Dima’s notes from our social media and research panel

tl;dr: Read Dima Epstein’s post summarizing advice and thoughts from a panel we did about social media and academia and Phil Agre’s Networking on the Network.

Dima Epstein, Natalie Bazarova, and I were on a panel for using social media as an academic. I’d say none of us is super-expert, but between us, the audience, and some of the folks I know on Facebook, we generated potentially useful thoughts that Dima compiled on his blog in this post: Making social media work for you – notes from a workshop.

My biggest thought on this is that it’s useful to think about social media as just another tool for helping you define, find, be aware of, and contribute to the communities you care about. For a more comprehensive treatment of being part of an academic community, check out Phil Agre’s Networking on the Network, which I wish I had read as a grad student. It’s from around 2002, so it talks about email rather than Twitter, but the principles are timeless. Sections 1-6 are particularly useful for folks before the job stage, and would be useful to skim before your next conference.

I also especially liked Andrea Forte’s high-level thought below, about using social media as another way to be your awesome self. Many more thoughts and specific strategies are at Dima’s post, and below from helpful Facebook friends. If you have more tips and comments, they’re probably most useful attached to Dima’s post since that’s where most of the meat is, though I’m happy to see them here as well.

Ines Mergel Here are a few things I usually talk about: (1) Set up a blog as their homepage to showcase their work: when search committees google them they will find valuable information. Plus academics tend to move and it make sense to have one digital homebase that doesn’t change with every move & they can control on their own without getting faculty assistants involved. (2) Use Twitter to distribute their own work, follow journals, editors, other academics in their area, ask questions. (3) I also include RSS feeds to the journals in their area, so that they automatically receive notifications. (4) Think about your FB privacy settings vis-a-vis students, search committees, etc. (5) I’m sure there is tons more…

Thomas Høgenhaven Try to submit guest posts to existing (somewhat successful) blogs + generously share others work on Twitter

Andrea Forte i tell people… you know all the awesome things you are in everyday life that make you someone people want to hire/work with – supportive of colleagues, insightful about your field, modest but excited about your work, fun – be that online too.

Joseph Jofish Kaye I like all these suggestions. I’d add one, which is to email people when you get a paper published that you think they might want to read. Focused, not everyone you’ve ever met, but particularly if you’ve got a book chapter which you think certain people might find useful, then send it to them when it comes out. I think not enough people do this. (I learned it from Kristina Höök.)

More creative “internships”?

tl/dr: Concrete: think about spending a summer at another school rather than an industrial lab, doing an internship outside of the summer, and/or an internship that’s not publication-centric.  General: creatively structure your grad school activities to get experiences, skills, information, fun, and people that you want.

When I was a grad student at Minnesota, folks there, at Michigan, and at CMU got a joint grant that led to great collaboration around social science and design, including the Building Successful Online Communities book (preprint chapters are downloadable here).

Part of the challenge of being on that team, especially early on, was that we were both distributed geographically and from different disciplines. This made it harder to figure out how to work together, transfer knowledge, and plan activities where everyone got value from them. This is common in (interdisciplinary) teams, and we used standard strategies such as bringing the team together for regular retreats and having virtual meetings and seminars.

These were helpful, but one idea we kicked around was an emissary model in which folks from place X would spend substantial time at place Y. I saw this as a big potential win: a distance collaboration could go turbo [1] and its members could get cross-training in other disciplines, experience different work styles and cultures, expand their professional networks, and maybe get letter writers from other institutions. All of these seem like pretty good outcomes.

So the specific question is: how could something like this work? Professors do sabbaticals and undergrads do REUs, but AFAIK it’s super-rare for PhD students [2]. My analogy is “academic internship”, with variations compared to a traditional industry experience. Without NDAs and intellectual property issues it might be easier for the advisor to be an active collaborator–which might in turn simplify funding, allowing the advisor to pay a summer stipend or RAship as they might do anyways. I’m sure there are reasons why this is more complex than I think, and I’d be happy to hear them in the comments, but it feels like something worth exploring.

The more general question is: how can students think more creatively about how to structure grad school experiences? Victoria Sosik and Xuan Zhao are doing spring and summer industrial internships this year; other students I work with are also thinking about the possibility of semester vs. summer internships. Not all companies are able to do this, but some are, and some might welcome it–maybe worth thinking, and asking, about? [3]

It’s also not necessary to turn every internship into publications, especially if you’re considering non-academic career options [4]. Victoria’s done one pure product, one mostly research, and one balanced internship; Xuan is doing one of each. This will give them a lot of information about academia vs. industry, and if industry, which flavors taste good.

So, that’s my story today: think about creative ways to structure your internships and other grad school activities to help you get the experiences, skills, information, fun, and people that you want to be part of your (academic) life.

What’s your story about this idea?

— Dan

[1] Not to be confused with “Going Turbo” from Wreck-It Ralph, which I recently saw and loved.

[2] I would love to hear stories about this working, or not working, if you’ve done it or sponsored it.

[3] From a student funding point of view, it’s like supporting yourself for a semester (especially if you can get low tuition through an in absentia or on leave kind of status).

[4] Which you should do; alternative academic careers can be necessary, lucrative, rewarding, and/or fun.