A few months ago I started reading the book Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection by Yale Professor Marissa King. Someone recommended this book to me, and to my delight I found that it contained frameworks versatile enough to apply to many aspects of life. While reading the book with my educational developer hat and considering the roles that my center plays in onboarding processes, what stood out the most to me was how the content could positively impact the success of instructors new to an institution. In general, I continue to witness how social networking is particularly important in academia given the siloing that can occur.

Here I describe how frameworks presented in the book can be particularly useful to new instructors to enhance their social connections and help them thrive. If you are a new instructor, or work with new instructors, you may find reading and sharing this blog post to be beneficial.

At the beginning of the book King describes three major types of social networks backed by years of research: expansionist, convening, and brokering. Expansionists have more connections than the average person, many of whom do not know one another. Expansionists are often generous with their time and energy and very likable. Conveners typically have networks composed of people they’ve known for some time who also know one another. They generally have a trusted group of individuals within their networks.  Brokers bridge between different networks which can lead to more diversity and innovation in their connections. They can effectively tailor their messages to different people.

Each of these network types can also experience challenges, whether it is loneliness and burnout for expansionists, network homogeneity for conveners, or challenges with integrating networks for brokers, among others. No network type is better than another, and King challenges readers to think of each as serving different purposes and reaching different outcomes. Additionally, having a mixture of network types or switching between network types may be useful at different junctures depending on the context.

So, how can instructors new to an institution use this information to advance their careers? At the beginning of their time at the institution, new instructors may benefit from having an expansionist network, and actively seek connections with a variety of individuals at the institution. Once new instructors develop a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the institution and start to form meaningful connections, they may consider adopting a brokering network to connect with those who can help provide specific support to help them advance in their careers. King describes how brokering networks, however, may not always be optimal on the long-term depending on various factors. In this regard, later in their careers such instructors may benefit further by developing a network of networks that combines their various social connections in a more extensive manner.

Another noteworthy application to new instructors described in the book and based on work by Cross and Thomas (2011), are six necessary partners that top-ranked managers were found to have in their inner circles (p. 185). Below are the characteristics of such partners, with specific applications to who could fulfill these roles for new instructors. Of note is that these individuals may serve within multiple areas, and thus have overlapping contributions. In the examples listed below, I also extend what is described in the book to individuals potentially beyond a new faculty member’s core network of 12 to 18 contacts. I recommend that all new instructors go through an exercise where they identify the specific names of such individuals within each of the groups below in their first year while they are at the institution, and that other groups responsible for instructor onboarding support this process. Such connections are likely to evolve over the course of an instructor’s career.

Access to Information

  • Department heads, program chairs, and administrative assistants
  • Various offices and departments on campus (e.g. centers for teaching and learning, advising offices, learning support offices, registrar’s office, human resources, informational technology, libraries, Provost’s office)
  • Mentors, both formal and informal
  • Other colleagues within or outside of the department

Formal Power

  • Provosts
  • Academic deans
  • Department heads and program chairs
  • Program directors

Developmental Feedback

  • Centers for teaching and learning and instructional designers
  • Department heads and program chairs
  • Trusted colleagues
  • Mentors, both formal and informal

Personal Support

  • Trusted colleagues within or outside of the institution
  • Mentors, both formal and informal
  • Family
  • Friends

Sense of Purpose

  • Trusted colleagues within or outside of the institution
  • Mentors, both formal and informal
  • Family
  • Friends

Help with Work/Life Balance

  • Trusted colleagues within or outside of the institution
  • Mentors, both formal and informal
  • Family
  • Friends

If you are a new instructor, consider how social networking through the lens of Social Chemistry can support your success at your institution. Take time to intentionally identify your network type and how the connections that you form can advance your career and wellbeing. If your role at your institution is to partner with new instructors, feel free to share this post with them and consider how you can support them as they network, whether by giving informal or formal advice, or through initiatives such as new faculty orientation, mentorship groups, and learning communities.

References

King, Marissa. 2021. Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection. New York: Penguin Random House LLC.

Cross, Rob and Thomas, Robert. July – August 2011. Managing Yourself: A Smarter Way to Network. Harvard Business Review.  https://hbr.org/2011/07/managing-yourself-a-smarter-way-to-network