Communication

I tweet 10-20 times per week on average. But I’m far more active on Twitter when I attend conferences. At conferences, I write as many as 300 tweets over two days. I use conference hashtags to share my thoughts, generate discussion, and disseminate others’ work. Conference tweeting is a way to electronically meet other attendees and have an online conversation with them. I try to use live-tweeting etiquette as much as possible.

Along with tweeting, I normally take notes on my laptop during conference presentations. Lately, along with my usual conference tweets, I have been writing what I call tweetnotes. These are tweet threads I write by tweeting my notes and threading together replies. The tweets become my notes, hence the term tweetnotes.

Before creating tweetnotes, I used to write a dozen or more discrete tweets during presentations. But I can thread tweetnotes together, meaning they can be saved as a narrative instead of a basketful of discrete tweets. In the past, I would scan through old tweets to find tweets from a specific presentation. Now, I just save or embed the tweetnote links and I can easily access the entire thread. Here are a few examples from the annual Qualitative Health Research conference I just attended.

Tweetnotes are useful for me and for others. For example, when I finish a tweetnote I will often retweet it with a summary of the presentation I attended. The presenter, conference organizers, and other audience members can now interact with either individual tweets or to the entire tweetnote. For example, CADTH retweeted my tweetnote on some presenters form their organization.

So far, I think the uptake of using tweetnotes has been well received by my network. What do you think of tweetnotes or other ways of using Twitter threads? Share your thoughts as a comment.

Word

I created a simple word cloud based on the text of the recent anti-diversity manifesto published by a now-disgraced former Google engineer. The visual speaks for itself, but I wanted to share some thoughts on the sentence where I simply stopped reading:

“Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.”

There are many statements I disagree with throughout this diatribe–and if you haven’t read it you’re not missing out on much. But this sentence rubs me raw.

Where do facts come from? The author should note well that emotional engagement is central to what propels science, research, and the people who choose scientific careers.  We gain nothing by separating so-called “matters of fact” from the emotional human contexts in which those facts exist, profligate, and influence human action.

Not only do we observe this artificial separation of reason and emotion throughout this manifesto, we frequently observe this separation used to justify the mythos of innate male and female skills and virtues.  Here is the link to the Gizmodo article containing both the original anti-diversity memo as well as the corporate reply from Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, Danielle Brown.

What do you think? Let me know!

In debriefing with some colleagues about my recent trip to Montreal for Qualitative Health Research 2012, we agreed it would be a good idea for me to post my summary of a fantastic talk given by Prof. Mary Ellen Macdonald. She focused her talk on career planning for qualitative health research graduate students, and based the key points on an e-mail poll she sent to 26 qualitative health research professors across Canada.

I was particularly excited by Dr. Macdonald’s talk because I’ve been writing about professional development for years – starting with posts about my own professional development, and moving on to posting about career advice for Arts grads, resume writing, and, more recently, academic PR (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).

What I found particularly salient about Dr. MacDonald’s talk was her outline of the ‘unofficial curriculum’ for qualitative health research graduate students. I’ve taken her advice and structured it into 4 career planning tips for qualitative researchers: graduate student’s need to foster mentorship, develop communication skills, be good citizens, and stay on the radar.

Career tip #1: Fostering mentorship

A graduate students’ success is directly related to the mentorship structure they receive from their supervisor. I have seen students suffer in highly dysfunctional research supervision relationships. To avoid this, before beginning any graduate program a graduate student should select their mentor first and their topic second. mentoring

Your research topic will not matter if your supervisor is not working with you to develop other crucial professional skills. Don’t expect every supervisor to be a strong mentor; mentorship is a mutual process, with formalities that should be respected by graduate student mentees.

Dr. Macdonald recommends students take a proactive role by establishing a supervision contract with your mentor. This contract could state that a discussion has taken place identifying the frequency of individual and committee meetings, the nature of verbal/written feedback, the funding that is available for conference travel, research assistantships and stipends, and the appropriate timeframes allotted for feedback and letter writing.

Career Tip #2: Developing communication SkillsCommunication

The ability to communicate your ideas is as important as the ideas themselves. For example, writing well is an overlooked skill for graduate students, and most programs provide no formal writing instruction. Are you struggling with your writing? Hire a tutor, join a writing group, or research online. In a career where written communication in the form of peer-reviewed articles is crucial to career success, graduate students must write well.

