Do as I say, not as I do…

One of my resolutions when I started my AHRC fellowship was to blog more.  I’m a huge convert to Twitter, and now read lots of blogs that are linked to in tweets.  I’ve found myself learning so much more about those academics in my field who blog.  You gain so much more knowledge from a blog than a tweet, it’s a great window into someone’s world.  My resolve was galvanised by lots of activity that seemed designed to prod the reluctant into taking the first steps.  Firstly, the Learning Technologies Group at Oxford launched an brilliant, accessible and inspiring ‘how to’ guide called 23 Things for Research to encourage academics at any stage of their careers to embrace digital tools and use them to develop their personal and professional skills.  Blogging was a central component of the course, creating a space for reflection and for sharing experiences with others in the process.  23 Things was a massive success.  I missed the start of the course (hence why I didn’t set up the mandatory blog) but I followed along online and found it terrifically inspiring.

So inspiring, in fact, that somewhat out of character, I followed up a chance encounter that led to this article on the Guardian Higher Education Network, extolling the virtues of early career researchers using social media to reach out and participate, or even to lead the conversation.  Following on from that, I spoke to our doctoral students at the Oxford Internet Institute about their own use of social media, and led a discussion on how to balance this new area of academic life with the more formal channels that lead more directly to conventional career rewards.  A week or two later, I gave a guest lecture to a group of Psychology masters students on the same topic: what opportunities exist via social media and how do you navigate these among other competing demands on your time.  I was thrilled that so many of the students took the time to tweet afterwards, telling me about how they had been inspired to get blogging and tweeting.  Fantastic, so why wasn’t I doing it too?

I think there are several barriers to overcome when you start blogging, particularly when you’re a later starter like me.  I envy the students who are growing up, so to speak, with social media at their fingertips.  They have the opportunity to test these channels out while they’re still in a learning phase, where there are no expectations and the elusive balance of formal and informal methods of communication can be tried and failed at with fewer consequences.  Coming to blogging late, I notice the skill and fluency with which those in my academic circle communicate and find the pressure to contribute something of this quality is paralysing.  I also notice that a large number of the blogs I read and enjoy are not directly connected to my research area, they’re just excellent, interesting commentaries on academic life, or contemporary politics, or a myriad of other things, eloquently expressed!  It’s much easier, and lower risk, to participate in such circles on Twitter, where by re-tweeting, you feel as though you’re participating in the conversation without having necessarily to make a scintillating comment – it’s like nodding your agreement.

I’ve come to realise that this kind of participation is pretty close to invisibility, and I think it’s time to step up and abandon the ‘do as I say’ mentality in favour of at least attempting to lead by example.  The importance of doing so was really brought home to me when I read Athene Donald’ excellent post on this subject where she discusses the blog as a form of ‘online mentoring’, suggests that women are more likely to be reticent and identifies the importance of taking risks and finding supporters.  I will try to follow in her confident footsteps.  It’s time to join the conversation.  And actually say something.

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