Last week my Colleagues Tahira Majothi and Fiona Christie organised a very interesting, and may I say, important event for Graduate Students. The event focused on the digital society and the impact it has, or better, should have, on one’s career. As such, I would even go as far as to say this debate does interest us all, independently of being students or staff, graduates or not.
A thorough description and reflection of the event can be found on the career’s blog. Hence, it is not the purpose of this post to go into descriptive mode, but rather share some ideas about the importance of social media for knowledge workers, and also practitioners.
The first thing that I would start to point out is that only talking about the benefits of being online, of engaging in networks, sharing knowledge, etc is not enough. We have to try it for ourselves to perceive its value and also understand the pitfalls. Yes!… because there are some. Yet, it is nothing we can’t overcome. What’s important is to understand and be aware of the implications of being online, so we are able to cope with them. In the end, it is almost like learning to cross a very busy road. Cars are useful, but they can sometimes put us in vulnerable situations. As long as we know how traffic works, we will be able to figure out how to walk to the other side of the road Safely!! We know that the road is not going to go away, so we might as well learn how to cope with it.
So, having this in mind, there are a couple of thoughts I would like to share. They are probably more related to one’s personality than social media, as it’s probably our attitudes towards the world and environment we live in that determines our interests and interaction with these new technologies.
Be the change – act now!
One of the things that I have come to realise – also in connection with my own research – is that although technology starts to determine the way we do things around here, and academia is no exception, using technology to manage one’s career is actually down to personal choice. It is also about how we perceive the world and see us contributing to it. When it comes to work performance, I, very bluntly, divide people into 2 different categories: those who do what they are told or what is stated in their job description, and those who excitedly engage in different activities in search of fulfilling their goals, exceeding themselves, gathering different experiences, and making a contribution that attempts to make a difference. That’s passion! That’s wanting to make a contribution. We can relate this to social media in the sense that for most cases job appraisals still do not contemplate one’s activity online. The same may be said of research exercises and frameworks! (Hello REF – maybe it’s high time we explored the connection of online participation and research impact…?!). This inevitably prevents innovation, forward thinking, and specially new forms of practice. However, there is an indirect impact and benefit to one’s use of these technologies and active presence in given networks: there is:
- recognition of one’s work
- profile raising
The same may be said to other activities that go around the university and in which people can take part in. Writing one’s dissertation or thesis is an important part of one’s academic achievement, but there is more to academic experience than this.
In the current economic climate, with more people looking for jobs than jobs available, I truly think that is it important to engage in our area of knowledge in different ways. In a job interview, most candidates will be at the same level, simply because the competition is fiercer than ever and that is reflected in the selection process. So, employees will be looking for that ‘extra’… what the candidate can offer beyond their standard CV. That is where social media can come handy – not because you can tweet and blog, but rather because of the knowledge and experiences that can be attained for doing so. Participating in these networks is synonym of engaging with a wider range of perspectives, of having access to an eclectic group of people, of learning different stuff, of forming new ideas, and of establishing new contacts. All of this is beneficial. Furthermore, it helps others to be more aware of your work.
So this takes me to another topic:
Sharing your passion is what distinguish you from other people! Online you can exercise this on a daily basis, and also in a more visible way. Sharing your passion, attempting to do what you believe in is extremely important. Social Media can also be a catalyst for engagement and participation in activities in which you are interested in. I don’t think there is better person to talk about this than Randy Pausch.
One last thought about engagement. It is never too late to engage with the wider and non-specialised community about your research topic and area of expertise. This is actually a good exercise because it challenges us to articulate our thoughts in rather simple ways, explore new ideas, and extend our experience beyond the walls of the institution. It is also a form of reality check with the society around us. What’s our contribution to the wider picture? How can we help? Can we help?
There are numerous examples of how this can be achieved online: academics contributing to wikipedia and specialised sites so the rest of us have access to “more accurate” information, communities such as the webheads in action which do teacher training on a volunteer basis, people who provide advise and support to their peers – check #PhDChat on twitter, etc
In short, social media is about communication – and so is learning – how we work and learn with people, and how our experiences in such environments shape our own practice. It also helps us and others realise our potential. It is also fun!
Do you have any examples, insights, experiences, and why not questions about social media and career management? Please post them here. Thanks