There is no Networking without “two” and “work” or, Incentives & Smelt at APSA!

As Labor Day weekend approaches, scores of scholars are steeling themselves for the “networking experience” that is the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.  Of course, the main value of networking is establishing relationships.  For example, meeting new people can lead to coauthorships, useful information about grants/jobs/conferences, invitations to give talks, and so forth.

Like it or not, networking is important: to be truly successful in social science (and any academic or creative field), your ideas have to reach and influence others, and the constraints of time and attention lead to a variant on “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” in this, and all, professions.  Networking both exposes others to your ideas and, in the best case, helps you generate (sometimes, but not always, in overt cooperation with others) new ones.

All that said, I wanted to make three quick points about what this aspect of the role of networking implies, from a strategic (but not cynical) standpoint, about how one should network.

1. To the degree that one wants to create a relationship through networking, it is better, ceteris paribus, that the relationship have a longer expected duration.  Nobody washes a rented car (see: Breaking Bad), and in terms of dyadic relationships, the length of the relationship is bounded above by the shorter of the two scholars’, ahem, “time horizons.”

2. To the degree that one wants to generate, produce, and publish influential ideas, it is better, ceteris paribus, to create relationships with those who have stronger incentives (e.g., getting a job, getting tenure, being promoted, etc.) than with those who have lower extrinsic incentives to “get stuff out the door.”

3. To the degree that one wants to avoid conflicts of interest in terms of shirking, credit-claiming, and so forth, it is better (as in the repeated prisoners’ dilemma) that both parties have long time horizons so as to increase the (both intrinsic and extrinsic) salience of potential future punishment/comeuppance for transgressions.

All three of these factors suggest that, if you’re a young scholar considering who to spend time with in Chicago in two weeks, don’t forget to meet other young scholars.  Share your ideas, buy a round of smelt, and remember why you’re doing this.  Similarly, it is also important to remember the famous line from Seinfeld:

When you’re in your thirties it’s very hard to make a new friend. Whatever the 
group is that you’ve got now that’s who you’re going with. You’re not 
interviewing, you’re not looking at any new people, you’re not interested in 
seeing any applications. They don’t know the places. They don’t know the food. 
They don’t know the activities. If I meet a guy in a club, in the gym or 
someplace I’m sure you’re a very nice person you seem to have a lot of 
potential, but we’re just not hiring right now.

With that, I leave you with this.