Friday, September 14, 2012

Early-career Academics, unite! Or, a plug for social media


Hello Readers! My name is Margrit Talpalaru. I am a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, and an early-career researcher on my own time. I am delighted and honoured to join the regular cast of H&E writers.

Being a PhD graduate without an immediate permanent prospect can feel alienating. After all, in a system which thrives on categorization and taxonomy, you’re suddenly in limbo. For me it felt abrupt, like I no longer belonged to the clear nomenclature of my department [where do I even heat my lunch now that I’ve graduated from the grad lounge?]. My OneCard was trying to persuade me I was “staff,” but then it turned cruel on me, and suspended my library privileges for getting pregnant and not having a teaching contract. Don’t get me wrong, my department didn’t quite let me fend for myself: PhD graduates are given two years of part-time teaching (2+2 courses). But the trick of the part-time status is that you don’t qualify for parental leave. Basically, it felt like my department was ready for me to spread my wings and go out into the world, but the latter would have none of it or of me.

So, I took Erin’s advice to find my own community, and I found a very supportive one on Twitter. After lurking there for a few months, in which I was convincing myself Twitter was a procrastination tool for reading the news—international and academic alike—I started interacting with people. Timidly, at first. What would I have to say to people who had never heard of me? Why would they—seasoned academics, twitterers, bloggers, journalists—want to talk to me? It turns out some of them do, and most are welcoming, generous, and engaging conversationalists. After years of lurking on favourite blogs, I was dumbfounded: so that’s why people come back, that’s why they write, that’s why they bare it (all). Sure, there are also the broadcasters, disinterested in engaging or measuring their self-esteem by the numbers in the “followers” section. The important thing I discovered, though? You can find your community, too.

I know social media inveterates do a face-palm right now. To them I say, please avert your eyes for a second, or just bear with me, because I can bet there are many other PhD students and early-career researchers out there feeling as lost as I was, and thinking they’re the only ones experiencing it. Well, I’m not here to tell them what to do, but just to point out that it worked for me. That I had no idea Twitter, whom we academics all like to bash [“140 characters? Only a chipmunk would find that satisfactory! I prefer to express my complex thoughts in 5,000-word essays, thank you!”=134 characters!] can be such a supportive environment, if you only spent time to discover the innards of chats and hashtags. Between #PhDchat, #PhDadvice, #ECRchat, #acwri, #ECRbook, #FYCchat, and many others, I’m sure you can find something to alleviate that dreaded prisoner-in-the-ivory-tower feeling.

And, how about you, Reader? Are you on Twitter? Do you have an online community? Care to share?

4 comments:

  1. Hi Margrit,

    I have found that twitter can be a super supportive environment. There are some really awesome established academics out there who are willing to give advice, graduate students and early career folks, too, with lots to offer. And people are willing to share what they do to deal with academic stress. I also have found that some are willing to give advice about texts to read if I am working on a new project and don't know quite where to go for sources. I really love twitter, so I'm glad to read something positive about the experience from someone else :) I am partial to all of the hashtags you've listed, but I also love #todayspoem and #fridayreads. :)

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  2. Hi Stephanie,
    Thanks for sharing. I was very surprised to find Twitter communities so supportive, given the brouhaha around it. I realized it was people not actually *on* twitter who were most active at the bashing. I'm glad you had a similar positive experience. Thanks for the hashtag suggestions, too. I'll check them out.

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  3. Thanks for the cheerful post, Margrit. I am a PhD Candidate at the University of Calgary and very new to social media. I joined twitter yesterday. I have not really used fB much. My reasons are complicated.

    That said, I really care about fostering community and interrelationship between diverse groups but I have always felt squeamish about categories, clubs, and anything that smacks of self-indulgent articulosa--"look at me! See how mean/clever I can be!" Indulgence can be good though. I must say that joining various media over the last few months has been fun and pleasurable in its way. I still prefer 'old-fashioned' conversation over a carafe of coffee etc. At risk of sounding...oh, I don't know... I'll just write it: I like to look in people's eyes when I speak to them and hear their voice--interact with the sensuousness of presence. Listen to their sound rather than just view or see.
    What I am searching for in an on-line community is a group of people from diverse disciplines/spaces/places willing to tackle some questions on ethical-aesthetics and then actually move forward on the work--make it live. I am still attempting to locate/build this kind of community. But it is good, enticing work...

    Gabble is fun. Support from diverse quarters is often a luxury yet so needed. Building new communities or collaboratories (as Erin Wunker has) is necessary--there is much to be done in our present (global) circumstances.
    I have emailed certain academics or writers that I want to communicate with for a variety of reasons over the past little while--some in fields fairly removed from my own. For the most part, they have been amazing, a real pleasure: willing to engage, share, and discuss. I have found some of this communication more than rejuvenating...a way to reach beyond the sometimes fragile or hesitant or political relations in departments. Furthermore, you never know what someone will say or what might happen... I love this kind of mystery.

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  4. Radsensorium,
    Nice to meet you, and thanks for sharing. I, too, prefer in-person interaction for all the reasons you mentioned. Have you noticed how sarcasm, irony, and other inflections don't really carry on social media? In an ideal world, I'd have all my friends, old and new, around. However, I find, especially for us peripatetic academics, that situation idealist. So, for me, social media (Twitter and FB) are good surrogates. No, even better, as I probably wouldn't have met some of the people I'm interacting with on Twitter, and that would have been a shame. So, until we meet in person, I'm happy to have made your acquaintance over social media, R!

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