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‘Promiscuous networking’

By Margaret Harris

I’d thought that the economic crisis might be the elephant in the conference room here at AAAS, but it turns out I was only half right: it’s an elephant-sized issue, true enough, but presenters aren’t avoiding it.

Jose Manuel Silva Rodriguez, the director-general of the European Commission for Research, seemed optimistic about prospects for science research in a recession despite looming budget cuts in EU member countries. Most of their projects, he said, are funded well in advance, and should be safe through 2012. But one speaker at a career forum for women and minorities was less sure: she claimed that 50% of jobs in her subject — field biology — were canceled this year in the teeth of previous funding promises.

Brooke Allen of trading group Maple Security took a middle route. He’d changed the title of his seminar from “Finding Hidden Values in the Job Market” to the more downbeat “Finding Work and Finding Jobs in Hard Times,” but he also maintained that recessions were the best time to find work, because “greedy people who won’t work except for lots of compensation drop out of the market”.

There’s just one catch: “work” and “jobs” are not synonymous, so there may be plenty of work to be done, but not enough paid jobs available for people to do them. His advice for securing a paid job boiled down to an exhortation to do more networking — not in itself a terribly original suggestion, but Allen did have an interesting way of illustrating this old cliché.

He’s an advocate of what he calls “promiscuous networking,” which means that he views literally everyone he’s ever met (2500 people and counting) as part of his network. To illustrate how this works, he got everyone in his audience to list three things they wanted, three things they could offer, and then mill about the room comparing notes and exchanging email addresses.

I decided to offer help with reviewing books, living in the UK, and finding good places to go hiking, while asking for help on articles about careers, finding funny physicists to write Lateral Thoughts columns, and improving my Spanish. At the end of the session, I had collected names of four people who wanted my help, and four who thought they might be able to help me. Not bad.

So does this promiscuous networking thing work? The jury’s still out for me, but for those of you seeking jobs in this difficult climate, it could be worth a try.

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One comment to ‘Promiscuous networking’

  1. There is a great text on the subject, Networking on the Network, by Phil Agre.


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