The Googled Graduate Student

It is going to happen. Maybe not today or this week, but eventually, you will be Googled.

I am not talking about being Googled by an old friend interested in what you might be up to these days; I am talking about the kind of Googling academics do when we are interested in learning more about the work of a young scholar.

Often, of course, this happens during a job search, but it can also happen in the course of your graduate education as you cultivate new professional relationships through disciplinary organizations and public appearances at conferences.

When it happens, you will want content you created to appear early and often in the search results.

Now part of being a graduate student is dealing with conflicting advice from a variety of people, most of whom are genuinely interested in your success. Some will surely tell you to stay away from twitter, blogging and other modes of online publication because it is better to have Google return nothing about your academic work than it is to have it return work that is inchoate or immature or less than fully worked out.

But I think that is misguided advice.

Of course, you want your best self to appear in public, particularly when you are being Googled by a potential employer. But faculty at hiring institutions are smart enough to know the difference between a polished peer reviewed article and a blog post that is exploring new horizons and attempting to engage a wider public. The key is to be thoughtful, conscientious, and explicit about the exploratory nature of your writing.

If you are, there is real value in sharing your work publicly early in the process of its development.

First, the simple attempt to formulate your thoughts in words accessible to an imagined reader will help you give shape to your ideas. Writing for an audience, particularly one situated in a public sphere in which a real response is possible, requires a certain rigor. It compels you to put words to thoughts in ways that make them accessible and relevant to a wider community.

This is a point Seth Godin and Tom Peters make effectively, although they are speaking in an entrepreneurial rather than an academic context:

The real value of academic blogging is the intentional, conscientious public articulation of your ideas. Whether they are read and by whom is of secondary importance.

Even so, however, what Peters notes at the end of the clip is not to be discounted as insignificant even in an academic context. The point he emphasizes there is, in fact, the second reason I advocate sharing your work publicly online: it’s good marketing.

This dimension of public writing might strike us academics as coarse and opportunistic, and I myself would rather speak of building community than of “marketing.” Still, in building a community of readers, commenters and friends or followers, you are, in fact, cultivating a network of relationships that can enrich your scholarship and even open new opportunities for employment. To do this well, however, it is as important to listen to and amplify the work of others as it is to write eloquently and effectively about your own work.

A third reason to cultivate the habit of public academic writing is that it will make you more productive.

Writing begets writing.

Writing in public has the added value of opening your work to the insights of your readers. I have often had the experience in which someone, responding to a post, pointed me to a resource or article that turned out to be crucial for the further development of my research. This sort of crowd sourced research can direct you to relevant new material quickly. Be sure, however, to return the favor when you have the opportunity – feed the virtuous circle of shared public research.

So, let this be a sort of exhortation, a call to communicate your academic ideas in a public space of your own, designed to help you clarify the direction of your work and to cultivate a community of scholars and friends interested in the sort of scholarship you are doing.

Creating such a public writing space and an online social media presence that allows you to share your work broadly will enable you to cultivate the habits of a writing life enriched by a community of people interested in and capable of strengthening your work.

If you do, when you are Googled – maybe not today or this week, but eventually – the search results will speak for themselves, and you will appear as the thoughtful, responsive and open scholar you will have become.

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