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Stacey Goguen

Just adding a few things:

Shyness might be a personality trait, but networking is a skill. Some people might seem to be a "natural" at it, but I suspect that they have have put a ton of hours into networking-like activities. Some people might enjoy it more than others, so it's easier for them to log those hours, but I would point out: people tend to not enjoy what they suck at. And you will probably suck at the things you haven't done a lot. So the fact that networking seems like a horrid, vapid chore doesn't mean that, if you practice, you won't find some aspects of it to be enjoyable.

Second, not all networking has to look the same. Lots of people do the conference schmoozing thing. But if you hate that, try something else. For instance, the thought of going to events where I didn't know anyone made me feel queasy. So I first stuff I felt more comfortable with, like talking to people online. So find your thing: connect with others through your friends, through your listserv, through a weekly board game group you start at your dept., through reading groups, etc.

*On this topic, I know a lot of people in philosophy struggle with anxiety, and that can make networking ever more unpredictable/horrible for them. I wish we had more resources in the field dedicated to de-stigmatizing this sort of stuff.

Third, two of the things about networking that I actually appreciate are that it's a bit scary/awkward and it's unclear whether it's actually doing me any good. That is, it pushes me out of my comfort zone, which as an academic and teacher, I find valuable. And furthermore, it pushes me to learn about what other people are doing. Sometimes I can barely understand them and their project sounds boring and nothing comes of it. But sometimes, when I think that is going to happen, instead they mention some detail and I realize we're actually addressing the same question but from different subfields. And I find that to be cool and worthwhile. Also along these lines, sometimes I think it's good to feign interest in others work (or I would say, grant them some default interest even if you aren't sure you are truly interested). I've found, if I put in a good faith effort to try to be interested, I can usually find a kernel of something that I genuinely find to be interesting. And if I hadn't tried, or hadn't 'faked it' in the beginning, I never would have discovered that kernel. So 'faking it' actually helps me expand the scope of things I genuinely find interesting. (And by faking it, I don't mean I tell them "oh that's so interesting" or complimenting the in ways I don't mean. Rather it means, I keep asking them questions about their work.)


"There are, of course, some severe psychological disorders--such as social anxiety disorder--that call for medical treatment. Ordinary shyness and introversion are not disorders, however, and in my experience they can be surmounted."

So basically if you medicalize and dismiss serious cases of shyness and introversion, the remaining folks with relatively minor cases should be able to do just fine ...

You say you score "incredibly high" on "online introversion and shyness measures". It's surprising to me that someone would do so without also meeting the diagnostic criteria for social phobia: http://behavenet.com/node/21597 . It's not like there's a big qualitative leap in the concepts involved.

And what if postdoc meets these criteria? A significant portion of the population does. Can he or she (please!) skip this pop-psychology pep talk?



What makes you think Marcus was 'dismissing serious cases of shyness and introversion'? This is a serous question... (You were suggesting this, right?)


He's dismissing them in the sense of bracketing them out the discussion by contrasting them with "ordinary shyness and introversion", which is what the rest of his discussion is about.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that _not_ bracketing more serious cases in this way would be far more problematic, akin to telling someone in bed with depression for a week to "buck up". But the literature I've read on the psychology of shyness doesn't suggest there's much likelihood of changing the basic underlying condition, even if behavior can be adapted to some extent. That may not be "destiny" but it's fairly close.

It appears that philosophy was once a place where the truly shy could often function, even quite recently. Postdoc is observing that that isn't true anymore. Marcus is arguing against that, but on the basis of his own self-perception, some online surveys, and changes in his own life. But from his description he sounds like he's probably introverted, and probably not particularly "shy" let alone "very shy". In which case he's just mistaken about how his experience would generalize. Just because you broke your leg and it healed doesn't mean that someone who lost one will grow it back.

Lots of people are shy, socially phobic, or avoidant to the extent that they probably won't ever enjoy "networking" or going to conferences, even if they might be able to stomach doing so for their careers. Postdoc may well be one of those lots of people, and his or her advice is probably more germane than the above.

