Telling My Story

I was assigned some readings on ‘connected learning’ for class the other day, and I am happy to report that they were not only worthwhile reads, but also short and to the point. This post is focused on one of these readings, a blog post by Tim Hitchcock, Professor of Digital History at the University of Sussex. He sums his stance up well when he writes that, “if there is a ‘crisis’ in the humanities, it lies in how we have our public debates, rather than in their content.”

He goes on to liken the use of Twitter and blogs by academics with those “embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations” that we have (or should I say *used to have* – thanks COVID) with our peers. Rather than detracting from our research output or the sphere of our academic influence, they highlight our passion for that which we devote so many of our waking hours.

Not only that, but by crafting public tweets and blogs (perhaps a different verb applies to the drunken chit-chats), we are also improving our ability to communicate with broader audiences. While not a prolific Twitter user, it is nevertheless obvious that my content has seen a dramatic improvement since I started in 2017. Check it out @silknets if you don’t believe me!

I am an ecologist, and I’m currently working on a PhD. I’m interested mostly in streams and the critters that live in them. I often struggle with how to present my work as meaningful, especially to folks outside of my discipline and those that serve the public, or to professionals that serve more obvious needs of our modern society. As an example, I once had a conversation with a close friend, telling him that I was studying movement patterns of the Eastern box turtle. His response was that he had the same job – in his backyard when he was six. Before I had the chance to explain why the study mattered, he had turned it into a joke. At least it was a good one.

I recognize that the work I do has value, but because it isn’t easy to convey that in a 30-second elevator pitch, I often just downplay what I do and try and change the conversation. But as I write this, thinking about Hitchcock’s ‘crisis’ of academics and our isolated debates, I realize that that I can do more to control my own narrative. This blog post is hopefully the first of many. My hope is to use my voice – to tell my story – from my perspective. I don’t want to change the content of my story, I think it’s a good one anyways. But to tell it to an audience outside the silo of the academy.

Cheers.

One Reply to “Telling My Story”

  1. Hello,

    What you said in your blog about having trouble explaining what you do and why it is meaningful resonated with me. I am earning my PhD in Forestry, and I have come to learn that most people think that means I know how to use a chainsaw really, really well. Either that, or they say “you can get a PhD in that?” or “people research that?”. Even when people are interested in what I do, it can still be hard to explain and get them to understand what I am studying and why. I am naturally a very quiet person, and when I first began my degree and started trying to explain to people what I do, I usually just opted for a short and simple explanation with the goal of changing the topic quickly. However, I began to realize that when I didn’t explain myself or continue conversations about forestry with people outside of the field, I was not helping anyone. Various topics in forestry are things people tend to have very strong opinions about, and often those opinions are based off of misinformation or emotion. As someone getting a PhD in forestry, I have knowledge and information on many topics that the public needs to understand, and I am supposed to be an authority on those topics. However, if I try to avoid those conversations, I am not contributing to my profession and I am allowing the misinformation to continue. So, I have had to try and figure out ways to talk to the public on these topics in an informative, easily-understandable way.

    Austin Garren

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