(This blog post is the first in a series of reflections on this year’s GradSchool 2012. A lot went on is a pure understatement of what actually occured so I’ll be sharing my thoughts in several entries. Comments welcome!)
I’ve just returned from a rather intriguing afternoon during the first day of Manchester GRADSchool 2012 (#MancGrads12). This was a half day which served more as in introduction, where opportunities were created to meet other PhD students from different disciplines. This was one of the most exciting parts of the afternoon – actually meeting people who don’t study in the same building as you and whose subject area is completely and totally different to your own. I found that very refreshing.
What made my day was finally (finally) getting to meet The Thesis Whisperer (a.k.a. Dr. Inger Mewbern) in person. Her blog has been an invaluable resource for me on this PhD journey where the advice gleaned from her site has given me clarity and, at times, a good laugh. It’s written with the kind of insight that can only come from compassion born out of a genuine interest in helping others. I’m an avid fan of her blog and so was very much looking forward to her talk.
Her keynote talk presented her experiences of using social media and the effect it had on her own career as a way of showing that yes, this blogging/Twitter/etc. stuff is becoming an essential tool for academic researchers. As someone who is actively using social media I found her talk encouraging. In light of the dwindling prospects for academic posts in humanities (and I’m talking just post-docs, let along tenured track appointments) combined with the deep funding cuts to UK higher education my future in academia isn’t looking great. I’m also an international student and this places an additional barrier to securing a post considering I have to comply with the ever-changing immigration regulations. Thus, using social media to create and boost my online academic profile is a no brainer for me. I don’t know to what extent my online efforts will help me job-wise, but it has had a positive effect on my professional development. Dr. Mewbern’s talk reassured me that my efforts do matter.
What I also found interesting about her talk was her experiences facing resistance from other academics. That was unexpected. I think I was a little naive thinking that social media would be consider by many as a positive force in academia. Dr. Mewbern shared her awareness of being seen as an ‘upstart’ by other academics who don’t agree and/or dislike what she’s achieving by going outside the usual conventions of higher education (i.e. using social media to engage others). If social media was seen to be having a more substantial effect on UK higher education to the level that policy makers took notice, I wonder what the reaction would be.
In all it was a throughly engaging day and really set the tone for the days to come.