Dr. Jane Can’t Network, Either

Johnny Can’t (Net)Work, but neither can Dr. Jane.

As academics (especially in the humanities), we are trained to network as academics, in order to be academics.  Conferences are spent meeting other academics, creating valuable links that will either lead to jobs or academic collaborations (which lead to jobs).  We shouldn’t waste or time meeting people outside of academia, heck, outside of our field, because what good would that serve?

We work (as pointed out by a recent article http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/05/24/krebs) as teachers or researchers inside our discipline and sometimes even more narrowly in our specialty.  Why work outside of what we are training to do? 

But most importantly, we use social networking as an extension of the first two “networking” opportunities: to promote and connect our narrow research (and thus career) interests.  How many articles about looking for academic work remind newly-minted PhDs that talking about kids or hobbies on facebook is a no-no, lest a hiring committee think you aren’t dedicated to your research 100% or, once you are hired, wasting your time on frivolous activities like family or your health?  Facebook and Twitter (and to a lesser extent, Linkedin and Adademia.edu) have become another non-networking opportunity, another chance for graduate students and PhDs to show how narrowly focused and single-mindedly dedicated they are to their research. 

So how is Dr. Jane supposed to advise Johnny how to network to his benefit? Johnny needs flexible skills, adaptable to a variety of different jobs and demands, and the ability to connect and communicate with a variety of people.  Dr. Jane knows how to narrowly present herself to a unique audience of like-minded individuals.  Is it any surprise that students aren’t well-equipped for our present economy?

(Cross-posted at UVenus)

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I’m an Edupreneur! Wait, what does that mean?

Or, an Edupunk? Can I be both?

In the space of a week, I’ve found/been lead to two different articles that describe my new title in the world of education. A new book is coming out, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, that chronicles the many different movements in higher education, empowering both students and those educators who have been left behind (visit her website, http://diyubook.com/). In another, related, article, EduPunks say, School Yourself!, the authors outline how students are increasingly taking ownership of their educations and not just allowing institutions of higher education dictate their learning path.

I’m of two minds about all this. First off, it’s nice to know that I belong to larger community of frustrated educators and learners who are looking to do things differently. Where experience counts more than what courses you’ve officially taken (that’s the Punk side). And where if you think you can do it better, than do it (the entrepreneur part). But really, what does all this mean? If students can really just go online and learn whatever they want or need, why would they pay for me to either tutor them or teach them a college readiness course?

From “Edupunks”: [Former college instructor David] Hall imagines a system where the student is an active participant in their own education. In order for this system to work, though, students need to be engaged in their own education. He says students don’t realize how important education is when they’re going through it.” It’s important to note that this is coming from another former non-tenure-track instructor, who seem to be making a huge contribution to the DIY world of education. The truth is that students really don’t know how to learn, I mean really learn. My idea isn’t just that the class is about learning how to write a paper, but how to actually benefit from college, how to come out of college, not just with a piece of paper, but a real sense of having learned something.

Getting right down to it, I want to empower students to make the most of their experience at college or university. Yes, it’s about reading, writing, and critical thinking. But what are you going to read, write and think critically about? I can help you get there. When I asked colleagues and friends who are also university instructors and professors, what is it you wish your students knew or had, they all answered (in one form or another), a will and a passion to learn. The apathy or disinterest they note in their students is more disheartening than any lack of basic writing skills.

How do you teach that? You don’t. You inspire students to take control of their own educations and show them the power they have to shape their future. You show them how to read the map, how to maneuver the vast array of choices the university presents to them. Teach the basics, give them the tools, and just point them in the right direction. That’s what I try to do.

Learning about the Web

It really is never too late to learn. Writing for the web has proven to be a real eye-opening experience. Short (no, I’m an academic!), moderately repetitive (must draw search engines) and zingy (must sell myself!). Which is one of the reasons I started a this blog; I need an outlet for my “real” writing.

Creating a web-presence is exhausting: facebook pages, tweets, this blog, commenting on articles related to my website, tweaking my site endlessly for optimized search success, modifying my online ad campaigns, using any and all contacts I have in order to get my first few customers. There is always something else I could be doing. And, it is terrifying. I’m putting myself out there, as myself. There is no hiding behind a handle or a username; I am who I am, and what I write is how I am presenting myself to the world. This is Lee Skallerup, PhD, and here is what I think. Please visit my website.

In my academic life, I had to be careful. No postings that might make me seem unprofessional. Or politically incorrect. Or critical of academia. Talk about your research and little else. And now, well, guess what? I’m poking a (very tiny) finger in academia’s (giant) eye. Probably won’t be noticed. But, then again, it might. Nothing about my research, just talking about teaching. Offering services outside of the university. Not accepting low pay anymore. I am teacher, hear me roar!


The most frustrating thing about all of this? We have been lead to believe in the immediacy of the Internet; information (and money!) at your fingertips. Do you know what I found out today? It takes 6-8 weeks for a search engine to find and index your site, even if you submit it to them. Really? There’s a kick in the gut. So for all my web presence optimizing, I am going to have to buckle down, print up some posters and just go nuts in a very low-tech way. At least I was able to do the poster in my word processing program; for my first experience in self-employment, I distributed hand-drawn fliers around my neighborhood advertising my services as a babysitter. It paid off, though. I had one family who used me consistently throughout my high school years. Let’s hope this second round of fliers works just as well!

Let’s go, low-tech!