Jennifer van Alstyne is a communications strategist for faculty and researchers. At The Academic Designer LLC, Jennifer helps people and organizations share their work with the world in online spaces. Her blog/podcast, The Social Academic shares advice articles and interviews twice a month. She is a Peruvian-American poet and independent scholar with a focus on representations of nature in poetry. Jennifer has a BA in English from Monmouth University, an MFA in Writing & Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School, and an MA in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @HigherEdPR.
By Jennifer van Alstyne
There are so many ways social media has impacted by life, but today I want to share 5 ways social media helped me navigate graduate school as a woman of color.
- Announce my own accomplishments
- Connect with people I met at conferences
- Stay up to date with the conversation
- Know where to focus my energy
- Communicate with people around the world
Then, get my top social media tips for you.
Announce my own accomplishments
As a woman of color in the academy, I was always asked to be in marketing photos. But I often found the accomplishments of my peers being publicly announced over mine. The first way social media helped me as a woman of color was giving me a platform to announce my own accomplishments.
A lot of times it felt like the process for reporting good news was secret. If you weren’t pushy about getting the word out there, no one was going to do it for you. My white friends’ accomplishments were shared by their professors, by the department, and sometimes made the university magazine. In contrast, my 1st peer reviewed publication was announced 2 months late, despite sharing the news with the right people on Day 1.
Social media was a great way for me to announce
- My 1st peer reviewed publication as a master’s student
- When I was speaking at a conference
- Publishing poetry
And the best part was, I got words of encouragement and congratulations from friends and family each time.
Connect with people I met at conferences and in passing
I’m a 5’ tall Latina woman. I’ve found I have to work hard to get attention sometimes. At conferences or events, there are always people who rush the speaker to introduce themselves. Sometimes I quite literally can’t see over people. When I was in graduate school, especially during my MFA program, I found this happened all the time. It made networking feel like a competition, people stepping in front of each other to get their book signed.
At some point I realized the likelihood of me, an introvert, having a meaningful conversation under these circumstances was unlikely. Social media became a great networking tool for me and helped me keep in touch with hundreds of people. Some I met at conferences. Others at events I was working.
It’s easy to send a Facebook friend request, or LinkedIn invite after meeting someone in person. What I found was, it’s also a great way to actually have the meaningful conversation that wasn’t possible at the conference.
Stay up to date with the conversation
Some of my peers had advisors and professors who really made sure they were part of the larger field. They took them to conferences, introduced them around, kept them up-to-date with what’s going on.
Social media was my way to stay aware of the larger conversation in my field. Facebook groups were my go-to, because researchers in my fields were active there. There wasn’t just one group, there over a dozen active Facebook groups. Each one introduced me to new ideas.
Facebook groups are a great way to stay in touch with your field because people are talking in real time. You can ask questions. I love sharing resources in Facebook groups. You can even take a poll.
Facebook groups helped me network with researchers in my field around the world, and be aware of the larger conversation.
Know where to focus my energy
Getting to meet people in my field, or who could give me advice through social media helped me the most. I talked about how networking in-person was sometimes difficult for me. What ended up happening naturally through social media is finding expert advice from around the world.
Social media is where I first discovered this blog, and Karen’s book. It’s where I learned about how I could join an academic writing group in my field. Social media is where I saw calls for papers. It’s where I learned that even as a master’s student I could submit to conferences. And, that I could publish.
When I published my 1st peer reviewed article, professors legit came up and asked “Who suggested you should do that?”
Same with when I got my paper selected at a national conference in my field. “Wow, who helped with your abstract?”
No one. I went to social media and learned from people already doing it what the best practices were.
Maybe some other people were getting encouragement and 1:1 help. But I wasn’t waiting around for permission that might never come. Social media helped me learn where to focus my energy in academia. For me.
And, social media helped me know when leaving the academy, when not going on to get a PhD was the best possible choice for me.
Communicate with people around the world
Social media helps me communicate with people all over the world. When I started using social media, I realized how important connecting with researchers in other countries was. I could
- Ask questions
- Get advice
- Hear about new articles
- Learn about new research
- Join in conversations
- Have private conversations with direct messaging
- Meet potential collaborators
- Help my work be read
As a woman of color, some of these things were harder in person.
Oftentimes when I did go to office hours I was asked to do more service. To organize something. To ‘brainstorm ‘with’ them. I’ve been asked for help with diversity. To come up with recruitment plans. To explain why people are upset. Or, worse, run errands.
Social media was a great way for me to communicate my needs. To know my questions were heard. And, to join in conversations I wanted to be a part of.
Social Media tips for you
There are so many benefits of social media. I loved social media so much, I founded a business that helps graduate students, faculty, and organizations share their work with the world online. And I write about managing your online presence in academia on The Social Academic blog.
Today I want to share my top tips for you.
1. Fill out your profile all the way. Whatever social media platform you’re on, your profile is the 1st thing people see when they encounter you on social media. So, be sure to fill out your profile so people can learn a bit about you.
2. Get on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is my top recommendation for all academics, no matter your specialty. That’s because this is the best platform to network with people in your field around the world, but also with
You can have a dynamic profile that acts a lot like a personal website. Learn how you can network with LinkedIn.
3. Start conversations. Social media is social. If there’s someone you want to reach out to and their direct messages are open (you see you have the option to message them), go ahead! I used to be scared to message people. But I’ve messaged my favorite musician, an awesome science person on tv, and my favorite writers and gotten responses. Try direct messaging someone you admire to start a conversation.
4. Share original content, like an introduction post. My last piece of advice is to share original writing on social media. A great way to start is with an introduction post. Share a photo of you and let people know who you are, and a bit about your research. I think you’ll be surprised with the response.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out The Social Academic blog. My breakdown of the social media platforms for academics like you is a great place to start.
- Mentoring as Self-Care – WOC Guest Post
- When a Cup of Coffee Means More Than a Cup of Coffee: Mentoring as a Woman of Color – WOC Guest Post
- The Power of Writing Groups for Women of Color – WOC Guest Post
- The Lone Medievalist – BIPOC Scholar Guest Post
- Why You Need Your Own Academic Website – Guest Post by Adeline Koh