Thursday, 2 October 2014

Is twitter an academic pandora's box?

In the first week of my masters course, prior to starting my Phd, I had a conversation with someone about how I wanted to be a lecturer.  It hadn't crossed my mind that I might not make it, and since the other participant in the conversation had a lot more experience than me (she'd worked as a research assistant for ~ 10 years), she basically decided I was an arrogant idiot.

(n.b. I was quickly forgiven for being an arrogant idiot and we became good friends)

I did not really take anything much away from this conversation.  I continued my career as I'd planned, and it wasn't until I was applying for jobs toward the end of my second postdoc that I started to find it hard.  But I was still plugging away, pretty certain I'd get there in the end.

Recently (I mean literally the last month), it's all started to get a bit much. And I'm going to lay this squarely at this feet of one culprit. Twitter.

Don't get me wrong, I love twitter, I love the way it allows us to communicate our passions and to connect with the world in a way that was just not possible 10 years ago.  But if I were not able to connect with the world in this way, I could continue in ignorance and maybe I'd get lucky and make it.  But I know the odds are against me now, Pandora's box is open and there's no way back.

Some recent things I've found out about through twitter that are getting me down (in no particular order):

  • Early Career (and not so early career) Researchers trying to encourage publishers to follow an open access pathway with clear reasoning, which was totally ignored and dismissed by the publishers here and here.
  • The fact that the President of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology thinks most of us are riffraff.
  • Being able to directly see how unlikely it is that I'll ever get a job as a PI, and the fact that I'd have a 12% better chance if I were a guy.
  • Talking to people about how academia still has a diversity problem (Follow #diversityjc on twitter to talk more about this)  Conferences in particular have a problem where they only get white male speakers. And many of them don't seem to think this is worrying.
  • The fact that academic freedom seems to slowly be being worn away.
  • The culture of being mean to each other seems to be rewarded far more than does helpfulness and supportive behaviour

For the last 10 years, I have loved working in academia. I felt at home here. I loved the opportunity to research interesting topics and to follow where that research took me, but after it took me to America, 3000 miles away from my family, I started to wonder if I might need more than academia is prepared to give me.

I haven't totally given up yet, but I need to find a way of getting a healthier relationship with this career and I'm not sure I can ever go back to the happy naive state I once had.


  1. I was pointed towards this blog by @complexin on twitter. So twitter does tell you the good stuff too!

  2. Pandora's Box also released Hope into the world. There's good stuff out there on Twitter, too*.

    *Though there may be less of it. That's people for you.