HAVE A PROFESSIONAL APPROACH. It’s worth having a networking strategy for every academic event you attend, and even more important to strategize at a macro-scale. We advocate always having a 5 year plan, even if it changes iteratively every 6 months. What job would you like to have? What things might you have published? What courses might you have taught? Now, work back from there. Who will be able to help you achieve these goals? Don’t just think about who is going to publish your work — although that’s also important — think about who can advise you and about whose work can serve as a model? These are the people you’ll need to start reaching out to in one way or another. You might start just by following them on Academia.edu, or Twitter. But eventually you should be ready to engage with them in a mutually-supportive and professional way. However, don’t start with a slew of unsolicited emails announcing your five year plan, and also don’t hover around prospective collaborators at conferences with nothing interesting to say. When you first reach out to potential mentors or collaborators, be clear and upfront about why you’re getting in touch and what you’re asking them for so they can make an instant assessment of the time involved in completing your request. And relate your questions to their work so they know you are genuinely engaged with what they do. If you’re writing them anything longer than a Tweet (say, an email or Facebook message) try something like:
Dear Professor Clever-Cloggs,
I’m interested in applying your method of teaching X with Z. I have already read your paper ‘Blah Blah’ but would love the opportunity to ask you a few additional questions (see below) so that I can fully synthesise your approach.
Likewise, if you approach somebody at a conference, first patiently wait your turn and second, be clear and direct about how you’d like to connect with them. Often there won’t be time at the conference itself so be ready to suggest a low-labour alternative. For example ask them if they’d be happy to Skype or Google Hangout with you for 20 minutes at a time of their choosing. Or offer to send them a follow up email with a few mutual action points. The key is to make it easy for them to work with you.