Do you remember the character played by George Clooney who has 10 million flight miles in the movie “Up In the Air?” That might be a little extreme for normal people. Check out your account. How many do you have? 20,000?
Well, last week I had a meeting with a guy from Texas. He has over 4 million miles on his American Airline account. The number amazed everybody in reality. He is very proud of the miles record and told me that his business wouldn’t get this far if he didn’t fly this many miles.
The thing I am trying to say is, no matter whether you’re in business or academia, it is so important that you get out and talk to people. Otherwise, your career will likely have a slower progress than other people.
Everyone in the customer/product-oriented businesses understands the importance of reaching out. The reason is simple. If you don’t go out to tell the potential customers that you have something they need, do you expect the customers will just come to your door and give you the money? Your competitors will cut in long before that could possibly happen.
More importantly, reaching out to talk to people could inspire new opportunities or at least get more info of potential new business. You can do this in conferences, social events, or just plain business visits. For both R&D people and marketing people, more communications with your customers, competitors, or even just business acquaintances will give you a better idea of what’s going on in your industry, what product might be needed in the future, and what technologies are becoming available or sophisticated. This is critical information for both business development and R&D.
Reaching out is also a powerful magic in academia. It is interesting to see that those very successful scientists usually happen to be very well connected people. Those active rising stars are usually seen in many conferences or academic events. We all understand that you can’t do much good work if you don’t read the literature. The progress of science is achieved by thousands of brilliant minds altogether. However, if your only way of learning new things is the literature, don’t you think you will be one step behind of those who always reach out?
Hundreds of professors travel to conferences to communicate with other scientists, exchanging new ideas and progress, learning new knowledge, and even developing new potential research collaborations. I remember vividly that in grad school almost every new research field our research group got into started with my former advisor saying, “I saw this interesting thing in a conference…”
Another critical but practical thing is funding. Unless you are a big shot and don’t worry about funding, it is important for you to reach out to find opportunities. Especially for younger scientists, the reality is that the funding from NSF or DOE might not be an easy thing to get just by submitting a brilliant proposal. Those big boys in DC won’t take your stuff seriously before you have a chance to build up your reputation. In this case, reaching out to other research institutes or industries could give them some potential collaboration and funding. Thus, you will have some time and resources to make some progress on your bio page.
Ok, why don’t you do this: mark your mileage number now and check back in two years. See if you make better progress in your career by adding the miles. At least they can issue you a free ticket or something right?