Strong public speaking skills are also an important skill for graduate students who want to make a mark. Spend time learning to design effective slides. Practice your talk before you get up in front of an audience. Learn to be a good public speaker (consult with toastmasters if need be).

Further, your CV can be a powerful communication strategy. Dr. Macdonald recommends that you keep your CV up to date. She also recommends you maintain two versions of your CV, official and unofficial. Your unofficial CV is sometimes called a dossier. Researchers keep sanctioned, conventional achievements in their CV: employment history, publications, and conference presentations. But why not keep everything you do in your unofficial CV? Dr. Macdonald recommends recording ALL contributions to your research community: important meetings, rejected research papers, and even unsuccessful grants. You worked on those tasks, so why not record them?

Career Tip #3: Being a good citizen

Citizenship is behavior based on the duties and functions of a citizen. So what does it take to be a good citizen of your graduate program or research centre? One way to be a good citizen of your graduate program is by being a strong representative at conferences. Good conferencing means more than presenting research talks/workshops/posters. Effective networking is a must! Attend others’ talks, meet new people, greet colleagues, and ask GOOD questions (these are questions that make the speaker look good; citizennot, as some folks would have it, questions that make the speaker look good.) Further, do as much as you can to show off your work and the community from which you come. You will look even better if you are current in your research area when chatting with your peers.

Career Tip #4: Staying on the radar

Stay on the radar with your supervisor. While your research project is, or at least should be, your most important occupation, the same is not true for your supervisor. Keep copious notes when you meet with your supervisor; it is your job to remind your supervisor about things you established during past meetings. radar

Stay on the radar with important people you meet as well. Along with being you supervisor’s keeper of memories, work with your supervisor to develop an “elevator pitch” – this is the 20-second description of your research project when you find yourself in an elevator next to the Dean. But you might need different pitches for different audience: nurses, physicians, policy-makers, etc.

This is my second post about Academic PR, the practice of PR by academic professionals seeking to network, disseminate research, and discover funding opportunities. Today’s post is about Academia.edu, a social networking website for academics. I love the site because it leverages powerful techniques from the social networking web in a way that is easy and accessible for academics. But I hate the site because it overlooks some the most fundamental social networking techniques as well. Before I get into the details, first let me begin with the caveat that I’ve been in touch with the developers of Academia.edu about my concerns, and I was told that they are working them out. So by the time you’re reading this, things might be all better, in which case I’ll edit this post or write a new one. But for now, it’s a love-hate relationship.

Why I love Academia.edu

The reasons I love this website far outnumber the reasons I hate it. Most importantly, Academia.edu has an obvious understanding of their audience: academics. When you want to communicate with academics, you really need to cut the flack. Academics want simplicity and efficiency, not flash and complexity. So I love academia.edu because they’ve succeeded in appealing to their audience. And they’ve done so in three primary ways: the functionality, the database, and the interface.

Functionality

Academia.edu is a free and easy way for academics to publish their bios, publications, contact information, and Twitter-like status updates for the entire world to see. Further to that, users can use specialized search terms like research interests and departmental affiliations to find like-minded individuals and forge potential connections. I briefly mentioned that users can post publications, but I want to emphasize what an easy way this is for academics to highlight the work they feel best represents what they’re currently interested in. Furthermore, the Academia.edu site allows users to easily write blog posts that become part of their online profile.

Database

The information about thousands of post-secondary institutions has been populated into the Academia.edu database. So when a new academic user first registers, the site intuitively auto-populates the information about their academic institution and department. A simple example of this is the fact a PhD candidate from, say, the University of Waterloo’s English department (my alma mater), can choose the appropriate departmental title, the “Department of English Language and Literature,” instead of simply a generic title like the “Department of English.” Academia.edu achieves this by allowing users to populate the database as they register. So the first registrant of a given department paves the way for subsequent registrants to easily select their department from a list of options.

Interface

In terms of user interface, Academia.edu has done everything right. The layout is clean and clear with solid web architecture. And one of the most noticeable aspects of the site is the visual layout of academic departments. Once a user has chosen their institution and department, they can see the other faculty members, graduate students, and staff who are also Academia.edu users (see my screen shot).

Academia.edu screen shot

I think this is a neat way to visualize the hierarchy of a given academic department, although I have to admit it’s rather unremarkable if a department only has four Academia.edu users. The site uses a similar visual approach for laying out users according to their research interests.

The is also comprised of four primary feeds: News, Papers, People, and Status Updates. Which leads me to the next part of my post . . .

