… blogger runs for cover…
According to Professor in Training, the chances of junior scientists to establish themselves as successful, respected members of the community, consequently securing a reasonably steady stream of funds to sustain their research efforts, are at least as much a function of their personal connections as they are of their investigative ability.
Is it really true ?
I do not have data, so I can only speak from personal experience and “gut feeling”, but that personal connections are important, in the scientific enterprise just as in any other human activity, is almost a truism. It seems difficult to dispute that being known by first name, enjoying a one-to-one dialogue, a relationship beyond “Dear Colleague” with those in charge of crucial decisions (e.g., funding), can have a significant impact on one’s career, especially at an early stage.
Now, does that mean that one should make a concerted effort aimed at forming such relationships ? Does it mean that one should make a point of attending conferences, or even social functions, mainly to introduce him/herself to individuals that are prominent in one’s field of research, even in the absence of any compelling scientific reason ?
That, I am not so sure.
My impression is that the personal connections that are really effective are established very early on — as early as in graduate school. The ones which I have in mind, are with one’s major professor, or one’s postdoctoral advisor, his/her close friends and colleagues, as well as fellow graduate students and postdocs (yes, even these ones, in fact they may well be the most important of all in the long run). These are born primarily out of serendipity, unplanned circumstances; the choice of a particular university, department, advisor, research group, as a venue to conduct one’s graduate or postdoctoral studies, proves instrumental in establishing them, and very often such a choice takes place (almost) randomly . The kind of relationship that an advisor establishes with his own doctoral students and (to a lesser degree) his postdocs, is deep and long lasting. It is difficult to create anything similar just by meeting someone occasionally, or even corresponding regularly.
That is not to say that one should not try to keep a high profile, go to conferences, present one’s work and try and elicit the attention of as many colleagues as possible. But simply trying to pursue personal ties for the sake of promoting one’s career, in my opinion, aside from the insincerity of it all, does not really work in the end.
 OK, my case may be a bit extreme, but I actually took a postdoc at a place where I had not even applied.