Pendaran Roberts

I read this post with interest. I like others posting here worry that it's not so easy for people with extroversion to overcome it, especially if they have social anxiety. Yes, medication may be the answer. But I do worry that philosophy isn't the merit system it's cracked up to be if people who have social anxiety need medication to survive in the discipline. Notice I'm not saying they do. I'm just saying IF they do... (which I find somewhat plausible given the ultra competitiveness of the discipline today where every advantage is needed.)

One may retort that part of philosophy is teaching, but the fact is that social anxiety need not to influence one's teaching. Teaching in a classroom setting isn't the kind of social environment that people with social anxiety are most affected by. I am an introvert who does not enjoy social environments. I tend to find them very stressful and tiring. (I do not know if I have social anxiety, as I've never been to a psychologist about it.) But I do NOT find teaching stressful or tiring, or at least not in the same way. I can find teaching invigorating.

Pendaran Roberts

I meant 'introversion'!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Skev: With respect, I have neither dismissed nor medicalized anything. I have only invoked distinct categories recognized in mainstream medical/psychological practice, and noted that certain things (e.g. social anxiety disorder) are understood in mainstream medical practice as calling for treatment. If you reject mainstream medical practice, that is fine--but I do not think it is quite fair to take me to task for invoking mainstream science or medical practice. I have also *not* suggested that it is possible to change "the basic underlying condition" of shyness. *I* have been shy my entire life, since early childhood--and yes, I still struggle with it today (as I will explain below). It is not something that has gone away. What I have been able to do is what Stacey Goguen notes: I have been able to substantially change my behavior--"putting myself out there" even though I feel uncomfortable doing so, and even though many times shyness *still* gets in the way of me doing so effectively.

I have also not diagnosed anyone, particularly 'grad student'--who did not refer to social anxiety disorder or social phobia in the comment I was responding to, but rather merely referred to shyness. And indeed, as I will explain momentarily, to the best of my knowledge serious shyness *is* understood in prevailing diagnostic practice as being qualitatively different than the above disorder.

However, before I explain that, I will say that I do not appreciate being "diagnosed" in turn, and do not think it is appropriate to speculate on what psychological properties I do and do not have. For the record--since I am not ashamed of who I am--when I take one of the most well-validated introversion-extroversion measures (the Big Five inventory), I score in the first percentile (yes, that's right: 99% of people on the Big Five inventory come out as more extroverted than me). I also score a 52 on the McCrosky Shyness Scale, which is the cutoff for "a high level of shyness" (http://www.jamescmccroskey.com/measures/shyness.htm ). I have struggled with shyness and introversion my whole life. When I was a child, I hid behind the curtains when introduced to my cousin. When I was in high school, people spread rumors about me because I was too afraid to ask anyone out on a date or to a dance (or indeed, ask anyone to dance at a dance). And yes, I still struggle with these things today. I get nervous when my spouse takes me out with other people, and often clam up out of nervousness (something which often frustrates my spouse, but which I have continued to work on). I am also often alone at conferences, as again I often feel uncomfortable approaching others. However, what I aim to do is *challenge* myself to overcome my shyness--not always very well, but as much as I can (for, as I note in the post, I have found that it not only improves my well-being to cultivate friendships, but is also good for me as a philosopher).

Third, I was explicit in the post--several times--that I do not purport that my experiences or strategies generalize. I was clear that I was merely offering my experiences as *mine*, in a spirit of openness, and out of the thought that perhaps some other shy, introverted readers may find my remarks helpful.

A few final notes on the categories of shyness, social anxiety, and phobia, which you run together in your most recent comment. Although I am not a licensed psychologist, here are a few things about me:

(1) I received my undergraduate degree in clinical psychology.
(2) I worked directly with patients in two mental health institutions for two years, one as a student intern and another (a group home) as Assistant Director.
(3) My spouse is a PhD candidate in psychology.
(4) My spouse's mother is a licensed PhD in nursing who works primarily with--and diagnoses--individuals with mental disorders.