What I hate about Academia.edu

In its current iteration, I despise Academia.edu because users can’t filter the site’s feeds. The feeds are scrolling updates about users posting papers, status updates, profile changes, etc. You’ll be most familiar with this user interface from Facebook (and I can only assume you’re familiar with Facebook if you’ve read this far.) Academia.edu claims . . . CLAIMS that the site uses your reported research interests to populate your feed with information you’ll find relevant. Well this is just not true.

Like many others, I’m an interdisciplinary researcher with interests reaching from Linguistics to Medical Education. Perhaps this diversity is the reason my feed is constantly clogged with information about academics who I am not interested in and papers that I don’t want to read. Although the site allows you to “Follow” the work of some academics, this doesn’t occlude the work of academics you’ve never heard of from appearing in your newsfeed.

Everytime I log into Academia.edu I find myself having to sort through a wealth of unnecessary information. While I can perhaps see the logic insofar as the site’s organizers hoped to foster previously unknown research connections, it’s completely unacceptable that I my Papers feed contains a graduate student research paper about Islamic poetry when the closest Research Interest that may link me to this topic is “Illness in Literature.” This site desperately needs filters for their feeds and right now they don’t.

So maybe I was a little off when I said the site’s designers fully understood their audience. After all, while academics are particularly good at cutting the chaff from the wheat, we need to be in control of WHO’S work we want to follow, and WHICH papers we want to read. Anyone who understands academics knows that while we appreciate recommendations, we don’t want them forced on us.

This is the first of a series of posts I’ll be writing on Academic Public Relations (PR). The thrust of these posts is to talk about Academic PR as a set of strategies for academics, young (graduate student, PhD candidates, etc.) and old (ABDs, post-docs, sessionals, etc.), who are looking to get their work noticed. All major post-secondary institutions will have PR departments, but this isn’t Academic PR. A university’s PR team governs their institution’s image in order to recruit students and increase public awareness, but Academic PR is the practice of PR by academic professionals seeking to network, disseminate research, and discover funding opportunities.

A teachable topicAcademia

The job placement rate of a given graduate program directly relates to that program’s prestige. And more prestige leads to more funding, more industry partnerships, and more growth in the form of course offerings, faculty specializations, and scholarships. So it behooves academic institutions to teach career strategies, doesn’t it?

You’ll recall an earlier post where I interviewed Carleton University’s Dr. Lara Varpio and she outlined the importance of networking for PhD students nearing the end of their studies. Dr Varpio told me that effective networking helped her land her a job, and that effective networking leads PhD students and post-docs to the coveted markers of academic success: publications, fellowships, scholarships, and, most importantly, jobs.

Graduate students are told to disseminate their work at conferences and to network; but they aren’t taught to put themselves on the radar of potential venues for their work. And while Dr Varpio had in mind the more traditional form of networking (face to face at academic conferences), it is my contention that graduate programs and graduate students fail to teach the networking possibilities afforded by the internet, i.e., Academic PR.

Hidden curriculum

So in this sense, Academic PR remains the hidden curriculum of graduate studies: there aren’t any courses taught on this subject, but you need to understand it if you hope to get a job. Why is this?

It could be that the practice of Academic PR is distinctly unacademic. The academy is about pure objectivity while PR is about overt and covert persuasion; the academy is about meritorious knowledge dissemination while PR is about strategic knowledge dissemination; the academy is about research and reporting while PR is about pragmatic, human connections. But the fact remains that many successful academics are practicing Academic PR, and the next generation of academics should learn to do the same.

What do you think? I can see this post generating a lot of disagreement, and that’s great! I’d love to hear your feedback in the form of a comment below.

Shakespeare was the master of metaphors, but today’s modern metaphor masters work in marketing and advertising.

Marketing, advertising, and the Arts

One of the questions that most Arts graduates are familiar with is, “A Bachelor’s of Arts, what are you going to do with that?” Yet Arts graduates are keenly familiar with the art of persuasion, rhetoric:

  1. Arts students write persuasive assignments such as personal essays, research papers, and text analyses.
  2. Arts professors critique students’ assignments based their persuasive ability.
  3. Ideally, Arts students improve their persuasive abilities.

So Arts students learn rhetoric, and great Arts students become great rhetoricians. Let’s return to the original question, the question an English major, like me, is used to hearing from his computer programmer friends, “what are you going to do with that?”

