24 November 2016

Serious academics & managing your digital identity

One of the things that we try to do on the blog besides offer interesting examples of anthropology everywhere, is to try to highlight advice on professionalization for anthropology graduates and graduate students.

This past August, the Academics Anonymous column in The Guardian's Higher Education Network published "I'm a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer"

For the young PhD 'serious academic' author of this piece, their concern seems to stem from the seemingly new demand that academics participate in social media to demonstrate their enthusiasm, engagement, impact, etc. The article closes with this lament about one more obligation in the busy life of a graduate student/ scholar:
But surely the dedication I show in the lab, and the subsequent data I collect, should speak for itself. I do not – and should not – have to parade myself online to please my employer or to stake my claim as a good researcher. Can’t we save the showing off for where it’s really needed, in the dreaded grant applications?
#SeriousAcademic backlash
Not surprisingly this article sparked an interesting discussion about what it means to be a "serious academic" today. Later that same day, The Guardian published a response from Dean Burnett in the science section, "I’m a non-serious academic. I make no apologies for this." The Chronicle of Higher Education responded with their own piece, "What Is a ‘Serious Academic’? Social-Media Critique Provokes a Backlash." And other responses followed from across social media platforms, such as The Tatooed Prof's "I’ve Got a Serious Problem with “Serious Academics.”"

Given that even the most serious academics working their way through graduate school at the moment wont end up in the traditional (or their anticipated) serious academic job -- a tenure-track professorship -- thinking about the role of social media in academia is an important issue.

More than just self-promotion, social media can offer a way to network beyond face-to-face encounters at annual conferences. It can be a way of learning about interesting work being done by professionals in areas of interest to you, pointing to career paths you might never have otherwise encountered. It can also be an opportunity for engagement beyond the ivory tower by using social media as a platform to translate your research and perspective into accessible, public discussion.

But for the many of us who will not end up working in the university for the rest of our careers, managing our digital identities through social media is actually a smart way to help build your professional identity. While the anonymous 'serious academic' noted above sarcastically acknowledges the possibility (pushed by 'career-advice gurus') that "potential employers could be Googling your name right now," the reality is that your digital identity is a factor for many potential employers.

A recent study conducted by researchers at York University underscored this reality:
The study found that those job seekers who did actively manage their digital image were more likely to be looked on favorably by employers. Budworth and Harrison found that employers paid attention to verbal as well as non-verbal information. Verbal information includes a listing of accomplishments, stories that shed a positive light on abilities, and suggestions of competence in various areas. Non-verbal information includes things like professional photographs.
Interestingly, the researchers found that for women conscientious management of your digital presence mattered even more than for men, and could have higher rewards:
What surprised the researchers is that women who deliberately manage their digital presence were rated higher by potential employers than men, and that extended to verbal self-promotion and the posting of professional photographs.
For more advice on how and why to cultivate your own digital presence, you can check out the links on our Advice for Grad Students page. Scroll down to "Developing an online professional identity" in the Professional Development Strategies section.

Quick links & further reading: