Some of you may know that I live approximately 2 hours from any major center, making it difficult for me to cultivate new contacts and get my foot in the door of companies/future employers. As a result, I’ve been scouring the Internet, looking for opportunities to generate a credible work portfolio. This way I wont be entirely pigeon-holed in Academia when I go to apply for work in the private sector.
Needless to say this task has been fairly difficult. I’ve come across one site, oDesk, which lets you set up a professional profile and bid on jobs as an independent contractor. We’re not talking about anything massive; small jobs that take a few hours that the client simply doesn’t have the time or skills to accomplish (eg. editing scientific material). I’ve had one contract through oDesk, so far and the contract took me a few hours to accomplish on the weekend. So the time input is fairly low, but the networking potential and financial results are also relatively low too. In fairness, I haven’t committed much time to oDesk, so with more effort, maybe the payoffs will be better. I somehow doubt that though.
A second avenue I’ve recently discovered have been MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). These are free, online courses that are usually, but not necessarily, organized by Universities (eg. Columbia, Harvard). While the courses may be organized through those universities, you access them through certain websites (eg. Coursera and Open2Study) that appear to be distinct.
The programs claim that they let you learn about a subject in a semi-structured way. There are course instructors, lectures, quizes/assignments and exams but the focus is more on social interaction with your internet-class. As you can imagine if you’re taking a MOOC on something you’re very interested in with hundreds of people who are also very interested in the subject, then the potential to network with people of similar interests is quite high. That’s really why I’m looking towards MOOCs as a valuable option for networking while I’m living in a town with a population of 3k.
Not surprisingly there’s some controversy surrounding MOOCs; mostly from academics, or academic institutions, that are suspicious about how effective learning in this sort of environment can be. These concerns may very well be reasonable, but when there’s no tuition and you can study on your own time about subjects you’re deeply interested in and still have some guidance by professors, or experienced individuals (eg. Biotech CEOs for Strategic Management), then how can you really complain? Sure, you’re not getting an accredited degree at the end of the program, but that’s not really the point. It’s about learning and networking.
And if your’e really worried about that degree, you should go read my post on The economics of graduate studies.