During my mechanical engineering PhD, I was not able to go to my field specific conferences and had to go to diverse conferences. Thus, I couldn't interact with researchers directly in my field of research. As an introvert, it is very difficult for me to make connections or networks during conferences and events. So, I doubt that I could have done anything by going to field specific conferences either.

On top of that, I don't have anything on my CV to speak about my leadership qualities. I have done some volunteering work and judged a poster session during my PhD. I also have done some TA. But, apart from that, I have not done any organizing stuff.

I had earlier helped my advisor to write a grant and have been a reviewer in a journal. Since writing that grant, I have not received any opportunity to write a grant as my advisor has pivoted his research interests to other field quite different from mine. So, I don't have much experience in that too.

Excluding my publication record, as a PhD student about to submit my thesis, how much of a disadvantage am I in when applying for a future academic position?

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    Based on my life experience, there is zero correlation between "having people skills" and intro/extroversion. The main difference is that incompetent extroverts are more obvious than the incompetent introverts, because they leave a more obvious trail of destruction behind them.
    – alephzero
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 0:26
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    Hellalot. If you "can't do people" you can't do your students, your colleagues, your department chair, nor the Promotion and Tenure Committee. (The students are the most important of your stakeholders.")
    – Bob Brown
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 2:03
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    The text and the title seem to be asking different questions. The former appears to be more about the value of networking for getting a job. Commented May 2, 2019 at 2:50

5 Answers 5


People skills can be very important for an academic. We teach, we advise and guide students, we interact with colleagues. In lab sciences we often have to work closely with others. Collaboration, even in such fields as math, is very important today. Moreover, people will tend to ignore your ideas if you don't learn how to present them enthusiastically.

However, that doesn't close you out if you are introverted. Even if you are very introverted. People skills are just that: skills. They can be learned and practiced. Many of the people you meet who have good people skills are actually introverted.

I've mentioned how introverts can interact effectively in public in answer to other questions here, for example.

Treat people skills just like any other skills that you need to learn. Start out slow, if necessary, but practice. Play the role of a confident somewhat extroverted person, even if you aren't.

This answer was provided for an earlier version of the question that was quite focused on effective strategies for introverts in academia.

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    I totally understand the importance of this skillset. I actively tried to improve myself during my early stages of PhD. Probably I should have tried harder. I have few months before I submit and I am already 30 years of age. Isn't it too old for me to change anything for good?
    – queryy
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 20:35
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    Not at all. The changes in behavior I described in the linked post occurred when I was closer to 40, actually. Don't think of it as changing your personality or your self. Treat it as a skill to be learned. Hard at first, easier when you get more practice.
    – Buffy
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 20:42
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    @Buffy, you answered the question title rather than the question body. I've just corrected the former to fit the latter.
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 10:55
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    Actually @einpoklum, I answered the original question (including the full body statement) as it was at the time.
    – Buffy
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 10:59
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    @Buffy: Ok, fair enough.
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 12:18

Leadership qualities matter if you are applying for certain prestigious fellowships, such as Marie Curie Actions. But I think outside of that its more like a job, where people hire you based on whether you can do the work, which in academia means having certain technical skills and evidence of productivity like papers.

However communication skills are very important, as you have to sell yourself by writing good statements of research, cover letters, CVs and interviews. You also need good references as well.

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    I was awarded a MC long-term fellowship, admittedly more than 5 years, and "leadership" was not a part of the application. Rules may have changed in the meantime, but it is such a hard thing to measure that I don't think it will be included in an MC call. Commented May 2, 2019 at 12:19
  • I just wrote an application for an MC fellowship, and it definitely was "relevant". There are quantifiable ways to show this, for example if you have supervised students, taught classes, have been part of organizing committees.
    – mathdummy
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 17:04

I will answer your question as stated at the moment:

how much of a disadvantage am I in when applying for a future academic position?

