A large part of working as an academic or researcher is about getting and being Out There. We strive to get published from the very first years of post-graduate work. We attend conferences, submit abstracts, prepare papers, and nervously give presentations. We are consistently reminded that publication is a requirement, and necessity for making it in academia. And at the top are the holy grails of the peer-reviewed article and the monograph. They cement our being out there. Put it in print. A tangible presence between the pages of a journal or book. The pressures of impact and the REF only make these goals seem greater and more important. REF paperwork and forms charts our progress and development, CVs reduce us to facts and figures, titles and acts on a few sides of A4. Being Out There is visible. And this is even more so with online platforms: academia.edu & linkedin record our progress, websites update our thoughts, blogs publish preliminary findings, and we can tweet our every move on the go.
In a world of open access debates, self-publishing and blogging, and the rise of digital humanities, the concept of being Out There as a researcher is surely changing. At the click of a button, we can be Out There – in 140 characters, 140 blog posts, or 140 pages of a self-published e-book. And here’s the scary thing, once it’s Out There, flying around the ether, it’s Out There to stay.
I personally welcome these new media and platforms, and the new forms of publishing and being Out There that they provide. Digital musings constitute a different sort of scholarship: a scholarship in practice, in flux, that welcomes and facilitates collaboration through comment sections, hashtags, and ‘@’ mentions. Being Out There with others – and isn’t that the point, to discuss, develop, and demonstrate our work within a research community – has never been so easy. All from the ease of our own homes, wearing pyjamas. The way research is carried out, presented, and accessed aren’t the only changes. In this digital age, stereotypes are being deconstructed and broken down. The sharply dressed white male academic, complete with tweed, glasses, greying hair, and, hopefully, a large bushy moustache, who represents the font of all knowledge, working atop his pillar in a room filled with dusty volumes is no longer the only way to do research. (Although, it should be said that I’ve come across several of these pseudo-mythical figures in my short time in academia.) With digital development, research can be published, discussed, and advanced by a whole range of people previously excluded from the ivory tower (read white, western, male, middle-class). And what’s more, research can actually foment direct social impact, can benefit from the input of policy workers and other professionals, and can literally reach the many not the few.
And yet, whilst being Out There has never been so easy, I still have my reservations. From the fear that I’m not qualified enough, don’t know enough, haven’t done enough, just are not good enough, to the little voice saying ‘who would want to read what I have to say anyway?!’, to the worry that blogging will be too personal, or display too many of my ideas rendering me useless for future, more traditional publication and damaging my already minuscule chances in a diminishing job market; I’m scared of being Out There. And that’s all before the words from a supervisor warning against plagiarism and idea theft. Although they’re still scary, it can seem easy to hide behind the traditional venues of conference presentations and journal articles. After all, it’s what’s expected, what’s needed, right? But when the conference presentation seems like a feared and insurmountable hurdle, what can you do?
This is where new avenues of publication are so important and so useful. Forums, hashtags, groups, and blogs on PhD and ECR experience provide vital information and, what’s most significant, a place for support, advice, anecdotes, questions, and sharing in an otherwise solitary world of research. They highlight the best and the worst, the problems and the successes of research life, and as such provide priceless tools for development and survival. As researchers we do not have to just go it alone, ignoring the fears, anxieties, depression that often accompany setting out in the world of academia. These have been hidden for so long, and need to be discussed. New media provide an outlet for these issues. And that’s not the only thing. Research blogs, journals, tweets, etc., they all help to dispel the myth that research is complete, that research is Knowledge. By reading blogs musing about the work in progress of a current project, or the first thoughts of a new idea, we can see research as a process that does not, and need not, be finalised. And I think this is one of the biggest hurdles in beginning to get Out There and ‘Do research’. We might live in a world of information overload. But this information has the capacity to change the way we do and the way we think about research. And it’s for the better.
I’ve had this blog for a really long time, but it’s been months since I’ve written anything. It’s been months since I’ve attended a conference. And it’s been months since I’ve given a presentation. Why? Because I’ve been too scared: Too afraid, too delimited by imposter feelings, by anxiety, and by my own thinking that research has to be complete, that no one wants to hear my little thoughts, that I have nothing to say, and that anything I do write may harm my future chances. Well I need to stop these habits now. And start getting Out There. And maybe this blog can be a start.