This week we’ll be looking at networking and collaboration with colleagues. Traditionally, Humanities scholars have usually worked individually when conducting research and publishing it, but the funding landscape is starting to change practice in this respect, especially in the Digital Humanities. Even if you’re not working as part of a larger project, finding collaborators can be helpful for Early Career Researchers as a form of mentoring, for example in joint publication or conference organisation. However, networking is also essential not just for your research field, but also in a wider professional sense, to keep abreast of developments in the Higher Education sector and beyond – an awareness which will help your professional development and employability.
Many social networking tools were not developed specifically for the kinds of professional activities that researchers in the Humanities need to do but are are open enough in their design that they can be repurposed, such as Facebook, Twitter or blogs. However, there are also platforms designed specifically for the kind of networking and profile-building that we need, to collaborate with colleagues, make connections with others in your research field and across disciplinary boundaries, develop our professional awareness of the HE sector and present ourselves to potential employers. Previously, this was only possible at conferences or ‘milk round’ careers fair events, but now these activities can be undertaken online and at much greater convenience – but it requires a different sort of effort to make it work effectively.
Tool: LinkedIn, Academia.edu
The two platforms we will be exploring this week are LinkedIn and Academia.edu. If you aren’t using either of these yet, you might set up an account with one or the other. If you have already explored one, try using the other as a comparison, or look at how you might review your use and take advantage of advanced functionality. You could also consider comparing it with your experiences of Facebook, if you already use it.
LinkedIn is a site aimed at any professional in any line of work, which allows you to build an online profile of your experience and skills. It also allows you to actively network and interact with other users much as you might with Facebook, but with a more employment-focussed slant, for example sending ‘recommendations’ of your work rather than ‘likes’ of a update. Academia.edu is a similar platform but as the name suggests, is designed specifically for academics and the kinds of information and interactions they need to exchange, for example, listing publications and research interests. Both sites tend to rank very highly in Google searches, and will make you more visible online.
Task: This week’s task has two aspects. Set up an account on one or the other (or both!) of these sites, if you don’t already have one.
Firstly, once you’ve set up an account as directed, you will need to fill in your profile fully. If you already have a profile, spend some time reviewing it. It would be very helpful to have a copy of your CV to hand for reference! The sites will prompt you for certain types of information to fill in, and it’s useful to spend a little time thinking about your skills and experience, and what kind of profile you want to build and for whom (colleagues, potential employers in and/or beyond academia). Think also, as in Thing Two, what kind of key words or metadata you need to use to make you ‘findable’ and attractive to whoever is looking. The Careers Service is a very valuable resource to help you with this; even if you have already set up a profile on these platforms, they can help you enhance it. You might want to look at some of their resources or talk to one of their advisors to help with this task or as a follow-up, even if you’re not actively job-hunting at the moment.
The second part of the task is to explore the more interactive networking capacities of these sites. Remember from previous weeks that building an online profile is as much about ‘pulling’ people to your content as well as ‘pushing’ information out there, and about active participation and making valuable contributions. A completely static profile might never be viewed or followed up. If you have already set up a profile on these platforms, this is the aspect you might want to focus on. Spend a few minutes thinking about the kind of people it would be useful to connect with and why. Both platforms are able to find contacts from other accounts, for example your email, facebook or Twitter account – be sure that this is what you want to do! Start networking! Decide who you want to connect to, but take it a step further and see what issues or goals you might want to contact them about, and send a message or ask a question!
LinkedIn allows you to join (or create) interest groups, which bring you together with others with that shared interest to discuss and ask questions. There are many of these groups which are aimed at academics, including PhD students and Postdocs. Here are a few starting points, but have a search in ‘groups’ for others which might interest you. There are also groups for university alumni, which might be useful for career networking. You can also link to and from other platforms such as your blog and Twitter. LinkedIn also allows you to see who has viewed your profile and send messages to individuals as well as follow their activity.
Academia.edu has less functionality, but it is geared towards academic activities. You can write update posts on your activities, upload papers and other documents which might include ‘grey’ literature such as conference papers as well as link to your journal articles. It can also tell you how many people have viewed your profile, what keywords they used to find you, and who is following your work. You can also follow the profiles of other scholars; useful to keep up to date with people’s publications.
Key skills: How easy to use were the platforms you used? Did you find any limitations in the way they facilitated your profile building? Were there features you couldn’t see a use for, or ones you felt were missing? Were they easier to maintain than, for example, a personal or department webpage?
General: Unlike your university webpage (if you have one), your profile here is not constrained by the disciplinary categories of your institution, or even by your identity as an academic. How you describe yourself and where you place yourself in terms of your research topic and career aspirations is more fluid. On LinkedIn, you may be presenting yourself to future employers outside academia, and you may not wish to appear too narrow in your interests.
What kind of network do you want to build, what types of networking might you usefully do via these sites, and how might you extend your networking ‘reach’? Your contacts might be:
- peers for moral support, or slightly senior colleagues for mentoring
- potential collaborators for funding bids, conference organising or joint publications,
- experts in fields related to yours who might help you explore an interdisciplinary angle on your research,
- senior colleagues who might be key in inviting you to give papers or contribute to edited books or journals.
- people who have research-related expertise you might find useful such as librarians, archivists, or experts in Digital Humanities techniques
- People outside academia who might give you insights into other career paths or on the impact of your research.
- Professional interest groups, rather than subject specialists, to develop your awareness of the HE sector here and abroad.
Much research in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences has traditionally been solitary, conducted by a single researcher who developed all the expertise necessary to carry out the project. This approach may be limiting the kind of research that can be undertaken, and Digital Humanities projects especially often require more specialized expertise than one person could acquire, especially at an early stage of their career. Even in more traditional Humanities projects, funding is often made available to larger projects with teams of scholars working on a collaborative project. To what extent does the limit of your own time, resources and expertise impact on the kind of research that you do, and what kinds of research might you do as a team? How might building an informal or formal collaborative team of collaborators around you help further your research and career goals? Teamworking is a valuable and employable skill.
On the most basic level, do you find these sites work well as an online CV, or that other ways of presenting yourself work better, such as conferences, a webpage, email, twitter or blogs? Do you find the ability to present a wider range of your activity than just the types of information traditionally included on a CV, such as unpublished ‘grey literature’ (conference papers, teaching materials, etc) useful, and would you find this information useful to know about other scholars?
There are two aspects which make a successful social networking site – the types of interaction it facilitates, and the people who actively use it. Is there a particular demographic represented or absent from these sites, and does that affect their usefulness to you? Personal social networking sites like Facebook rely on regular updates and interactions. How does this translate to the professional platforms – are the range of functions useful to you, and would you use them on a regular basis? If you use Facebook, do you feel that LinkedIn or Academia.edu are a suitable alternative space for professional activities, or do you find Facebook works just as well if not better for what you want to do? Given that LinkedIn is not designed specifically for academics, do you find its career-related functionality generally useful, or not geared enough towards the activities that academics want to do?
Like other social media, having an online presence here entails a certain amount of active maintenance. What level of engagement do you want to maintain – a static profile or more interactive use, and what are the potential disadvantages of your chosen approach? How might maintaining a presence on these platforms be integrated with and enhance your other methods of presenting your profile and networking? What sort of updates would you post and how frequently?
For more information on using LinkedIn, see http://www.exeter.ac.uk/staff/web/socialmedia/linkedin/