If (i) you have the other bits of the CV, such as publications, to backup your ability to do research, and (ii) your field is not so small that everyone knows everyone (including PhD students), getting a Postdoctoral position won't be an issue just because you skipped conferences. I know very few people that got a Postdoc after giving a killer talk at a meeting - no one in fact (life science). It is nice to go to conferences to showcase your work and put yourself out there (and be updated on the latest research), but in my experience your superivor's contact list and reference, followed by publications, will be much more important factors at this stage.

With that out the way, if you want to stay in academia, going to a conferences / meetings will be important at the next stage when looking for a group leader position. Then you should have a body of work to show off and interaction with the people that will hire you will be important - you want to be on their radar. I don't think you will need to go to all conferences, so as introvert, you can choose small focused meetings, preferably with a few participants you already know, to get you started.


By what you say in the comments, I assume you feel that you are an introvert, and are afraid that at 30 years, it is too late to change that. I can alleviate that fear for you.

I used to be an obvious introvert (certainly during school, but in my heart until now) and at some point kind of forgot about it. I'd say that I am interpreted as an extrovert these days, I certainly am in a job position where I talk a lot with people, and am perceived as somone people go to to get decisions made for them, as a coach, mentor, etc..

I'll admit freely that I stumbled into that situation... over and over again. A lot of coincidences; some life-changing experiences; some "life phases" here and there; and often being too timid to actively fight out of extroversy-inducing situations. At most points in times (including today), I could very well relate to introvert people, and if given the choice, I would dearly like to live a more introvert life.

So, keep your head up and do what you are doing. Yes, being social helps in all walks of life, including presumably academia. No, it's never too late to change, in my opinion. Or, to put it the other way round, people who cannot change cannot change irrespective of age. No, I cannot tell you how to do it, as I don't know you, but one thing that certainly did it for me was not to run away from challenges, and (even if it's not political correct to say that) throw yourself into cold water once in a while.

Seems like finishing your PhD and looking for jobs is exactly that. Pondering about how much you are at a disadvantage seems mightily distracting to me. Just do what you do best (I assume you have no trouble getting good marks and finishing your thesis...) and good things will come to you - you can get better at being social by practice.


I find some people are assuming introvert/extrovert are the only binary at play, when I think it's that's just the X axis, and there's a Y axis of Backstage/Performer that's also relevant.

Introvert ------------- Extrovert

I'm an introvert (I need lots of alone time to recharge, I need to psych myself up for social things), but I love teaching. I like having a role, I like the attention. I also like how oddly temporary it is: the semester or panel is over, and next time it happens, I can try things differently.

My husband is an extrovert (has a few different gaming groups, always helping friends, just in general more social and that never drains him), but he doesn't want to be the center of attention. His job life is focused on helping others excel, and while he's had to learn to be more visible and give presentations -- that's what freaked him out more than creating something permanent.

Some actors of of course are known for the performance part, and they want to party every night (extrovert, performer); sometimes the production designer who keeps things on schedule and is great with work collaboration might also need time in slow motion, at home.

I came up with this "theory" when I was trying for an MLS -- lots of people assume librarianship is all about introverted cataloging, so there were leadership classes trying to encourage people to "embrace extroversion" -- and I got in discussions about how that may be too big a shift, but it could be viewed as "roles" with specific skills. People thought I wasn't an introvert because I was outspoken in class -- that was me being "On." I have depression (why the MLS was dropped), and it took me so much energy to have Teaching performance AND Grad School performance. Introverts may just need to save up our "social points", whether for performing or collaborating, and spawn them slowly.

(And there are a LOT of reasons for not going to conferences - especially if $/family are issues. It may matter for prestigious colleges, of course. But you may find you LOVE teaching -- lots of shy people can be great at that. Or you may be an OK teacher, and be a great backstage person, doing committee work and delivering the research. There is a need for a LOT of different neurotypes in academia. Just trust your strengths and all that. )

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