Talk to people for a while about what makes for good large-scale collaboration and they will eventually mention someone who is a connector: a kind of modern saloniste. Who led you to meet someone.
I can think of several cases where this occurred. Where someone has said “Alex, you are working on X1. That’s a little like X2. Have you met Sally who is doing work on X2?” That kind of introduction is at the basis of polite conversation, but happens too rarely in the strange world of academia. You might argue that is part of the expected role of an academic advisor–introducing the new graduate student to others in the field who might act as mentors, as collaborators, and (of course) as potential employers.
But it is also the traditional role of the editor: someone who has the ability to locate and publish things that are important to the field. In today’s world, editors more rarely play this active role of going out and seeking what they think is important for the field. But there are still people that do this.
I’m not name-checking, because I neither want to embarrass people–nor do I want to blame them for anything–but there have been people in my academic career who have helped me. And not just me, of course; they are known for being someone who helps build up scholars, and by extension, academic fields.
And then there are the same kind of people in the new media field. Folks who may be (in fact, generally are) outstanding researcher on their own, but have built much of their career out of connecting people, encouraging conversation online. Now again, I can think of some great examples of this (and so can you), but I wonder what makes them do their thing well, and whether you can create people like this or if they are born.
Can you train an academic maven?
I ask, not necessarily because I want to become one, though I think I’ve done this a little in the past. More, I’m wondering whether there is a “How to become a scholarly maven” guide, and if not, if it would be worthwhile for me to write one. To do so, I’d need to talk to some of these folks, and try to figure out if there is a sort of set of “best practices.” Do these people exist in every field. Do they do the same kinds of thing? Does every field have its own Erdös? Or is he something other than the sort of maven I am talking about here.