Digital Identity in Graduate School


Last week, the Arts & Sciences Graduate Center at William and Mary hosted a Digital Identity Roundtable to discuss the benefits, pitfalls, and protocols for graduate students who currently use social media for networking and scholarship, and for those who would like to start. As a contributing editor for The Junto, I was invited to participate in that discussion. Only after agreeing did I realize that mine would be the only graduate student voice among a group of highly accomplished professors from across the college. Being a typical graduate student, the thought of speaking with any “expertise” caused a brief panic and I turned to my fellow Junto editors for their tips and suggestions for graduate students and early career scholars about managing a digital identity. My query (really a plea for help), elicited such a big and generous response from my fellow editors that we decided to share that advice here. Hopefully, this can start a wider conversation about how graduate students should confront an increasingly vital part of our professional development.

First, and perhaps not surprisingly, Junto editors and the panel of scholars at William and Mary strongly recommend that graduate students take the time to develop an online presence. Sara Georgini recommends that graduate students “blog, tweet, and establish a clear digital home base stating your academic bio and research interests.” In doing so, Rachel Hermann explains that graduate students should also focus on developing a public voice, which is likely different from their personal interactions. The key is to remember that, according to Sara, the majority of digital platforms are visible. As such, graduate students need to “think critically about the political and intellectual views they put forward.” Sometimes this means thinking before tweeting, people.

Michael D. Hattem explains that his own approach to his digital identity shifted the closer he got to the job market. First, he suggests that graduate students on the market check to see what happens when they Google their names – making sure that personal websites are up and running and that search results on Google line up with how a candidate would like to present themselves to search committees. Kenneth Owen agrees, arguing for the importance of a “coordinated website presence.” In other words, graduate students should also make sure that, as Kenneth explains, “any website/blog presence you have – be it personal website, department page, collaborative outside project – conveys the same message as your job materials do.” This means working to keep things up-to-date, and likely for months (or years) before job market time.

Rachel also describes a difference between how graduate students and early career scholars should/do approach social media. First, it is important to remember that search committees are likely to be on social media. That means, according to Rachel, don’t tweet your hangovers or “fall into the trap of looking like a graduate student who critiques books because s/he hasn’t written any.” For early career scholars, however, Rachel recommends communicating honestly through social media about how often one works, the struggles of imposter syndrome, and to be honest about finances.

Perhaps most importantly, and advice that most Junto editors echoed, was to be collegial, professional, thoughtful, and strategic when using social media. Engage in blogging, ask questions/solicit advice from the #twitterstorians, and be prepared to discuss your digital presence in professional settings. As Michael sums up nicely, social media “is only going to become increasingly imperative in the coming years.” This means that developing a strategy for engaging in the online world of professional historians might be a worthwhile endeavor for graduate students at any stage.

What have we missed? Advisors of graduate student, what do you recommend for your students in terms of their digital identity? Early career scholars, what worked (or didn’t) for you on the job market in terms of social media? And graduate students, what lingering concerns do you have about tweeting or blogging?

6 responses

  1. Pingback: Os dilemas da vida digital dos cientistas sociais | A Vida Pública da Sociologia

  2. Rachel, I was intrigued by your comment about “fall[ing] into the trap of looking like a graduate student who critiques books because s/he hasn’t written any.” Can you elaborate and/or provide a link to the full version of your comments? I agree with Casey that the word “expertise” or “expert” always gives me pause. While I feel like I have a general knowledge of quite a few topics, I always hesitate to call myself an “expert”; and if I could be considered an “expert” on anything, it would probably be so limited as to apply to only about ten people in the country and cease to be meaningful. Others can comment on the job market–I have little but contempt and derision for the types of faddish job ads I see. On social media…ughh…I guess I’m officially ambivalent but definitely leaning toward a more critical stance. I keep a personal website and use it for all sorts of things that are helpful for teaching and scholarship, but I also get the impression that it is almost required nowadays, and I’m not sure that’s such a good thing. It does create extra work. Yes, there are connections I’ve made on Facebook and Twitter that I otherwise would not have made and yes, historians have been incorporating social media into their scholarship in interesting ways for a few years, but it’s also prone to distraction, short attention spans, and loss of those precious few hours we need to dedicate toward teaching and scholarship (and for most of us, save for a few lucky ones, teaching almost exclusively pays the bills). And what about the effect of social media on our self-esteem? I can’t be the only one out there feeling self-conscious and thinking that Facebook and Twitter corner us into tough choices regarding our identities as well as the natural tendency to compare oneself to others, which doesn’t often result in positive thinking. For me personally, I have to set strict boundaries. I haven’t been on Twitter since President* Trump was elected* and as I’m in the midst of grading about 200 essays, I also left Facebook. I’ll come back around soon enough. Does anyone else have that nagging feeling that social media erodes productivity?

    • I was remembering the person I was in graduate school, and that I was often too critical of books. It’s easy to bash an author, especially when you’re early on in your PhD and don’t have a good sense of just how much work goes into writing and editing a book.

      And while I agree with your point about some job ads, I’ll say that job ads in England are either posted because someone’s gotten a fellowship and needs a replacement lecturer (who is often paid a decent VAP salary, unlike in the US), or because a department is responding to student demands in certain subject areas.

      • Indeed, I feel similarly about book reviews. Looking back at a couple of reviews I have written in the past, they are probably a bit more critical compared to how I would write them today. On the job market, there’s not much I can add that’s not already been said in the long literature on CHE and other venues. It makes sense that job ads would be responding to student demands, but there’s also the uncomfortable truth that hiring committees fluff up their job ads to please deans that are reluctant to open up new lines unless they are “useful.”

  3. Pingback: How to manage your student digital identity? – OGR LAB _\[||]//_

  4. Pingback: Five on a Friday: Helpful links for graduate students at all stages – Kimberly B. Sherman


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