My last blog post was about being attentive to positive experiences and feedback in academia, rather than dwelling on the brutal negatives. One of my favourite things is when I get an email or a comment from someone saying that she loves my blog.
I’m deliberate here in using “she”. The vast majority of emails I get commenting that a blog post was personally helpful, or was considered useful and referred on to a group of PhD students, are from lady scientists. While I get a few nice emails or comments from blokes, most connections are with women.
It’s not that surprising. I write a lot about equity and diversity issues and sometimes from personal experiences of navigating work and family. These clearly resonate with other young women scientists who are encountering difficulties or are feeling disempowered in their workplaces or careers. It’s nice to hear that some of my thoughts are useful and nice feelings are shared all round.
I’ve long been a fan of social media for work, but have incurred some fairly derisive comments from other academics about my passion for (addiction to?) twitter. Some academics have thoughtfully chosen not to engage in online spaces, for example because their time is already problematically fragmented, or they are already subject to unpleasant electronic communications, such as from climate deniers. Others are quick to dismiss social media as trivial or superficial without attempting to understand its value to those who use it.
I love twitter. In real life, I’m a young nobody. I have a limited capacity to instigate conversations in my discipline or in my institutions. At meetings I often find myself talk at or talked over. On twitter I am empowered to start of conversation about something I find important and to connect with others who don’t talk over me. By blogging, I can explore ideas and give and receive encouragement and support.
In my experience, online spaces such as blogging and twitter also provide an essential place for marginalised people to connect and talk. On one level, the Internet is valuable because it is hilarious. It provides a place for women to respond to Tim Hunt’s comments with a plethora of funny but distinctly unsexy #distractinglysexy photos. At the same time, social media provides a place to problematise these kinds of comments.
I suspect those that brush off twitter as a shallow place to share photographs of your breakfast do so because they don’t need such spaces. It’s easy to disregard the value of online connections when you feel comfortable, valuable and connected in your workplace and industry. Unfortunately, not everyone feels so welcome within the academy.
For some people, the concept of these online spaces and connections can be challenging. When people without a voice find a voice, even if through distractingly unsexy photos, there can be real world consequences (e.g. termination of employment) for actions that have real world consequences (e.g. sexist comments). In this way, academic twitter and blogging can challenge existing relationships, powers and ways of working.
I love this about twitter and it seems that so do many women or other groups poorly represented in academic and science. Of course the Internet isn’t all handholding and niceties. I had to opt out of a women’s email list years ago because every day was pretty much a scene straight out of Litchfield Penitentiary.
One the whole, I’ve found the Internet has been both a place of niceness and of nice people. Being a lady academic on (addicted to?) social media has enriched my work, both in terms of its quality and my enjoyment of it.