This semester, we asked faculty and students about the benefits and challenges of maintaining a professional presence online. Check after the jump for what they had to say about Twitter, blogging, and the balance of work and personal identity.
I have a personal website where I have a blog. I started this blog when we began fieldwork and have written on it on and off. I have not been as regular and I would have liked to be but it has been fun. This site also contains almost all of my publications and links to newspaper articles.
This site was useful in two ways:
1. I have received two grants to support my India work because funders are interested in the linkages between research and public policy that articles on this site reflect. One of the grants actually contains some funds for regular posting of new results on this site.
2. I usually refer people who ask for publications to this site so that they can download. Many of my developing country colleagues do not have the kind of electronic database access we have. So they appreciate the opportunity to download articles.
However, maintaining the site is quite difficult and I often fall off the wagon.
After much reservation, two years ago I joined Twitter… and, I love it! Twitter allows me to disseminate information about research on racial and social inequality. It also allows me to stay abreast of cutting-edge research and occurrences in social life that become relevant for teaching and interacting with the lay public. An aspect of Twitter that I enjoy is that I can only tweet 140 characters. As a result, Twitter forces me to send something short and get back to writing articles. It also gives me a place to store readings that I want to return to when I have time to properly digest the findings and implications. I believe that Twitter helps you to construct a professional brand. As the way academics access articles and books changes, an online brand may become even more important for young scholars. I choose to focus on certain themes focused on race, social class, and gender and people who follow me know that they can find information about these topics on my page.
The thing that’s become the center of my online/social media presence is vulnerability.
We’re taught that we’re not supposed to do that, to be vulnerable. Life teaches us this, but I think academia teaches it especially hard. When you’re in graduate school you’re highly susceptible to fear—What’s going to happen to me? Am I going to find a job? What do all these faculty think of me? How am I coming off? Does so and so hate me? Am I letting people down? Oh God. That kind of fear can break you, but keeping it inside for even greater fear of looking weak makes it even worse, and at some point I decided I couldn’t do that anymore.
I’ve written extensively on Cyborgology—the group sociology blog founded by PJ Rey and Nathan Jurgenson, to which I’m a regular contributor—about how the various places online wherein I make my home have become places for me to work things out, to talk and think through whatever’s occupying my brain at any given time. I don’t know how to not do that; I’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been using the web. I came of age online, like many of us; I live there. So when I first extended myself into social media, I began by doing the same. I put all of me out there: I talked about life, friends, school, work, likes and dislikes, opinions about culture and politics, arguing about matters of research and theory, ranting about TV shows, nail polish. That’s not to say that I had no filters, but my presence was not what we normally consider “professional.” It still isn’t. I write essays on sociology and technology at Cyborgology, but there I’ve also written about fiction, video games, my cousin’s recent suicide, revolution, pain and joy, time and memory.
For me, social media—and really the entirety of the web—are part of a single massive discussion, and for me the lines that demarcate different parts of that discussion have always been blurry. Because I am blurry. I see no reason to pretend otherwise.
So my online presence is my academic life, my professional work, but it’s also so much more. I have feelings about that work, frustrations and excitements, and I talk about that. When I had a mental breakdown after my comps, I talked about that, and I still talk about mental health a good deal, because that stigma needs to be fought. When something has me fired up—really passionate in ways that are so easy to lose in the daily grind that grad school can be—I talk about that. And when I’m worried or afraid or suffering from doubt, I talk about that too. I talk about everything.
I should note here that what I have done flies in the face of almost every single piece of conventional common sense I’ve ever received on this subject. It’s very possibly an extremely bad idea. I do not recommend it to anyone. But it’s an option, and it’s the one I’ve chosen.
I love my social media-augmented life, the friends I’ve made, the connections I’ve cultivated, and the conversations I’ve been part of. I’ve learned so much, and it’s helped me beyond measure in the work I do. Someday I might regret it. That day hasn’t yet arrived.