Tuesday, January 16, 2007

More on networking: an anecdote

I just received an email today from a scholar I admire and whom I met for the second time at the MLA. Apparently he looked me up, post-MLA, and discovered that I'd published something that overlaps significantly with his own work--and he was contacting me to apologize for not having known about my article and therefore not citing it in his just-published book. He would, he said, go to the library and read it this afternoon.

Now, in point of fact, we were on a panel together a few years ago, presenting papers on exactly this material. He was very complimentary about my paper at the time, and we emailed for a few weeks afterwards to exchange papers and discuss our projects in a small way; he was nice enough to send me a draft version of one chapter of his book, and I mentioned that I had just had an article on this material accepted in [Journal].

This was all very flattering, and although I wasn't able to attend the next few conferences where we might have run into each other, I was pleased to have made what seemed an important connection. I thought, "well, he knows who I am. And of course he reads [Journal]. He'll see my article and I'll run into him again sooner or later." What I did not do (and here's this week's networking lesson, kids!) was ever contact him again to check up on his book's progress--even though I was excited about it and frequently wondered how close it was to publication--or to toot my own horn when my article came out. It never occurred to me that that either of those things would be welcome or appropriate.

And so yes, you guessed it: when I went up to him at MLA to reintroduce myself and tell him how much I'd enjoyed his paper and how delighted I was to hear that his book had just come out. . . he obviously had no idea who I was.

Oddly, I'm not especially vexed by this (although I would have loved to have been cited in his book, and one does prefer to believe that one is, well, memorable). In fact, what strikes me most is how generous this scholar was to me on both occasions: after our first meeting he took the time to contact unimportant, grad-student me, and when he did, he did more than simply ask for a copy of my paper. And after our second meeting, even without remembering who I was, what I worked on, or how we'd met (and even though most of our conversation was just chit-chat over a meal with a bunch of other people), he took the time to look me up and contact me again. It's a rather inspiring model for how to be a member of the profession, and one that I hope I'll emulate when I become a more established scholar myself.

That being said--I hope I'll also do a better job of remembering someone's name, face, and physical existence.


Ianqui said...

Wow, that's a very magnanimous reaction you had. I'm not sure I'd think so kindly of the guy for completely forgetting me. It's one thing to have a casual conversation once, but the follow-up email is another thing altogether.

Hieronimo said...

I think this is the reason offprints were made. I always feel so awkward about sending offprints to people, but then I think about those few occasions when people have sent me offprints, and I'm always really glad to get them and be reminded of that great paper I saw at a conference. So I always have to remind myself of this when I get into the kind of situation you're describing: "Remember, most people will be pleased to get an offprint and won't think you're a pushy git." And still, I don't always do it.

anthony grafton said...

Mea maxima culpa, here: I have done the same thing as your senior acquaintance. It's inexcusable.

But it's not inexplicable: remember, the amount of paperwork you have to do actually grows with the years and jumps once you have tenure. The scholarship you want to master keeps growing, too, and--as a number of people pointed out in response to an earlier post--one's control over the older literature is not always, to put it delicately, perfect. And the memory--experto crede--degenerates. At some point, it becomes much, much harder than it used to be to find active memory space for anything written in recent years--as well as for new authors. We have to do it, and most of us try, but we will always have our senior moments.

So please, send offprints! And when we seniors are oblivious anyhow, please be magnanimous, as Flavia has been. We don't deserve it, but we do appreciate it.

Flavia said...

Ianq: my first reaction when I received that email wasn't so generous (although I'd already accepted the fact that he hadn't remembered me, since that was pretty clear at MLA); among other things, I think I do have a pretty memorable name!

But the more I thought about it the less it bothered me. After all, I expect to see this person nearly annually for years to come. . . and now he's *sure* to remember me.

And H: the world would be a better place if more people used the word "git." Especially when talking to themselves.

Peter C. Herman said...

I have to agree with Professor Grafton. I would chalk this up to failing memory more than anything else. It's depressing to admit, but I have a harder and harder time remembering people, especially people I've met only once. And if an appointment or a task is not written down, then the chances are truly great that I will forget. Alas.