Helping Doc Students Develop Online Identities

We have something new going on these days in the building. Each month, we have a meeting – or maybe gathering is a better word – with doctoral students and a few faculty (around three) to discuss something of professional interest. For example, we might discuss how to set up your vita or talk about how to remain an activist as you shift into the professoriate. Or even discuss what you need to know about comprehensive exams.

These meetings are meant to be informal and happen over lunch. The idea is for just a small amount of faculty agree to come in order to foster some discussion, to help build community with the doctoral students, and to help faculty and doctoral students get to know each other better.

It’s a good idea. But it’s missing something. When I looked at the list of topics I could sign up for I noticed something was missing: we are not talking to doctoral students about how to develop their online identities. And we need too.

What Is An Online Identity & Why Should We Care?

When I use the term online identity I mean, at a very basic level, how we present ourselves both personally and professionally to the world. In this post, I’m talking about how help doctoral students develop/cultivate/curate a professional identity.

The thing is, it’s probably only fairly recently that this has become an important concept to thinkonline-identity about. When I was a doctoral student (16 or so years ago) this kind of thinking wasn’t necessary. Sure, some people had websites, but it wasn’t common. Facebook wasn’t out yet.

However, I would say that easily within the last five or so years it has become important to think about having a professional identity. There are numerous benefits to having one. I’m going to rattle a few off, and I don’t consider this list to be exhaustive:

  • students learn how to talk to an audience
  • they get the chance to work out their ideas in a public space
  • students can develop followers and find people they never knew existed; they can connect with more established scholars (networking online)
  • they can share their work with the world and have many, many ways to share it and many formats as well; they can get as creative as they want

So that’s a list to get us started thinking about the benefits. Notice I didn’t elaborate on any of them. That was intentional. I’m going to be spending some time in the exploring the ideas of why we want doctoral students to develop online professional identities AND (because this blog focuses on teaching) how we might help them do so.

But I Don’t Have My Own Online Identity

If you don’t have your own online professional identity even kinda sorta developed, then I think it’s going to be difficult to help students create one. My advice in this case would be to keep up with the series and use it first as a way to develop your own (or even refine it). Once you have done so, then you can start to shift to helping doctoral students think about it.

By the way, I do think it’s important to think about online professional identities at all levels (undergrad and masters) but for me, each of those populations is uniquely different. How I would engage them in thinking about it, and the purposes for which they would create such an identity, would be specific for each level. Across the three however, I think that an online professional identity isĀ essential for doctoral students these days. This is why I’m focusing in there.

What are your thoughts on developing online identities? Join the conversation at #phdidentity

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