Careers Grants 101

How Do You Build a Community?

Feb 15, 2024

How do you build a community? I was lonely as a postdoc. For most of my first year, I was the only postdoc in the building. There was no one to eat lunch with. I could go whole days without speaking to anyone.

I wanted to build a community to solve these problems. But I’ve come to realize that building a community has direct benefits for grant writing, too. Relationships help you:

  • Get access to grant samples.
  • Figure out which programs or funders are a good fit for your work. A mentor helped me figure out I was targeting the wrong funder for my first grant.
  • Hear about opportunities. I got my first faculty job through someone I met on postdoc.
  • Get feedback on how to improve your proposals and ideas. My friend Matt and I met regularly to rip apart our first grants.

Build your community by putting yourself out there. Repeatedly. Social psychology teaches us that relationships develop from multiple positive interactions. College students are most likely to become friends with people who live on their floor freshman year. Living together creates repeated interactions. Develop relationships by forging small, positive interactions with people you admire:

  • Go to conferences. Ask a question during the session. Stay afterwards to talk to a panelist. Invite people to speak on your panel. Arrange a lunch or coffee meetup during the conference. Attend a social hour. Look at the attendee list to see if you know anyone. Go to their session to show support.
  • Read and connect. Send an email when you like someone’s paper. Let people know if their paper is on your syllabus (they can use that in their annual evaluations). If you’ve talked about your paper with someone, send them a note when your paper comes out. If someone has a book coming out, and you like it, tell others about it.
  • Lean on your professional communities. Follow them on social media or through listservs. Respond to questions if you have answers. Volunteer for a special interest group or committee. Attend events.
  • Meet new colleagues. Ask someone out for coffee. Ask for an introduction. Attend mixers at your organization.

Scholars and fellow introverts - you may be shuddering right now. This all sounds like networking. It is.

But networking gets a bad rap. It’s not supposed to be about taking advantage of people and using them. It should be about building positive connections. That happens when you give freely without seeking something in return. Maybe you don’t feel like you have much to give at this point in your career. But remember that your time and attention are valuable. Showing up to someone’s talk and listening to their ideas is an incredible show of support.

Strong relationships don't happen overnight, but you can build them over time. I wish you many beautiful relationships in 2024. And if you know someone who might like today’s newsletter, would you mind forwarding it to them? Sharing ideas is one way we build connections with each other.

As always, thanks for reading and believing that scholars deserve support for incredible ideas!


Stay in touch: The Newsletter, Bluesky, TikTok, and The Grant Writing Guide book.

P.S. For tips on building collaborations, see pp. 174, 176 - 177 in The Grant Writing Guide.

P.P.S. I hope you surround yourself with people who love and cherish you for exactly who you are today. My youngest’s picture of us below captures this feeling better than words can.

Drawing of a mom and daughter, surrounded by hearts.