What are you going to do with the ability to persuade others?

rhetoricThe art of persuasion

Every business needs to convince consumers (the public or other businesses) to buy their products. Marketing agencies create advertising that sells products, and effective rhetoric is the backbone of great marketing.

Think about those catchy ads that stick with you over the course of days or weeks, or the humorous ones that have you and your colleagues doubled over at the water cooler. Those ads stimulate your emotions, which persuades you to purchase a product or pay for a service. That’s advertising.

But every ad must relate back to the product or service it’s selling. That relationship between the product and the advertisement is inherently metaphorical—the ad carries the meaning of the ad beyond its referent.

 

 

Metaphors in advertising

caveman2 Some of my favorite commercials are for the Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO). The GEICO commercials are examples of really great advertising, especially in how they’ve created two excellent company mascots: the Caveman and the Gecko. And, to illustrate the purpose of this post, the GEICO Caveman is a metaphor for an ancient being, incapable of modern human understanding. Yet the caveman uses GEICO because they want to relay the message that they’re services are “so easy even a caveman can do it.”

So the caveman metaphorically stands in for two things: something pre-modern and GEICO’s simplicity.

Advertising does this ALL THE TIME.

Nike’s “Just Do It” advertising fuses their athletic products with speed, fame, and success; Tony the Tiger does the same thing with Frosted Flakes; the new RBC claymations fuse banking with something fun, animated, and unique; and the list goes on and on.

Good Marketers take one central idea that metaphorically represents the perceived benefits of using a product or paying  for a service. They then fuse that idea with the content of their communications, and create themes or storylines amongst—a process called branding.

This process of allowing symbols and words to carry different meanings is just another way metaphors pervade our everyday lives.

caveman

Graduation_Hat_Toss

I’ve just completed an eight month work placement component for my English MA. Before I was finally hired at a local marketing company, I was turned down by six companies in a row. I realize now I wasn’t hired at those first six jobs because academic hubris got the better of me. I thought that my graduate student status would automatically qualify me for jobs ahead of undergraduate co-applicants. Bad move.

It took me two months to find a co-op job. Coursework was mounting and I needed to find work. It was very frustrating. So I booked an appointment with an advisor, attended a practice interview session, and had my resume edited. Along the way, I asked a lot of questions and received a lot of helpful advice. I was hired by the next job I interviewed for.

This post is a synthesis of my advisor’s advice and the advice of several prominent local technology managers–gleaned from a Non-Acadmic Careers Workshop. I hope these tips help you find the job of your dreams.

What makes Arts graduates worth hiring?

Analytical thinking

Arts students are taught to analyze poems and dense literary or philosophical texts by breaking texts down to their fundamentals and researching problems that have plagued academics and scholars for hundreds of years. In the workforce, Arts graduates can do the same thing for business problems. Analytical thinking is thinking on your feet. It’s the ability to make a point, back it up, and persuade your audience.

Lateral Thinking

rubicks cube Lateral thinking is quickly recognizing connections between dissimilar concepts. This is how Arts graduates use their creativity and experience to connect with the needs of their employers. I had no experience in communications, marketing or professional writing when I graduated with my English degree; in fact, all I had on my resume were jobs waiting tables. Lateral thinking allowed me to pull transferable skills out of my past experiences. On my resume and cover letters, I argued that a waiter has to be an expert at customer service, multitasking, defusing tense situations, working in a fast paced environment, in a process of constant decision making.

Critical Thinking

Do you think literary theory or philosophy doesn’t matter in the “real world”? Your experience with critical theories gives you a critical viewpoint. This when you use your powers of analytical thinking to explore a concept/object, but then detect flaws, logical lapses, or potential binaries that could be impeding some type of progression/connection.

Whether your perspective is postcolonial, postmodern, linguistic, or philosophical, Arts graduates think critically about problems, solutions, and processes from multiple perspectives. You’re finding problems before anyone else realizes there are any.

Scholarship

Aside from the ability to learn, write, and think, your Arts degree represent respect for timelines, schedules and deliverables. You’ve worked hard under pressure to ensure timely completion of your work. Graduate students should mention the difficult application process for graduate studies, and the strategies they use to manage an intense workload.

How will your resume and cover letter lead to job interviews?

Cover Letters

For every job your apply for, take the posted job requirements and demonstrate your awareness and abilities with an individually tailored cover letter. Carefully read the job descriptions and try to single out buzzwords to smoothly incorporate into your resume and cover letter. Pay attention to striking verbs that are likely common within your potential employer’s corporate culture. This demonstrates you’ve done your research and, thus, you’re a quick learner.

