Develop professional networks to support faculty career advancement

August 25, 2015

Managing a faculty career requires that faculty establish their expertise in three areas: teaching, scholarship, and service. Because professional networks can help faculty develop expertise in each of these areas, Austin and McDaniels (2006) argue that individuals entering the faculty ranks must be able to cultivate professional networks. Niehaus and O’Meara (2015) note that “not all networks are created equal” (p. 161) and compare the value of internal (on-campus) and external (off-campus) professional networks for faculty career advancement. On-campus networks can help faculty navigate the campus environment and identify professional activities that will advance faculty careers. Off-campus networks provide a broader array of information and opportunities for disciplinary-specific career advancement.

Niehaus and O’Meara (2015) identify strengths and benefits for each type of professional network.

On-campus professional networks

On-campus networks help early career faculty navigate the campus environment and make progress toward tenure and promotion.  Although on-campus networks are well-tuned to internal opportunities, they mainly support career development at that institution.

  • Help faculty learn about internal politics.
  • Alert faculty to opportunities, resources, and impending deadlines for activities that will advance faculty careers such as internal grants for research, resources for development of innovative teaching strategies, and professional development opportunities.
  • Identify internal programs that recognize and reward professional contributions (awards for excellence in teaching, scholarship, or service).

Off-campus professional networks

Off-campus networks provide broad support for career advancement. Niehaus and O’Meara report that off-campus networks are nearly twice as strong as predictors of career success for both early career (pre-tenure) and later-career faculty. Because few institutions have enough resources to hire multiple faculty members in a disciplinary specialty, off-campus networks create a virtual community of specialists within a discipline that can be critical to ongoing professional growth. These communities help offset the sense of isolation faculty might experience when they are the only specialist in their program. Off-campus networks create opportunities for faculty to discuss ideas, develop collaborations, and gain recognition in the discipline that can lead to invitations for disciplinary service (peer review for conferences or journals, editing opportunities, etc.).

  • Pre-tenure faculty establish contacts with disciplinary professionals who might serve as external reviewers for the tenure decision.
  • Mid-career faculty develop collegial partnerships, develop disciplinary collaborations, maintain momentum on research agendas, and identify new opportunities for professional growth.

Developing your professional network

Professional networks take time to develop. New faculty should make time to develop off-campus networks early in their careers; the long-term payoff is great.

  • Maintain networks established during graduate training, especially with colleagues who share your interests in research topics or teach similar courses.
  • Attend professional conferences and develop new connections for your professional network.
  • Join and participate in virtual professional networks (disciplinary list serves, LinkedIn,, ResearchGate, and other electronic communities). Protect yourself from the potential deluge of email from an active community. Create an email filter to divert mail from each group, skip your inbox, and store mail in a special folder for that group. Read these messages when you have time and avoid clutter in your inbox. Some communities offer a weekly digest version of communications.


Austin, A. E., & McDaniels, M. (2006). Preparing the professoriate of the future: Graduate student socialization for faculty roles. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, XXI (pp. 397-456). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

Niehaus, E., & O’Meara, K. (2015). Invisible but essential: The role of professional development networks in promoting faculty agency in career advancement. Innovative Higher Education, 40, 129-171. doi:10.1007/s10755-014-9302-7

9/1/2015 ecr