On owning my identity

Yesterday on twitter, there was an outing of a pseudonymous scientist by a person with a very influential position in the world of academic publishing. I was just a bystander with a shocked expression on my face and have no platform on which to talk about those events further. But, it brought up a comment from a friend that surprised me.

“+1 to you for owning your own identity” – friend who uses thinly veiled pseudonym.

When I first approached social media as a tenure track scientist, I did it out of curiosity. I didn’t really appreciate the intensity that a forum like twitter has. I also did not realize there was a world of trolls/haters/ridiculous people on the internet. So I did not prepare in any way. I used my real name and a twitter handle about my science*.

I’ve wondered if I should regret it – but being online and involved in discussions has brought me beneficial connections that I think are furthering my career – and using my real name means people can send me real emails. I work at a small campus distant from big cities, so social media allows me to feel better connected. And, there’s one more thing. I can’t keep up the facade.

I tried. I have a pseud. I wasn’t sure how to get it to take off, because I couldn’t push too hard without being obvious. I also wanted people to converse with – well – me! I didn’t have much to say as that fake person, unless there is a faculty meeting that I really need to vent about. However, lately I do my venting with trusted colleagues.

I’ve modeled my social media interactions on a few high level scientists who use their real information on their accounts. I realize I don’t care to discuss highly explosive topics on twitter – and I really want people to react to me, know my opinions, interests, expertise, biases, tendencies, idiosyncrasies (and that the super bowl is in NJ this year, not NY). I also want to be accessible to my students. It turns out I’ve made myself accessible to many young scientists. It’s amazing how many people introduce themselves to me at conferences now because they read my twitter feed. I am glad that the barrier is lowered by this online presence (and ponder why I didn’t meet as many people before! Maybe it’s because I’m short?! Everyone is tall on the internet!).

A few colleagues have been very dismissive of social media lately. “Waste of time!” “People who do that are not busy!” “What a silly thing!” I don’t think it is (see above). Using my real name will allow them to see what I’m doing, and if they look at the clock, they’ll know when I: take a break at lunch, am sitting on the floor outside my kid’s room waiting for him to sleep, waiting at the airport or in the passenger seat of a car. Using my real name may let them think I have oodles of time on my hands, or am silly. I don’t care. It’s a risk, but so far it seems worth the rewards.

Yes, I’m a young female who does not have tenure. Being myself may be a very stupid career move (especially since there are now a few people in the department who know about social media!) But I realized during graduate school, when I felt I was being told I had to change myself to fit into this academic world, that it’s not a way to live. I need to be true to myself, in real life and online. 

(*Dear Tenure Committee: If you’re reading this – wow, that outfit makes you look awesome and the last paper you published was amazing!)




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