Buzzwords

Potential buzzwords to consider: experience, rhetoric, human factors, interactivity, information architecture, technical communication, user experience, product management, versatility. In any communications field, remember to talk about an audience.

Skills

TeamworkComputer hacking skills, Bow Staff skills . . . Seriously though, don’t forget to highlight your extra-academic skills. Employers are interested in your experience with music, drama, dance, sports, and any other type of collaborative enterprise that demonstrates teamwork, creativity, or coordination.Also highlight any volunteer experience you have.

You might want to tweak this section of your resume depending on the job you’re applying for. For example, demonstrate an interest in technology if you’re applying for a job with a technology company.

Also discuss your awareness of or experience with relevant technology for the workplace (this information is in the job posting; for example, a posting may indicate experience with Microsoft Visio is recommended). Remember, you may not have experience with Microsoft Visio, but you do have experience with research. So go look up Visio, check out its Reviewers Guide, and familarize yourself with the program. Then you can add “familiarity with Microsoft Visio” to your resume as the job posting indicates you should.

References

Ensure your references are up to date and let them know that phone calls will be coming. Don’t be afraid to remind your reference of the skills that made you a good colleague while you were in a professional setting.

Professional Associations

Though likely out of your purview right now, consider membership with a professional association, such as the Society for Technical Communication, the Usability Professional Association, or the Editors’ Associate of Canada. These certifications are a great way to demonstrate that you’ve purposely gone out and became certified as a specialist in a given field. All of these professional associations have student rates. Professional certification is a nice balance with an academic career—it shows practicality and that you know what you want out of your career . . . even if you don’t.

How do I nail my interview?

Commitment

Discuss an interest in educational opportunities, professional development, or a future with the company —after all, you’re a graduate and employers look at degrees as evidence of commitment to an ideal. Ask abut pay raises, objective setting, and employee reviews—again expressing an interest in self-improvement and training that will contribute to your employer.

Questions

9153703052 Ask lots of questions about the organization that will cause interviewers to “sell” the company to you. If they’re selling the organization to you, then you don’t have to talk as much during the interview and the interviewer feels great about their job at the end of it—it’s a win/win and it makes you look good. Remember, effective questions for the interviewer will be based on your research.

Answers

Interviewers want to know what kind of person you are. The business world is about deadlines, multitasking, and teamwork. These are the kinds of activities at the job–not the job itself—so demonstrate you’re aware of HOW to work effectively. Anybody hiring you is thinking of systems, relationships, and how to streamline company processes. You need to show how you will fit in. Interviewers want you to highlight the fact that you know how to learn.

Importantly, before answering a tough interview question, take the time to pause and think about your answer. Don’t just start rambling and then lose your thought process. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “good question, let me think about that for a second.”

What kinds of questions are they going to ask?

One technical communications manager I spoke with mentioned three standard interview questions her company uses, why they ask them, and the answers they want. Here they are:

#1: Think about a time you had to sell a problem, influence a decision, or recommend a change nobody wanted. How did you forward your agenda?

The goal of questions like this is for you to tell the interviewer how you communicated effectively in ‘situation X’. Remember, your answer doesn’t have to be something professional, it can be personal. So you could talk about an experience with a group project in school or an experience from your jazz band—it’s up to you.

#2: in the past, have you had to deal with a difficult developer? How did you get the information you required from that developer?

Some company interviewers will deliberately use terminology that you’re not familiar with in order to put you out of your element. The goal of this questions is for you to demonstrate lateral thinking by connecting the fact that, although you probably haven’t worked with a “developer,” you have worked with a difficult person—again, a great time to talk about how you communicated effectively in ‘situation X’. So talk about how you were working with a difficult person in a collaborative setting and the strategies you used to forward your agenda.

#3: How would you start documenting a software feature?

Again, the interviewer knows you likely don’t know about “software features,” but they want you to make a connection; they want you to think laterally. So talk about how you would document anything: you would do research and use analytical, critical, and lateral thinking to establish your audience’s need. From there you would write a concise, effective document about that “software feature” for that audience.

Any other advice?

I can’t emphasize this enough: RESEARCH! Demonstrate that you’re aware of what the company you’re applying for does and what your potential role there entails. This is great fodder for questions you will ask during your interview, and interviewers love being asked questions!