I mention my background here, because in my experience--and to the best of my understanding--a central part of standard clinical diagnostic practice *is* to distinguish genuine mental disorders (social phobia, social anxiety disorder, etc.) from non-disorders (shyness, introversion) on *qualitative* grounds--which you denied the existence of. Which qualitative grounds, you ask? The answer, to the best of my understanding, is roughly this: things are classified as disorders only if they substantially and systematically interfere with one's ability to function in everyday life. So, for instance, a very sad person may be really down--but a clinically depressed person may not be able to get out of bed. Similarly, a shy person may get really nervous meeting people--but a person with social phobia cannot leave the house. This is in part the reason why, in contrast to your attempt to simply apply the diagnostic criteria of social phobia to me sight unseen, (A) it takes a great deal of medical training to diagnose people properly, and (B) medical practitioners routinely tell people *not* to use such measures to diagnose themselves or others.

In any case, for these reasons, I do not believe I have dismissed or medicalized anything. As someone who is genuinely very shy and very introverted, I take these things seriously, and know first-hand how permanent of a person's psyche they can be. But I also take modern medical practice seriously, and I have only offered my experience as the experience of *one* person who is shy and introverted, being as clear as I can that I cannot, and do not, speak for others.

Richard Yetter Chappell

A few thoughts on what has worked for me, as a very introverted philosopher with social anxiety:

* The internet is great. Make use of it.

* Don't shun medication, it can make a big difference. (A rough test: if you find yourself avoiding receptions, colloquium dinners, conferences, and similar opportunities to interact with other philosophers outside of the seminar room, due to a sense of awkwardness or discomfort, then your social anxiety is interfering with your work and you should consider doing something about it.)

* It gets easier. If you don't know anyone at a conference, go with a friend so you don't feel completely isolated / out of place. (Having a philosopher spouse helps here!) You'll get to know some of the other speakers / attendees, and next time you'll have a wider pool of "familiar faces" to draw on to make you feel more comfortable.

* Pace yourself / take time-out when needed. Be selective in how many conferences you attend, and while there don't feel obliged to socialize at absolutely every opportunity.

* YMMV. Find what works for you. At least in my experience, academia can be great for introverts. But you may need to do things differently from how an extravert would.

Gina Basti

One should simply channel one's introversion towards the type of philosophical work that introverts love, i.e., thinking, writing and research and as Marcus mentions, blogging. Teaching online is also a good platform for introverts since it eliminates all those irritating on-campus requirements that even extroverts hate, i.e. office politics, committee meetings, office hours, etc.

I think it would be difficult to modify oneself into a dynamic speaker or outgoing teacher if -- as most introverts might acknowledge -- they would rather be sitting alone in a quiet room thinking and writing.

Richard Yetter Chappell

Oh, I hope that people don't generally assume that introverts can't be "dynamic speaker[s] or [...] teacher[s]"!

As noted upthread by Pendaran Roberts, while introverts may often find social interactions to be stressful or tiring, intellectual discourse (including teaching) is quite another matter!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Richard: Those all sound like very good suggestions!

Hi Pendaran: You make a very nice point about teaching. Although I still get nervous before every class, I find that once I'm actually in the classroom, I don't encounter the same obstacles I do in other "social settings." Indeed, although I'm shy/introverted in everyday social interactions, the classroom is one exception! That is, I'm a "totally different person" in the classroom--someone who, if you only saw me in that setting, you might mistake for an extrovert.

I think it's because--as you note--I don't experience it as a "social setting." I'm there to do a job: namely, talk philosophy. And I know how to do that job! Talking philosophy is very different than small talk, etc. (the kinds of things that I struggle with in other settings).

