By Liz Polcha
On January 27th I had the opportunity to sit in on the NULab’s panel, “Social Media and the Modern Academic,” an informal discussion held by NULab co-director David Lazer and NULab faculty Moya Bailey and Ryan Cordell. I found their remarks useful for graduate students in the digital humanities, a field that is particularly visible and active on social media. As a female academic and a feminist, I often feel wary of sharing my ideas publicly on social media. These panelists encouraged me to think more about how I can set professional boundaries around what I share, and use social media as a way to circulate my research. I’ve included below some of the highlights and suggestions from the conversation that have helped me to think about my own social media use, both professionally and politically.
Junior academics need some professional visibility online.
Blogging is a great tool to get your research out, including conference talks. Don’t put entirely new, undeveloped ideas online—but blogging can be used as a mid-stage publishing platform.
When publishing an article, have conversations with journals about their open access policies. If you can publish something on your blog too, it gets cited more often.
Humanists often don’t give the public enough credit—there are lots of nonacademic communities who might be interested in aspects of your work.
Think carefully about how you use social media, especially Twitter, to write critically about colleagues’ work. Prof. Cordell cited his principles of conference tweeting in the discussion.
Prof. Bailey was initially involved with social media through activism, before it was connected to her scholarship. She sees social media as a possibility to build community and direction in her research.
Social media is being used in a political way in this moment. Students should think, how does my social media presence and profile impact me beyond this moment?
You can set boundaries with your professional social media visibility by having multiple accounts. You have a right to say, this is all you get—by controlling how you share and what you share.
Critical thinking about the ethics of using social media in your research is necessary – how do you decide which tweets you want to cite and publish? It is important to be aware of the negative impact when people’s tweets are cited, retweeted, published.
Storify is a great tool for documenting conversations around a particular hashtag, especially at conferences.
Academics are supposed to express themselves at a very slow pace. Social media and blogging lets you broadcast your thoughts and ideas more immediately.
Blogging can provide visibility sometimes from surprising places. It is a high cost thing to convince people to read your academic papers, blogs are more accessible and hooked into the events of the day. Prof. Lazer mentioned the blog the Monkey Cage as an example of a less academically gate-kept entryway into political science research.
Visibility is incredibly important for faculty, especially for tenure review.
Social media can be a way for academics to participate in conversations that go beyond the academy, enabling them to be public intellectuals.