Today I had the pleasure of speaking with graduate students in the history department at Southern Methodist University. The department is putting together a blog to develop a community voice (which is amazing) and they asked me to come speak about how to build a web voice as a graduate student. Earlier this week, I sought the advice of my fellow #twitterstorians. There was such an enthusiastic response, I decided to compile my talk notes, my handout, and a storify session of the Twitter advice I received.
The overwhelming consensus from everyone I consulted is that your web presence is supposed to enhance your scholarship, not replace or detract from it. So don’t blog at the expense of classwork, don’t build an enormous Twitter following and neglect your dissertation, and don’t get into Facebook arguments while forgetting to politely engage with your immediate colleagues. You get the idea. That being said, here is a condensed version of my talk.
If I can share one message, it would be this: Think of your career like a business. You are the CEO. You need to think of your scholarship as a work product, you can’t be passive about it.
1. Define and Market: It is your job to define your product and make sure it is accessible to your audience. People can’t read your work and contact you if they can’t find you. The best way to start is to build yourself a website. WordPress and Squarespace both offer ready-made templates that are very user friendly. I would highly recommend purchasing your own URL. Both sites offer reasonable prices. Consider it an investment in your future. A good website offers a picture so people can identify you, an email address so they can contact you, a CV, and a coherent description of your work.
2. Network: Twitter gets a bad name sometimes, but it can also be a great asset. It’s a great way to learn about new work, other scholars, resources, grants, fellowships, conferences, etc. Most historians are fairly introverted (myself included). Going into a room of strangers and introducing yourself can be really challenging. Engaging with a scholar on Twitter makes in-person introductions much easier. Finally, all scholars have to participate in conferencing at some point. Twitter is a great way to meet people to be on future panels.
3. Self-Promotion: Hold your nose if you have to, but do it. No one can read your awesome work if they don’t know about it! Remember that network I talked about? Promote their work! Be generous. People will promote your work in return. Liz Covart suggested a really good rule: 80% of your tweets should be about other peoples’ work, articles, etc. 20% self-promotion.
4. Diversify Your Board of Trustees: Your advisor is the President of the Board, but he or she can’t and shouldn’t fill all the spots. A company fills their board with people that come from diverse backgrounds with different skill sets and varied networks. Do the same for your board! You should have a different mentor for personal matters, job market advice, writing edits, etc. You can and should absolutely run these things by your advisor, but it’s not fair to expect them to provide all of the support. They are busy people too. And getting a second opinion isn’t a bad idea.
5. Don’t be an Asshat: watch your tone. Tone can be really hard to convey online, especially in 140 characters on Twitter. So just think twice before saying something. Also, don’t punch up or down. Making a name for yourself by attacking someone else never looks good. The history community is a small one. You never know when someone will see your attack and remember your name for the wrong reasons when they are serving on a search committee or as an anonymous reader.
If you are interested in reading more of the advice, here is the storified thread.
This is the handout I provided: