Building a professional network in any setting can be difficult. Often times, people find themselves asking questions like “Who should I include in my network?” “How do I connect with those individuals?” or “Where do I start?”

As part of a collaborative effort among colleagues at several institutions, Anna L. Bostwick Flaming, associate director in the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology Center for Teaching, helped to create the “Educational Developer Professional Development Map (EDPDM): A Tool for Educational Developers to Articulate Their Mentoring Network.” The tool, published in an open access journal, gained attention on social media platforms earlier this spring.

In this Q&A, she discusses developing and utilizing tools to build networks in academia.

Q: Can You Describe the Creation of Your Mentoring Network for Educational Developers?

A: Several years ago, when I was relatively new to the field, I attended my first POD conference, a national conference for educational development professionals. I knew I wanted to form a group with others who wanted to challenge themselves and grow in the field. I was lucky enough to meet some wonderful people, and we formed a group that meets regularly to share ideas, brainstorm, and problem solve.

As we continued to work together, we realized how useful our collaboration was and the importance of building a broad network of people you can lean on for different aspects of the work you’re doing. We also began to realize that other mentor mapping strategies didn’t necessarily fit the distinct demands of educational development work, so we created a tool and began sharing it.

Q: What’s the First Step in Building Your Network in Academia?

A: I frequently suggest Kerry Ann Rockquemore's mentorship map, which emphasizes the importance of cultivating a wide range of people who can help you rather than relying on a single mentor. I share this tool with many faculty members, especially those in the Early Career Faculty Academy, a learning community designed specifically for a cohort of first-year, tenure-track assistant professors.

Rockquemore’s map asks you to write out your network and identify the specific skill sets each person possesses and match them to the ways you may need mentorship. For example, it’s one thing to say I need someone who can read my work and give me feedback. Instead, you can recognize that a mentor needs one skill set to review a rough draft and help you articulate a barely-formed idea, but a completely different skill set to provide feedback on something that is 98 percent complete. It might not be the same person who has both of those skills, and you may not want to ask the same person to read your work that many times. What if you developed a network where you could go to people with different skills at these different points? And share your skills with others as well?   

One of the things I love about Rockquemore’s work is that thinking about your network becomes a reflective exercise so that faculty members can ask themselves how they want to develop as an instructor or as an academic.

Q: How Can the OTLT Center for Teaching Facilitate Building a Network?

A: One of the roles of the OTLT Center for Teaching is to act as a hub. It’s not unusual for me to talk to a faculty member who expresses interest in a type of research or teaching strategy, and I’ll say, "Do you know this person? They’ve presented on this, and it might be useful for you to meet." I’ll then facilitate those connections.

We’re developing new faculty learning communities, like the new community exploring the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). The members all have their own projects, but they are finding common strategies for SoTL projects done across disciplines and identifying patterns about the way SoTL is done at the University of Iowa. It’s a faculty-led, low-barrier-to-entry opportunity to find colleagues outside of their departments.

We also offer numerous workshops and programs throughout the year, including TILE Essentials, low-prep reading groups, the Course Design Institute, and more, where we have instructors from a wide variety of disciplines interacting. Campus-wide workshops are a great way to take advantage of opportunities to network that aren’t already set up by the physical or organizational infrastructure of the university. A faculty member can sit next to someone in a workshop who they probably wouldn’t have had an opportunity to chat with in any other context, and they might find that they’re doing research or teaching that speaks to each other.

Need More Information? 

To learn more about the programs offered by the Center for Teaching or to discuss how to build your network, contact the Center for Teaching at 319-335-6048 or teaching@uiowa.edu.