What to consider when crafting your online identity

The question of what value social media, particularly blogging, holds in academia is ongoing and at times controversial. This is well illustrated over at The Guardian Higher Education Network where articles are still being produced in reaction to a comment by Leonard Cassuto in a live chat on the Guardian Higher Education Network“I have nothing against [blogs], but I don’t read them, either” – which sparked a great deal of discussion. Academic Rohan Maitzen blogged about Cassuto’s attitude to blogging and publishing, and Cassuto then posted his response, ‘The measure of blogging’. Charlotte Frost, Founder and Director of PhD2Published, also gave a response to Cassuto which can be found here. This week The Guardian published my take on the issue, ‘Don’t doubt the value of blogging in academic publishing’. Like Charlotte I admit I am not as established as Cassuto, but I do believe that blogging has a place in academia, particularly for early career researchers.

However, blogging is only part of the picture, thus to blog or not to blog is only one question early career researchers should be looking at. I believe that early career researchers should engage with a range of social media tools, but for it to be effective it needs to be done strategically. In this post I look at the things to remember when developing your online identity.

1. Why are you here and what are you trying to achieve

This seems fairly obvious but it is an important question: are you engaging with social media because everyone else is, or because you can see a strategic need/usage for you to do so? I admit I love playing about with technology, particularly social media applications, but I don’t use them just because they are there.

My digital persona now consists largely of three main parts: Twitter – for networking, sharing ideas and being part of a community, particularly using the hashtag #phdchat. Writing for edited blogs such as thesiswhisperer, Guardian Higher Education Network and LSE Impact Blog. I also manage Networked Researcher. Writing for edited blogs enables me to participate in instant debates around topical issues, which in turn stimulates people’s interest in me as a researcher through being able to view my writing. The turn-around time for a blog to go from author to published is infinitely quicker than it is for a journal article. Then there is my personal blog. My personal blog is where I can cover issues not related to my academic work, introduce people to what makes me, well, me. I believe my work is an extension of myself and thus to know and understand my work it makes sense for me to present an element of me with my work. That may scare some people, but a lot may be written about you anyway, so it is probably safer to be in control of what is put out there. In relation to its potential impact on job applications, I think putting a little of yourself out there is no bad thing, as the people hiring you do actually have to work with you – so if they get to understand you a little beforehand that’s good. However, always remember everything you put online can be found, so think you are introducing yourself to a complete stranger – how much do you want them to know?

2. Engaging with digital media introduces new ethical questions

By its very name social media is inherently social and therefore interactive. Thus engaging in and with social media for research purposes raises a number of new ethical questions. There has been a great deal of debate over the ethics of multimedia and e-research projects specifically in relation to issues surrounding consent (something that I will come back to in a future post). If you are using your blog as part of your research people interacting with you must be aware if their engagements could form part of your thesis.

3.The digital is there to complement the traditional

In most debates on blogging there seems to be this misunderstanding that blogging or digital publishing should make traditional outputs redundant. I personally don’t think this is the case. The blog, as I said above, is for making instant impact. Think of it as the highlighter of academic publishing: it is done to give people a taste of the way you write and think. It is there to complement your traditional output. To be a successful academic you will need to be able to be published in a range of mediums in order to maximise your impact and engage the widest possible audience with you and your work.

4. Writing for a blog is also a different skill, one which takes time to develop

In my opinion it is one that enables you to be able to check off that ‘can convey complex information to non specialist audiences’ box on job applications. If you visit my personal blog you will see a little experiment I did where I wrote about my PhD research in ‘plain English’ and asked for people to comment on it, to see whether they really did understand. The first piece can be viewed here and the second here. You can see from the comments on the first piece that people really didn’t understand what my thesis was about. To be an effective researcher you need to be able to communicate your research and this is something that takes time to develop.

5. Establishing your identity will take time

Any articles or blogs on blogging, of which there are many, will tell you it takes a number of months for a blog to become established and for your identity to become known online. Don’t worry if it takes a while for your blog or twitter account to pick up followers, the more you write the more will be read and, hopefully, the more you will be asked to write. It is too easy to pour all your time and energy into crafting your online identity and at the same time forget about your analogue one. Try to remember to maintain balance and don’t become over-committed in any one area.

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Sarah-Louise Quinnell

Dr. Sarah-Louise Quinnell is the E-Learning Lead Technologist for Floream Partnerships she works on a portfolio of e-learning projects in partnership with Google, International Olympic Committee and the Institute of Digital Marketing.

She is also a researcher affiliated to the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities.

All views are her own and do not necessarily represent her employer's views or policies.

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David Jackson

I’d opine that there is NO “social media”. In point of fact, the whole notion that there is truly any- thing of a genuine “social” nature about blogging, texting, or otherwise feigning communication with a social being is ludicrous. It is, at best, a substitute for real interaction and, at worst, a pathetic ruse. I’m more than just a little suspicious of my own involvement in this site: On the one hand, I am starved for some insight and reasonably intelligent social science dialogue, since what I’m subjected to at this so-called university is little more than consensus academics and… Read more »

Richard Rummery

Dear David, I sympathise with many of your views, having had an unprecedented experience as a PhD in philosophy in recent years. Getting original ideas and perspectives that lead others to them is my ambition, but that has proved a rather difficult thing to do. People vigorously defend their turf, resisting arguments that threaten their postions, somehow forgetting that and how knowledge is produced, disseminated and understood. Clearly, on-line publishing doubtless has an important role to play, however, it must not be confused with mere self-promotion. See my own work, for example, which analyses the concept of Narcissism as a… Read more »

Judith Kahn-Donald

4. – “writing for a blog is a different skill” – I can relate to this comment and it is how I have always tried to write, particularly as most of my professional life, I have written for and about bureaucrats and politicians in turn conveying their information to the general public/taxpayer – you have to be able to write to the lowest common denominator. A university professor once told us that he didnt want us to regurgitate the text book in our thesis. If we can write so that our mother can understand, then we truly understood the intent… Read more »

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