Gina Basti

Richard said: "...I hope that people don't generally assume that introverts can't be "dynamic speaker[s] or [...] teacher[s]"! -

My sentence about dynamic speakers was a conditional -- preceded by an "IF" :-)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Gina: Thanks for clarifying! Although I think your initial comment was clear as a mere conditional, I also think it is worthwhile to stem *potential* bad inferences. There are a lot of common misconceptions about shyness and introversion, and I suspect that one of them may be that these things must carry over into the classroom. I agree with Richard that it's worth emphasizing that for some (many?) of us, "social settings" and intellectual discussion may be two very different things--with shyness/introversion being an issue in the one domain, but not in the other.

G Basti

"'Introvert' Isn't A Dirty Word"

Pendaran Roberts

I want to reinforce the point that introversion doesn't necessarily have a negative effect on teaching. I am definitely introverted. I find social situations draining, not energising. I find small talk to be a chore and boring. I find introductions, and the customary 'what do you do? how is the weather? where are you from?' type discussions to be annoying and tiring. Thus, I seldom enjoy conferences and struggle to network with people.

However, teaching doesn't include any of these things. Talking about philosophy and teaching philosophy isn't small talk. I love talking about philosophy! I could do it for hours and hours and hours. The only point at which the introversion somewhat kicks in is after class if students want to small talk with me. I don't love doing this. But I can do it and I do my job. And I can hide that I am introverted for brief periods of time. Conferences, which last a whole day or days, are a different matter entirely. These are a chore! I go to them though, because I consider it part of being a professional philosopher.


I don't think the selfish analogy is apt. For one thing selfishness is a vice while introversion is not. Selfish people ought to be less selfish to be better human beings. It's unclear at all that introverted people ought to be less introverted to be good. It's just a normal personality trait. I think our culture overly values extroversion to the detriment of introverts. I suspect that this is so in academic philosophy (that was my experience as well in grad school).

I actually have social anxiety as well as being naturally introverted and shy. I've had a professor tell me that social anxiety doesn't exist. On top of it all, I'm also rather misanthropic. I definitely think that it has harmed my experiences in academia/philosophy. But rather than changing myself I think it's the culture and more extroverted people that ought to be burdened with most of the changing. Introversion IMO, can actually be a good trait for philosophy. It's to be valued. It's not valued only because people don't listen to introverts. It's not that we don't have anything to say; it's that others don't listen very well. Most people are so infatuated with the sound of their own voice they don't bother with even noticing those who are less vocal or visible.

That's not to say that introverts have no burden to change. You make some good points but it's focused on changing introverts while I believe that the brunt of it ought to be on society and more extroverted people.

Marcus Arvan

hopelessmisanthrope: Fair points, and I'm very sympathetic.

I agree that our culture overly values extroversion, and I've spent much of my life frustrated by it (often thinking to myself, and saying to my spouse, things like, "I don't see why *I* should have to change. There's nothing wrong with me! So what if I'm quiet? I don't see the point of small talk").

At the same time, as someone who is married to an extrovert, I suspect that (A) there is little they can do to fundamentally change *their* outlook (viz. my wife still struggles to understand my perspective after all of these years), but (B) we introverts can, and should, do what we help others better understand us (if only for our own sake!).

Indeed, failure to do the latter, or so I have found (at least in my own case), is part of the problem! My experience is that people often really, fundamentally don't *understand* us (thinking, for instance, that our being quiet is us being disinterested, or us being jerks--when, no, we just have little to say!). The problem then I've found then is that, being quiet/removed, I never help people understand the shy/introverted behaviors they misinterpret. When misundertandings arise between extroverts, they typically hash them out openly! In contrast, as an introvert, when people misinterpret my behavior, I either don't know that they have, or else I know but my natural predilection is just to "let the misunderstanding go" and never confront it. But that just means that others just continue to go on misinterpreting me (because "what goes on in my head" is fundamentally foreign to them, and never cleared up by me!).

Long story short, I think you are right that there needs to be more compromise and understanding--but I also think that, as introverts, we can only help that process by trying to help others understand our point-of-view, and our inclinations.

