building bridges with each other (rather than competing, all the time, for every little bit of symbolic capital the academy has to distribute), and making connections with other scholars in their field in different countries.
The ARC Network for Early European Research maintains the Confluence website, where you can look up the profiles of over 300 medieval and early modern scholars, and post comments on their sites. It is a lovely example of an online structure that democratically enables networking between postgraduates, early career and established researchers, and it is here. Hmm; perhaps you have to register with the Network to be able to comment? not sure about that.
The wonderful Angela Woods, who would be my inspiration if I were just starting a PhD, tells me the recording of my talk will be available on line. I certainly won't be listening to it (who needs to hear their own garbled sentences and scattered paragraphs preserved for posterity?), but in the interests of general community-building, here's a link to the SGS Colloquia page, where a link to the talk will shortly appear.
But here's a question: is it true, as I was suggesting today, that most folks of eminence (whether academics, writers, or famous people in your own sphere of cheese-making or frog-watching) don't mind being approached by folks who are just starting out in the field? What's been your experience? And... is the star/celebrity analogy a bit too far-fetched for the academic sphere? Aren't we just fooling ourselves??
And... I've just realised I've set up the label "univerisites". That's rather a nice typo, I think.