Friday, August 5, 2016

Being an Academic

Ok, so Twitter had a field day with this article bemoaning the culture of social media use by academics. See #seriousacademic for the Twitter feed and the main article can be found here.
Now, caveat here. I fell foul of the self-importance tone promoted by the title, but it has been noted by many that the title was likely a "click-bait" addition by a sub-editor. So, apologies for that.
But, I will not apologise for my use of social media. The anonymous author needs "to believe that employability is not directly correlated to how many likes you get on your Instagram posts". Well, it's not, and probably never will be. Yes, a social media presence can be a factor in employability, but it can never trump credentials such as research, teaching, conferencing, and publications.
My issue with the whole tone of the article is the insinuation that academics utilise social media as a self-aggrandising tool of narcissism. It rarely is the case. The majority of academic twitter users I know engage in public outreach, collaboration, and actively seek to foster communication across a wide range of interests and disciplines. But more worrying is the undertone that those who engage with social media are not "pure" academics of days gone by. Yes, those halcyon days where you are confined to your lab, office, or library, etc., only venturing out occasionally to present at a conference or to teach. Those halcyon days where the academic community was limited to the elite few who held university positions. The landscape is changing to be more inclusive, and social media is the driver. Twitter today has shown how many feel more engaged with their academic colleagues worldwide, and it is especially beneficial for those at small or remote universities, or who work outside the ivory tower.
 The fact of the matter is that there is no one type of academic.
  • Is someone who only researches and publishes, but hates teaching, an academic? YES
  • Is someone who researches and publishes, but works outside of academia an academic? YES
  • Is someone who uses social media to network and disseminate research an academic? YES
  • Is someone who researches and publishes yet loathes social media an academic? YES
  • Is someone who is labelled as an "independent scholar" an academic? YES
I could go on. The point is that no one description of an academic is better than the other, and we need to question our assumptions about who/what an academic is and broaden our understanding to be inclusive, not exclusive. (As you can probably tell, this is my pet peeve!)

An academic can come in many different guises.
One who uses social media is no less serious than one who doesn't.

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