There seem to be lots of folks running around with PhDs who are unemployed or under-employed (like the guy I met who is an airport shuttle driver in Denver). With so much education, what is keeping these people from their dream jobs? They obviously invested plenty of time on their education, along with thousands of dollars. While there are probably many reasons newly graduated PhDs don’t get hired, I wonder if some of us forget the importance of the networks and relationships that are needed to land a job in academia after graduation. Well-chosen academic conferences are one place to build a professional network.
I spent a few hundred dollars attending ICLS last week, and it was one of the best investments in my education this year. Several people were surprised that I would spend my own money to attend an academic conference. Don’t get me wrong, I would much rather be reimbursed for this kind of thing; but that is not always possible. To me, spending money on a good academic conference is no different than spending money on tuition. I am earning skills, a credential, and a network, and it will take all three to land a good job at a good university (in a place with lots of sunshine, beaches, and low humidity).
Why did I go to ICLS? I went to meet the right people, now that I know my dissertation topic (using TwHistory in the classroom). I presented a poster on TwHistory, which basically served as bait. But I didn’t wait for the professors to just show up. Instead, I attended their sessions, introduced myself, and invited them to come to my poster. Several professors I met last month at AERA came up to my poster and asked me difficult questions about my methodology. Two of the better known history learning scientists spent the next 20+ minutes, beers in hand, coaching me through a more compelling logic model for my dissertation. For the next 2 hours I was asked a lot of questions and given a lot of great feedback on doing historical reenactments with Twitter. I don’t know how to put a dollar value on all of this, but I can only say that it was extremely useful, and well-worth a few hundred dollars. (Plus I got to attend a Cub’s game. What could be better? Well, I guess they could have won.)