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Finding New Ways to Network in Academia: An Excerpt

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By: Narelle Lemon

My world as an academic opened up when I discovered Twitter. Prior to exploring social media professionally I was in a state of confusion, frustration and exhaustion. I was entering a revaluation stage of my career and I was very much buried in emotions connected closely to questioning academia. I was six months post graduating from my doctorate and I was beginning to refocus on research possibilities and building partnerships to develop my skills and build my research profile. The institution where I had been employed at the time was emerging on a time of change. For me this was exciting but for many of my colleagues this was confronting whereby change, accountability and research active pressures where bringing out some undesirable behaviour. This energy was very disruptive and was a trigger for me to find others outside of my faculty and university to work and network with. In my adventures of “putting myself out there” I began to overhear some academics outside of teacher education talking about how they were engaging with social media to support their networking and sense of belonging. My interest was sparked and I set myself the challenge to establish a Twitter profile to evaluate if it could be a space for me to engage with professionally. Part of me approached this with hesitation and the thought “hmmm, do I have the time to engage with another social media?” and the other part of me was “I wonder how this works professionally, I’m fascinated to see what else is possible with Twitter beyond celebrities and the latest fashion trends”.

Within a week I was hooked. I was amazed at how many hashtags  existed to support academia and research – there was #highered #AcWriMo and #PhDchat to just begin with. I was also taken aback with the links I made with colleagues outside of my current faculty who also were using Twitter for professional interactions. The incidental conversations about Twitter use, insights gained and connections made allowed me to develop the confidence to tweet. I soon realised I had to establish a professional account and a personal account to deliberately refocus the content I accessed and also shared. In hindsight my nickname as my Twitter handle (subconsciously thinking perhaps I would not be in the Twittersphere for long) would not be my first choice for a professional identity however, it has become a branding that enables me to become an approachable individual virtually and with those I meet face-to-face. In some ways my Twitter profile, linked to my blog where I share my initial research ideas that inform my more formal academic publications, and digital identity helped me emerge from behind the metal door that seemed fused shut into a new world of innovation, collaboration, open communication, support, and collegiality. Others engaging with Twitter were also trying to figure out how to be an active researcher and productive academic in the changing times of higher education but were doing so with a much more supportive and generous approach. My fellow Tweeters were being the change I wanted to be. There was a clear disruption to the competitive nature that is associated to academia. As Budge et al. (in press) reiterate that participating in the use of Twitter as academics with other academics is a part of a collective process of challenging what it means to be an academic. Working productively, writing hints, productivity hints, and ongoing support and encouragement are all enacted and expected academic behaviours on Twitter. This way of working is challenging the landscape of scholarly publishing “with a preponderance of open-source academics” (Carrigan, 2014, para 10). I was very attracted to this way of working and it contributed considerably to my flight of perseveration.

Twitter became my vehicle in which to begin to disrupt the competitive nature and hierarchy of academia that is often associated to the performance culture of higher education (Flaherty, 2014). My Twitter use has moved from engaging with this social media professionally for ideas, keeping in the loop on up to date information, and engaging with other educators to also being a digital tool for my teaching and dissemination of my research. I access information that I share with my students as well as introduce them to Twitter as a digital access point to resources. My access point to information has widened and I enjoy the opportunity of sharing this with students in the higher education context as well. It is especially exciting when students who begin to engage with Twitter have opportunities emerge that they had never even considered.

My ability to disseminate my research has widened also where I share my work and seek feedback from over 1606 Twitter followers (at time of publication). In linking my blog I have had over 14,600 (at time of publication) views since its establishment in early 2012. Then by utilising links to my academic.com profile I can see how many people are accessing my research and downloading my publications. Recently I shared a paper that within 48 hours had 136 downloads. As an early career researcher I could never be able to reach this wide audience without engaging in global social media networks. The power and breath of this way of disseminating is far more outreaching than in traditional ways of working. This approach is especially disrupting the traditional ways of working in academia and pushing the boundaries in reporting the impact of research as an early career researcher.

Twitter has become for me an access point for impact information that I may not normally have had the opportunity to see at such an early stage of my career. The innovative ideas that are shared are inspiring and motivating for me. I thoroughly enjoy the chance to hear other perspectives and pose questions. The chance to listen as well as be heard is also appealing in a world where continued growth and meaning making require active participation and communication. The most profound impact for me has been the chance to engage with others on a global level that I would not normally be able to connect with, listen to, or ask questions to. In some cases the Twittersphere has allowed for contact with a well-established researcher that I would not normally have access to nor feel like I could contact due to my perceived reading of their availability. Twitter breaks these walls down as contact over time and the concise communication of what it is you actually like about their work and what you want to inquire further into is made possible in 140 character tweets.

Being “In and Out” is the first book to bring together women’s voices across the landscape of academia who have experienced being “in” and “out” of the academy. You can read more of this chapter on SpringerLink.

Featured Image: Un nouveau logo pour Twitter by Philippe Martin. CC 2.0 via Flickr.

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