February 10, 2014 by Amanda Visconti

Digital Professionalism for Graduate Students: How to Use Twitter, Blogging, and the Rest of the Web as an Academic

Some reasons graduate students (and any scholars) should maintain an online presence, with an emphasis on using Twitter and blogging to develop intellectually and professionally:

  1. Blogging is magic (I'm blogging right now!). Blogging can help you develop content for your dissertation, article, or future conference paper, without the same constraints of sitting down to produce a formal essay. Blogging helps develop your unique voice and trains you to write for various audiences—not just the colleagues you're used to, but for those outside your field or outside academia as well (you should be able to explain your intellectual passions to a non-academic audience, anyway). Blogging publicly identifies you as actively engaged with the topics you research.
  2. An online presence demonstrates competency at presenting yourself: professionalism in online interactions, and the social and intellectual acumen to develop a network of collaboration and discussion.
  3. Employers will look you up online. An online presence (CV site, LinkedIn account, Twitter) is your chance to shape what they see. What aspects of your work do you want to make certain prospective collaborators and colleagues see?
  4. Twitter lets you keep up on the latest academic arguments, productions, events, and opportunities. Besides helping you track a field's preoccupations on a schedule more frequent than your field's key periodicals, tweeting can also serve as note-taking during scholarly events.
  5. Tweeting and blogging about your work can result in invitations to speak or serve on panels, take part in projects, and otherwise collaborate with like-minded thinkers.
  6. Most importantly: be part of the digital academic community, too:

The following are notes from my part of a February 10, 2014 panel in the University of Maryland English Department on using the digital as an academic professional. I presented with Professors Matt Kirschenbaum, Marilee Lindemann, and Joshua Weiner.

Update: Marilee posted her remarks from the panel on her blog (Madwoman with a Laptop), and it's a great read: how university social media policies factor into your online presentation and future job search, balancing blogging (often a labor of love with less tangible benefits than traditional scholarly work) with efforts that are more commonly accepted toward tenure and promotion, and how to generally "not be a butthead" in your social media use.

Covered below:

  1. Get Your CV/Portfolio Online
  2. How to Do Twitter as an Academic
  3. Who to Follow on Twitter
  4. Privacy
  5. Suggested Reading

Get Your CV/Portfolio Online

  • LinkedIn (connect with colleagues, join groups like the Versatile Ph.D. and the official groups for academic organizations where you're a member)
  • Reclaim Hosting (for your academic blog, online portfolio, or class website; $12/first year, $20-30/year thereafter)
  • Free online website/portfolio services exist, but I don't know much about them. I'd caution against using them unless you can't find an alternative that works for you: you either get ads on your site (not super professional) or are stuck with a site that looks like a million others, as with Wordpress.com's free blog hosting. (On the other hand, non-web-devs probably don't notice or care that your Wordpress.com site looks like many others, and having a well-presented CV site is better than not having one.)
  • When structuring your CV/online portfolio, think about the areas of your professional life you want to emphasize; background that best supports your hiring in the type of job you desire or collaboration in activities of interest to you should be foremost. Create categories if they don't exist but would highlight your abilities. Don't let good skills/experiences get buried because they aren't highlighted by traditional CV categories (e.g. on my CV I have sections for professional grants I've applied for/the amounts I've been awarded for them, conferences and conference panels I've organized, and guest blog posts I've been asked to write).
  • CV or online portfolio? A digital CV is just like a print one, but it's readable online and/or downloadable as a PDF. An online portfolio is less of a list and more of a showcase of projects, papers, awards, and other achievements that define you as a scholar, allowing for fewer examples but more narrative.

How to Do Twitter as an Academic

  • Twitter basics: RT means "retweet" (share others' tweets with your followers while attributing the original tweeter); MT means "modified tweet" (use when RT'ing but shortening or otherwise altering the original tweet); ICYMI (in case you missed it).
  • RTs are easy to do (most apps have both an RT and a "quote"/MT button) and useful; even better is to read the link you're RT'ing, and prepend your RT with your thoughts (e.g. why you suggest reading it).
  • Starting a tweet @someone means that only that person and people who follow both you and that person will see the tweet in their timelines (although anyone can see the tweet by visiting either of your timelines). Put a period in front of the @username to let all your followers read it. When quoting someone, always attribute; the .@someone trick is the concise, accepted way of doing this if the person has a Twitter handle:
  • Use hashtags if you want people who are searching for that hashtag to find your tweet. Hashtags for conferences, events, and courses are a great way to follow along. Most people use non-event hashtags sparingly #because #they're #not #fun #to #read.
  • Use Storify to curate tweets and other social media, as with show an online conversation that happened in response to an event (here's an example Storify I made of a Twitter conversation about digital dissertations)
  • Various Twitter apps (e.g. Tweetdeck) let you schedule tweets ahead of time. This is great if you want to tweet links to your work while speaking on a panel, or to sync a tweet linking to a new blog post of yours with the publication of that post.
  • Keeping up with Twitter can take time; I've moved my Twitter usage off my computer (so I'm not distracted while working) and check it while commuting on the train.

Who/What to Follow on Twitter

Some following ideas for starting out on Twitter:

  • UMD English Twitter List (faculty, graduate students, alumni; tweet @Literature_Geek to be added)... or for non-UMD folks, check if anyone in your department has started a similar list (if not, starting it yourself is a good excuse to tweet with others on your campus)
  • Live-tweeted events (e.g. the MLA conference; see the #elit hashtag for an event on electronic literature we live-tweeted at MITH a week and a half ago). Search #ml14 and #s + the session number you're interested in (e.g. #mla14 #s421; see the online MLA program for these).
  • W. W. Norton's (of giant Norton Anthology fame) list of public intellectuals
  • Lists created by fellow graduate students, academics in your field, or of people attending a given academic conference (e.g. this list of attendees at the Society for Textual Scholarship conference). Many users share public lists on their profile pages.
  • Intellectual leaders in your subfield(s): look up the authors of your favorite books, both academic and fiction. Hear about their latest thinking, give thoughtful responses to work they tweet.

Privacy:

  • Wolfram Alpha's extensive analysis of your Facebook data is a good reminder of the information that can be put together from what you post.
  • Your students read your tweets. So do prospective employers. Assume everyone—your parents, your administrators, the professor who wrote that book you hate/love so much you're tweeting about it—is reading your tweets. People don't need to be following you to read your tweets (unless your account if locked; see below). Even if it isn't true that everyone's reading your tweets, thinking like this will help you write things you won't regret in the future. And the good side of everyone being on Twitter is that it's easier to get into a conversation with someone whose academic work you admire, or scholars thinking about the same questions from different campuses and countries.
  • Planning on making your social media accounts (or particular posts/tweets) private when job-seeking as an excuse to use them loosely now is a bad idea (unless your use of them is purely social and less than flattering... but in that case you might consider making them private all the time). Once you post a thing, various sites (e.g. Topsy) archive it and don't delete it even if you delete the original post/tweet; if someone retweets your tweet, that RT also lives on.
  • Don't lock your Twitter account unless you're not using it for professional reasons. Part of being on Twitter is having non-followers read your tweets (and by extension, hear about your work) and start following you/become part of your academic conversation.

Suggested Reading