Editor’s note: This is the second post in a series inspired by an article in Forbes magazine which claimed the Curriculum Vitae (CV) will be replaced with your ‘digital footprint’ in the next ten years. If, indeed, you will need to have a clear digital identity to compete in the job market – what should you be doing about that now? I have asked a few academics who I think are already doing their digital identity well to write about the strategies they use.

The second post in this series is Sarah Thorneycroft, an academic developer who I met on Twitter. Sarah’s research focuses on redefining education in digital spaces. She has called this piece: Not just cardboard castles: digital identity in three dimensions”

If you don’t mind venturing into the macabre for a second, imagine your gravestone. I’m willing to bet it doesn’t say:

“Here lies so-and-so; their doctoral thesis was a critical analysis of the pseudo-social constructivist paradigm inherent in early 21st century pedagogical practices”

And it probably doesn’t have a list of your recent publications and conference papers. However, a quick Google reveals this kind of one-dimensional profiling is rampant in academia and it’s easy for postgrads to succumb.

Traditionally, creating an academic identity (digital or otherwise) involves an institutional profile which outlines your professional experience, publication record and grants. This functions as your sole ‘face’ for networking and professional interaction. Academics venturing into digital spaces often maintain this approach, keeping their profiles and blogs as ‘professional’ as possible. Postgrad students and early-career academics who are keen to build a professional name will often feel the pressure to promote their scholarly work to the exclusion of all other endeavours.

Creating an academic identity often involves simply creating a ‘cardboard castle’ for oneself – it looks good from one angle, but viewed from another it is one-dimensional and lacks substance.

This is where I think we go wrong – the after-hours parts of our lives aren’t just irrelevant fluff. Building an identity – especially an online identity – that is three-dimensional and profiles us as real human beings, rather than just publication machines, has benefits beyond just the warm and fuzzy.

For instance, I’m a gamer, and I advertise this fact on my institutional profile page. I have a picture of my WoW toon and everything (quelle horreur!). Now, while it’s true that about 99% of people in academia do not *get* gaming, for those that are willing to stop and think, the fact that I am a gamer provides quite a lot of information about who I might be as a professional. I am likely to think laterally about problem-solving, work effectively in teams, be a highly self-directed learner and be willing to investigate alternative avenues to resolve issues, among other things.

I’m also a musician who plays in a huge variety of ensembles and genres – that’s on my profile too. It tells you I’m committed to developing high-quality craft, communicate effectively with a wide variety of people and am open to new ways of thinking (also, that I am occasionally willing to wear odd costumes).

I’m a baker/cake decorator, and my institutional profile has a link to my cake blog too – possibly not as easy to extrapolate professional qualities here, but who wouldn’t want to hire someone who guarantees cupcakes at every staff meeting?

The two other things I have linked on my profile are my blog and my online research site for my Masters thesis. Both of these are scary. My blog sometimes criticises my institution and often criticises higher education in general. Research that is self-published publicly (with comments enabled…!) is the stuff of nightmares to most academics. But they are there because it shows that I am constantly engaged in dynamic research conversations, believe in open access to research, and am willing to take risks and practice what I preach.

Creating a three-dimensional identity isn’t just about selling the nice stuff that appeals to everyone – it’s just as important to challenge as to please.

As well as being part of my professional profile, all of the above are managed through my Twitter account. I know that most of my followers won’t know what ‘rolling a new lock’ or ‘getting ganked in STV’ mean, or who the Bach or Brian Setzer I refer to in concert promo tweets are, but many do. Some of the most effective academic interaction I have on Twitter is a result of ‘personal’ tweeting.

A few months ago the Chronicle of Higher Education posted an article on a study that found professors whose tweets included personal information ranked more highly among students than those whose tweets were purely scholarly, and I don’t think this is limited to students. Think about the professional colleagues you most respect – I doubt they are the ones you know as references only.

Ultimately it comes down to who you want to be when you are Googled. Do you want to be known as

“Somebody, J. 2011. ‘Pseudo-social constructivist paradigms in early 21st century pedagogical practices’. PhD thesis, some university press, somewhere”.

or as someone who is a dynamic, approachable and engaged researcher and professional, who, sometimes, also likes to knit, play soccer or kill zombies with fire? I know I will always choose the latter.

Are you really interested in me now? You can see my institutional profile here

Related Posts:

What if your CV is not enough (Part One)

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