May 10, 2013

Why I love social media

Other than a smattering of AIM and email throughout high school, I dropped headfirst into social media when I started college in 2005. Online blogs, Facebook, and the like helped me keep in touch with new and old friends.

When I started blogging about academic and environmental issues in 2008, I started following other blogs related to my interests. When I went to Bangladesh (also in 2008), I got more into blogging and found myself closely following several development-related blogs.

At some point I got on the Google Reader* and Twitter bandwagons, which are both more or less a constant stream of information. I miss Google Reader's more social functions (sharing posts and commenting on what others' posted), and I haven't really found an adequate replacement. Of course, no one can ever replace Arijit as my number one social and environmental justice-related news source. Arijit, as some of you know, was a huge proponent of social media and I miss him dearly for this and other reasons.

I feel that I've only recently begun to utilize Twitter as a networking tool in a more professional sense. The fun thing about Twitter is that you can tweet anyone, from professors to the secretary of state, and hope for a response. It's led to some interesting research connections for me, and it gives a more personal spin on professional networking! Twitter also functions as a mini newsfeed, although it can be overwhelming at times (the other night it was full of tweets on drones... thanks FutureTense).

But back to blogs! Although about half the blogs I follow are "fluff" related to recipes and whatnot, the other half are mostly academic blogs. Keeping up my my blog roll over the past few years has helped me tremendously with four main points:

1) I made my institutional contact with Bioversity International through a blog written by my supervisor in India. Remembering the pain I went through to find a research contact in India, I couldn't believe that Bioversity was working on my topic of interest and was willing to work with me. You never know what kind of opportunities might show up!

2) Keeping up with current news and publications regarding agricultural adaptation to climate change. Blogs are a million times faster than academic journals, so often you'll see research that's in progress. It helps me know who's working with who (in academia and out), what are the current paradigms, and even to download papers and news articles directly related to my research. Although I rely on a variety of blogs for this, the most info-packed and frequently updated is the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog.

3) Linking with people outside my field and getting a broader scope of academia. I follow a few blogs in agricultural economics, geography, and political science because although I'm a mostly qualitative researchers, these are the fields that often look at questions of development, climate change, and agriculture. It has broadened my horizons to get another perspective on these topics as well as to learn some particulars of each discipline.

4) Professional advice. Reading blogs by people currently in academia or with policy experience gives me a better perspective of the potential careers I am facing. In particular I've been following the posts from Duck of Minerva on the academic-policy nexus, general grad student advice from GradHacker, and lately this great blog on "alt-ac" careers, From PhD to life.

*In case you're wondering, I switched from Reader to Feedly and I'm liking it so far!