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At the start of February, I was asked by the organizers of the Jean-Paul Dionne Symposium if I would be willing to do a workshop about what I was “doing.” My response was, “what about what I am doing? I do lots of things” (too many things). After some brief discussion, we came to the conclusion that talking about how and why graduate students engage online would be an interesting contribution to the symposium (slides).

Personally, I have become fascinated with how the internet has changed not only my own experiences (the internet came out in my teen years), and also how it has changed academia. Through working on various research projects on digital literacies, my interest in how we engage with each other online and conduct research online has blossomed. I am seeing the walls and isolation of academia slowly starting to break down. The Ivory Tower is becoming less and less out of touch with those who can benefit from research. I’m possibly too enthusiastic about being an online researcher, I think it’s GREAT!

Grad Student Digital Literacies

I framed the workshop around graduate student digital literacies, that is, how we consume, create, and engage online.

Consuming online

As grad students we are adept at researching online for our studies. However, there are whole communities out there of professional development, support networks, and just generally awesome entrepreneurs looking to support graduate students and early career researchers. Some of the great resources I follow online include (in no particular order; note that some of these are paid services but offer free webinars or share content on occasion):

I highly recommend searching for what might be relevant for you and hit subscribe, follow, or join. Consuming is a fairly safe way to utilize the internet. Lurk, Learn, and try out their recommendations to see if it is right for you.

Creating online (e.g., twitter, blog, Instagram)

Creating online can be as simple as tweeting to more elaborate blogs or video contributions. However, there are some reservations people have about starting to add their content and voice to the conversations. Sharing and creating are vulnerable activities. You may be concerned about political positioning or offending someone if you critique their work. The biggest thing I think for graduate students may be the ever-present imposter syndrome.

I don’t have the solution to addressing these concerns but encourage people to reflect on their concerns. Perhaps you can create boundaries for the types of content you will create. I tend to avoid being overly political and reflect on things before I share. Also, the draw of why I share outweighs the reservations I may have. Adding my voice/perspective to the conversation, reflecting on my research or experience, or being able to help someone with my experience are motivating for me. I also think it’s awesome that people can weigh in on what I share if they want to.

There is also the potential for knowledge mobilization. More and more grant agencies require you to have a knowledge mobilization plan. Having an existing research network provides you with the opportunity to include this in your applications. Therefore, you don’t have to lay out how you might reach your target demographics, you’re already reaching them (potentially‚Ķ I’m not there yet, but I’m just getting started).

Engaging online

Responding to tweets and comments or asking your own questions can be a great way to engage. Participants brought up the ability to reach out to other researchers more easily. Engaging can be a great way to network and get support throughout your graduate journey.

Another way to engage online is joining or creating research groups, writing groups, interest groups, or whatever sparks your interest or would be useful to you. I currently am in two virtual working groups. We meet for planned pomodoro sessions (see how I use poms here) and check in to say how things are going on the 5-minute breaks. It’s great for getting work down, accountability, and feeling a little less alone.


One of the things that came up in our discussion was feeling the need to respond to everyone who comments on your content. I admitted that I am guilty of this, and it can suck up a lot of your time. Choosing to engage and create online adds one more thing to do in your already busy schedule. I have been learning to set more boundaries for myself, both with creating, and how I engage. This is something you need to reflect on yourself and set your own boundaries. For myself, I only create content when I genuinely have time, and am inspired to do so. Despite feeling the need to respond to everyone, if I don’t have anything more to contribute, I will like the response as a thank you gesture.

Another question came up about the cost of creating a website. There are lots of free options. But, if you want to get your own domain name, you can shop around. My website is hosted on reclaim hosting and I use wordpress to build my website. What do you use?

Give it a shot, start small, maybe tweet or even just retweet (just make sure it is something you fully support). Join in the conversation! As I said at the workshop, the online academic community is quite welcoming!

Note: Someone from my online interactions shared this link with me. It looks like a great place to get started when learning about the various ways to engage online.

Creative Commons License
Being a Graduate Student in the Digital Age by Heather Woods is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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