Saturday, October 29, 2011

The importance of being well connected

In politics, it is well known that connections are critical. When a
well-connected person needs something, they simply pick up their phone,
and give a quick call to a friend in the right place.

In research, being well connected is also an important asset. I have a
short list of "oracles" who can help me with thorny questions, each in
their respective area of specialty.

For example, the other day I was working with a colleague on a question
related to expanders and combinatorics on graphs. After we thought about
it for a bit, and searched the internet without success, I dropped an
email to Noga Alon. Less than an hour later, I got an answer!
Informative, precise, and with a reference to a directly relevant
paper. For efficient research, how precious it is to have the right
connections at the right time!


  1. I don't know if your analogy between politics and research really works though: would Noga Alon not answer you if you were not "connected"? Likely, he would have responded to the question even if it came from an unknown student--at least I hope so!

  2. Yes, I bet he would. However if I was an unknown student, I might not know that he is the right person to ask, and even if I did, I might no dare send him an email out of the blue.

  3. I've found that stackexchange and mathoverflow serve the same function, without the social burden of awkwardly networking with theoretical computer scientists.

  4. I think that "social burden" was called "personal interaction" and it was part of a tradition called
    "social skills." In the Dark Ages they were quite valued.

  5. 'connected' == more publications in prestigious journals/conferences.

  6. Smart comment,

    'connected' == more publications in prestigious journals/conferences.

  7. IMHO in this context "connectedness" that Claire has in mind is overrated ("connected", as you can see from the comments, may have somewhat pejorative connotations, so is probably not the right term). As a student I write to senior people with questions whenever I feel that I can't find the answer on my own, on MO, SE etc. and virtually always get quick and good response. People may be busy, but are generally friendly and like it when somebody is interested in their work. This has nothing to do with "more publications in prestigious journals" (BTW, bringing up the "prestige drama" topic whenever possible seems a little bit like trolling).