Sara L. Uckelman

People are often surprised to find that I am in fact shy, because I have worked very hard to hide this fact when in academic contexts. A few things that I have found that help:

Tea. Or, more specifically, during coffee breaks, which is when most of the useful academic interaction happens at conferences, get yourself a cup of tea, or a cup of coffee, or a cookie, or something to keep your hands occupied. Then you aren't standing there awkwardly doing nothing if you're not talking to anyone, and if you ARE talking to someone, and you need to pause to collect your thoughts, you can take a drink or a bite. (This is one reason why whenever possible I prefer to lecture with a cup of tea. If I forget my train of thought in the middle of a sentence, I can take a drink, remember what I was going to say, and no one notices).

Learn the magic words "Hi, I'm [X]. I work on [Y]. What do you work on?" and learn to spot other people who are shy. They're often easy to spot -- they're the ones standing off to the side, with a cup of tea or a cookie, not talking to anyone else. (They're probably also relatively junior.)

If you ARE lucky enough to be in a conversation, see if you can bring others of your shy-cohort in. This actually involves much more body positioning than it does talking. If you are in a conversation with one or two other people, and there is someone in your proximity who isn't in a conversation with anyone, angle your body so that your conversational circle now includes them, if they want. (Basically, never stand with your back to someone who isn't talking to someone else). As someone who is quite introverted and has (somehow, via many years of practice) learned how to insinuate herself into conversations, I make a point of making sure that I am not excluding others who might want to be a part but who are too shy to make the necessary move to break into a circle -- but who, if the circle has a gap in it, might shift their balance or take a step forward, and then be a part of things even if they don't say a word.

Finally, give yourself permission to be "off" -- especially if the conference is long. You don't have to talk to people at every coffee break, every lunch, every evening meal. Sometimes, take a coffee break to check your email. Sometimes, go back to wherever you're staying early, rather than going out for collective drinks. You'll find it much easier to talk to people in the morning if you do.

Sara L. Uckelman

Marcus said: "I think it's because--as you note--I don't experience it as a "social setting." I'm there to do a job: namely, talk philosophy. And I know how to do that job! Talking philosophy is very different than small talk, etc. (the kinds of things that I struggle with in other settings)."

A very interesting observation! I still find teaching more difficult than conference socializing (as much as I love and delight in teaching), because being "on", being in the spotlight for an hour or two hours -- having to put together syntactically correct sentences in a sensible order on a continuous basis -- is extremely difficult and draining. Whereas one of the reasons that I've become more successful at combating my shyness at conferences is because I treat it as a job: There is a particular sort of activity that goes on at conferences and I have learned what it is and how to do it, and how I can do it on command when I need to. It's part of the job.

One other point I didn't make in my earlier post: One of the ways that it gets easier over time is that the more often you do it, the more conferences you go to, the more likely you'll be meeting the same people again, the more likely you'll end up getting to know them better and becoming friends. One of the reasons why I can now enjoy going to certain conferences/workshops is because there is often at least one person that I would look forward to meeting independently of the conference.


"Which qualitative grounds, you ask? The answer, to the best of my understanding, is roughly this: things are classified as disorders only if they substantially and systematically interfere with one's ability to function in everyday life."

Right! Or more specifically for social phobia "The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared social or performance situation(s) interferes significantly with the person's normal routine, occupational (academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia."

So if we contrast DSM conditions that include the standard functioning caveat with "ordinary" shyness and introversion, the situation becomes not just clear, but a priori. Ordinary shyness *won't* interfere with an academic job. And if the expected activities associated with an academic job change such that some people have trouble with them, that's not really a cause for worry about the shifting standards -- after all, anyone who might have trouble quite likely has a medical condition!

Marcus Arvan

Skef: Once words are defined in a given way (i.e. defining "disorder" as "interfering substantially with everyday life activities"), then of course certain things follow "analytically": namely, disorders are those things that interfere as such, and non-disorders not. However, this is trivially true--a mere point about what follows once words are defined. The relevant issue is whether the definition itself was made on analytic grounds--but of course this is not the case. Medical definitions like these are constructed on the basis of non-analytic normative claims, the relevant one here being that a psychological trait that *inferferes* with basic parts of life (leaving the house, not suffering from horrific panic) are things in need of treatment, whereas traits that do not impact a person's life and well-being so seriously do not need treatment. This normative standard is non-analytic, but it underlies all of modern medicine and psychology. You are of course free to challenge it (as some critics of modern psychology do), but my point was simply that this is the standard normative view.


