Hello Readers! My name is Margrit Talpalaru. I am a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, and an early-career researcher on my own time. I am delighted and honoured to join the regular cast of H&E writers.
Being a PhD graduate without an immediate permanent prospect can feel alienating. After all, in a system which thrives on categorization and taxonomy, you’re suddenly in limbo. For me it felt abrupt, like I no longer belonged to the clear nomenclature of my department [where do I even heat my lunch now that I’ve graduated from the grad lounge?]. My OneCard was trying to persuade me I was “staff,” but then it turned cruel on me, and suspended my library privileges for getting pregnant and not having a teaching contract. Don’t get me wrong, my department didn’t quite let me fend for myself: PhD graduates are given two years of part-time teaching (2+2 courses). But the trick of the part-time status is that you don’t qualify for parental leave. Basically, it felt like my department was ready for me to spread my wings and go out into the world, but the latter would have none of it or of me.
So, I took Erin’s advice to find my own community, and I found a very supportive one on Twitter. After lurking there for a few months, in which I was convincing myself Twitter was a procrastination tool for reading the news—international and academic alike—I started interacting with people. Timidly, at first. What would I have to say to people who had never heard of me? Why would they—seasoned academics, twitterers, bloggers, journalists—want to talk to me? It turns out some of them do, and most are welcoming, generous, and engaging conversationalists. After years of lurking on favourite blogs, I was dumbfounded: so that’s why people come back, that’s why they write, that’s why they bare it (all). Sure, there are also the broadcasters, disinterested in engaging or measuring their self-esteem by the numbers in the “followers” section. The important thing I discovered, though? You can find your community, too.
I know social media inveterates do a face-palm right now. To them I say, please avert your eyes for a second, or just bear with me, because I can bet there are many other PhD students and early-career researchers out there feeling as lost as I was, and thinking they’re the only ones experiencing it. Well, I’m not here to tell them what to do, but just to point out that it worked for me. That I had no idea Twitter, whom we academics all like to bash [“140 characters? Only a chipmunk would find that satisfactory! I prefer to express my complex thoughts in 5,000-word essays, thank you!”=134 characters!] can be such a supportive environment, if you only spent time to discover the innards of chats and hashtags. Between #PhDchat, #PhDadvice, #ECRchat, #acwri, #ECRbook, #FYCchat, and many others, I’m sure you can find something to alleviate that dreaded prisoner-in-the-ivory-tower feeling.
And, how about you, Reader? Are you on Twitter? Do you have an online community? Care to share?