‘Hooking up’

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Life as a researcher, particularly as a part-time PhD student, can be a very lonely one.  Even if you’re with people every day, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to talk to them at length about the intricacies of your research without their eyes glazing over.

 

Conferences provide the ideal opportunity to chew the fat with those who are equally as nerdy, erm, I mean passionate about similar subjects.

 

So networking tools really provide the opportunity to connect with like-minded people across the world, in a way which has not been accessible to earlier ‘generations’ of early career researchers. Admittedly they’re not without their disadvantages; both twitter and Facebook are excellent distraction and procrastination tools. But I guess if used productively they can also help you to raise your own profile whilst seeing who else is out there to talk to about your research.

 

As I’ve suggested before, different platforms for networking may lead to very different adventures and modes of interaction. I’ve settled into a pattern now of using Twitter as my platform of choice for (mostly) research-related stuff, but I’m still learning.  So far I’ve found it really helpful for asking research related questions and sharing experiences (for example, about the process and experience of gaining ethical approval for my research project). #phdchat is a really useful hashtag for reaching fellow phd-ers and a useful support network too.

 

Undoubtedly, twitter has lots of potential and I wonder whether I will be able to take advantage of what it has to offer in the months/years to come I’m currently using the guidance from the Digital Tools for Research programme at Warwick University, and a useful short guide prepared by the LSE Public Policy Group ‘Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities’[1] which is really more of a beginners’ guide.

 

‘Lanyrd’ is another social networking platform, which is designed to bring together ‘virtual’ and ‘face-to-face’ forms of networking. As I understand it it’s a way of registering your attendance at particular conferences (mainly academic I think, but not exclusively).  I’m a lanyrd novice, and I’d be interested to hear of others’ experiences. I’ve managed to get as far as signing up for this service via twitter although the link with twitter seems to be a bit temperamental. Lanyrd and twitter seems to reinforce each other, so the more followers (or followees) you have on twitter who share similar interests, the more you’re likely to have relevant events ‘pop-up’ when you go into lanyrd.

 

I think this is another platform which I’ll get to know over time.  It will be interesting to see whether it becomes more popular for academic or non-academic events (from my perspective it would certainly be useful for any type of gathering, be it academic, policy or practitioner).

 

For now though, it’s back to the solitary world of research….

 

 

Who shall I be today?

I’m of a certain vintage where one of my favourite TV programmes as a kid, back in the 1970s and 80s, was ‘Mr Benn’*.  For the uninitiated, this was a mesmerisingly simple animated show.  The central character was the eponymous Mr Benn who for the most part led a seemingly dull and ordinary life (probably a Whitehall civil servant).  The highlight of his day was a visit to the local fancy dress shop during his lunch hour where ‘as if by magic, the shop keeper appeared’ to hand our hero a different costume each day; with which Mr Benn would disappear into the fitting rooms and transform himself, via the magic of stop motion animation, into the character suggested by the costume and then find himself in a Narniaesque fantasy world adventure.  So, if Mr Benn tried on a Knight’s armour, he would end up embroiled with a dragon, and en explorer’s costume would find him in the jungle – you begin to get the idea. I can’t say I blame him.  If I worked in Whitehall I would be doing exactly the same thing on my lunch-hour.

But what does this have to do with online identity?  Well, to my mind, each platform is like wearing a different costume.  It may be that very different identities are created through an online presence on, for example Twitter or Facebook.  And each platform may lead you into very different ‘adventures’. So for example, one of my aims in using platforms is establish identity and credibility as a researcher with the academic community, but I would also like to communicate in a way which is accessible to a more general readership.

I am primarily doing this through this blog and using twitter (although I sometimes find it difficult to keep up the momentum on the latter in terms of regular ‘tweeting’). Facebook is, for me, a much more personal way of connecting.  I did try to synchronise Facebook and twitter at one time – but it led to a lot of confusion for me about who I was communicating to and why. So nowadays I keep the two accounts separate.  I may need to reconsider my Facebook strategy at some stage because this is a valuable way of interacting with the crafting communities, as potential research participants in my study.

Part of my PhD research involves ‘autoethnography’.  So alongside interviews with crafters who use digital tools in their own practice, and participant observation of their use of digital tools, I too will maintaining this blog and possibly other platforms in yet another dual identity of crafter and researcher. So you’ll not only be able to chart the progress on my research but you should also be able to follow my own progress as a crafter. My field notes and reflective research diary will provide valuable documentary data of the experience and possible tensions that this might give rise to.

Another complication arises when I consider my multiple professional identities.  So for example I work full-time at Warwick University as a Research Development Officer, and am a part-time Postgraduate Researcher at the best of times.  In terms of online identities I found this a particular problem with Academia.edu.  Whilst other social networking media such as LinkedIn allow you to associate with multiple jobs, this doesn’t seem to me to be possible with Academia.edu.  I think this is a shame because my other professional identity is academic-related and I would certainly benefit from making connections through this platform to support the work I do in the day job. Nevertheless I can appreciate that it is unrivalled in terms of facilities to include published academic papers – and in today’s climate that is vital to academic careers.

Nevertheless I think I’ll persevere with it for the time being – particularly as it might even motivate me to write some publications to upload to the site. That’ll be a day when I’m wearing my researcher costume.  In the meantime, the shopkeeper has just appeared (as if by magic) and wants me to either pay for the costume or get out of his shop!  Until next time then…..

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