Thanks to Marcus for the post and to commenters above for sharing their experience. It's reassuring just to know that there are (however small the number may be) shy introverts in academic philosophy.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Sara: thanks for sharing your experiences! I couldn't help but notice an interesting parallel between your experience and mine. We both seem to feel comfortable in specific situations where we "feel like we know what we're doing", but uncomfortable in situations (such as ordinary small-talk) where we don't. I think this really gets to the heart of my experience as a shy, introverted person. A few types of interpersonal Interactions (talking philosophy) come naturally, but (many) others are extremely taxing.

Dan Dennis

This is an important and under-discussed topic.

I get the impression that in many departments people are judged on their ability to make smart, lively comments and interjections in seminars, lectures and social situations. They build a reputation this way, which then influences how their work is assessed. The shy person, the modest, humble person, spends more time listening, does not want to impose him/herself. Perhaps sometimes he/she also has larger more complex thoughts not suited to quickfire comments. The risk then is that he/she does not build the reputation he/she deserves, and as a result this colours assessments of his/her work and potential, and thence references and job prospects.

In addition, there is I fear a tendency to think teachers have to be lively and bubbly in order to engage students. So then people who are not lively and bubbly in social situations or interviews are assumed to not be good teachers. But this does not follow. For instance, I know a quiet thoughtful shy person who is an excellent teacher simply through have a great understanding of her topic and being extremely *interesting* and presenting well organised, clear lectures; as well as caring about her students’ understanding and taking them and what they say seriously – engaging them and drawing them in and helping them learn. The students really appreciate her.

I am concerned about how much talent is being lost to the profession as a result...

Pendaran Roberts

Dan, I certainly share your concern. The "geniuses" in philosophy are often those who are quick on their toes and can make smarting sounding comments and retorts quickly.

I seldom can do this. I am a slow and reflective thinker. My throughs are usually too long to fit into a quick conversation. I seldom think things are that simple. So, I doubt I come across as "brilliant" to a lot of people.

Despite this, I am a productive philosopher. Because, guess what! Writing philosophy doesn't require you to be quick on your toes and make smart retorts quickly. I can take my time when writing to think things through.

Trevor Hedberg

Readers who are interested in this topic should take a look at Susan Cain's "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking." It's a relatively easy read, and Cain does a good job of highlighting introverts' strengths in the modern world and suggesting some ways for introverts to interact better with extroverts. A paperback copy of the book sells for less than $10 on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Quiet-Power-Introverts-World-Talking/dp/0307352153


I'm assuming the OP presupposes the shy/introverted person he is advising is white? I think for those of us who are non-white, but especially black, this might be a lost cause. For those of us who are black and in predominantly white environments, it can feel almost impossible to approach a professor or peer even if we tend not think of ourselves as introverted! (I currently have this problem. The assumption is, "P is so shy!" when really there is racial intimidation and discomfort at play.) Now add shyness/introversion to this and boy have we got an issue!

It would be interesting to see a perspective on this from a black philosopher who has found a way to thrive in philosophy departments despite being introverted.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Paula: Thanks for your comment! I didn't mean to presume anything about anyone--but your point is very well-taken. I agree that it would be interesting to see other perspectives, and will open up a new post encouraging readers from diverse perspectives to share their experiences.

Another postdoc

Thanks so much for addressing this issue! Means a lot! Being incredibly shy/introverted/socially challenged (probably bordering social anxious) I recently went to a talk for early-career-researchers where the take-home-message was that there is no room in academia for this type of person any longer. Naturally, I went home questioning the career choices I have made so far. It is nice to see that there are others (at least somewhat) like me!

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