This peer interview is with Liana Silva. You can follow her on Twitter @literarychica. All links open in new windows. If you read this interview and find it interesting or useful, please take a moment to share it on your networks. Thank you.
Ernesto Priego: Can you describe who you are and what you do?
Liana Silva: I am a Graduate Writing Specialist for the KU Writing Center. I provide writing support for graduate student writers and for faculty and staff who work with those writers. I do writing consultations but I also do some writing coaching, in addition to always thinking about programming that grad student writers would be interested in.
I am also the Managing Editor for the sound studies academic blog Sounding Out!, a regular blogger for Inside Higher Ed’s University of Venus, and an avid Twitterer (is that even a word?) and blogger. In general, I think, I read, I listen, I write. Sometimes I cook. Sometimes I make jewelry.
EP: How do you include blogging in your academic workflow?
LS: Expressing myself in writing has always been easier for me than other forms of expression; it’s how I understand myself and the world, frankly. As a kid I had journals, I wrote poetry, I concocted stories, so I am drawn to tweeting and blogging. I became a regular blogger when I quit adjuncting and was immersed in dissertation work. I was at a place where dissertation writing was frustrating and producing a lot of stress and anxiety; I started blogging at Words Are My Game because I wanted to restore my faith in my writing abilities, and I thought creative writing would be a good way to do it. I figured, “I’m good at writing, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I write a decent dissertation chapter?” Blogging helped me remember I could still write and, more importantly, I could still enjoy writing.
The other thing you might not know about my becoming a regular blogger was that at the time I was unemployed and applying for different jobs across the board, some of which were writing-specific. I didn’t have anything other than academic writing samples, which frustrated me. I felt like I was ruined for anything other than academia! So I started blogging to also showcase my writing abilities in a different context. Over time, I’ve developed a more nuanced understanding of what academic writing is and what it can be, so I’m a lot more comfortable associating my blogging with my academic persona.
Now that I am done with the dissertation and working full-time, I still blog at Words Are My Game but not as often. I try to fit time for blogging/writing in the morning, waaaaay early in the morning. Because I work an 8-to-5 job, and because I sometimes commute to work (depending on the day of the week), writing at night is not always an option. So now I wake up early and write. I see writing and blogging as part of my scholarly/professional identity, so I try to commit to it regularly.
I also think of writing, and by extension blogging, as a way to think through ideas, questions, issues that I come across in my jobs or in my research, so the daily writing I do sometimes is just freewriting about something I read–freewriting that sometimes becomes a blog post. This also means that I end up oftentimes writing about academic topics more than other topics because I am usually reading those kinds of topics either for work or for research. It also means that a lot of my writing and ideas end up on the web instead of traditional (i.e., print) venues for academic writers.
EP: Do you feel your peers acknowledge or recognise the contribution you make to academia with your blogging? Do you think the perception of academic blogging has changed recently to a more positive one or not?
LS: The reception to my blogging from my peers has been for the most part positive, and I think Twitter has a lot to do with that. I found on Twitter an audience that was interested in what I had to say, and I was in touch with that audience way before I started blogging regularly. It’s funny though: my tweeps know of my blogging way before, say, my boss or people from my job know. (I blog under my name, and my Twitter profile has my name, so I am aware that a quick Google search will lead you to my blogging.)
I also tend to engage in academic conversations more often on Twitter than on Facebook, so on Facebook my personal posts will get more comments than my academic posts. Regardless of where I post, I’m getting a lot more “I read your blog post!” or “I read your blog regularly!” now than I’ve ever gotten. I’m still not used to that.
I wonder sometimes if blogging has made me more visible to other academics or whether it’s because blogging in general is getting more visibility. It could be that my work has a bigger audience now, considering Sounding Out! is going strong for over three years now and I’m blogging regularly at Words Are My Game and University of Venus. However, there has been a move in certain areas of academia toward recognizing blogging as an academic enterprise (just take a look at MLA’s Committee on Information Technology’s Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities and Digital Media for an idea of how the tide is shifting), added to my increasing presence in social media networks, particularly Twitter.
The perception has changed, but it’s changing slowly. There are still a lot of academics who don’t acknowledge blogging as a legitimate academic exercise on par with other more traditional exercises. I’m not saying that blogging is better than traditional, peer reviewed academic articles, but blogging is a force to be reckoned with. For example, on Sounding Out! we are publishing every week smart, sharp, insightful scholarship by writers across the field of Sound Studies at a faster pace than any academic journal out there. Now how could someone ignore that? Simple: by ignoring it.
EP: In my experience engaging actively in social media for scholarly purposes poses challenges and opportunities for those who might feel disempowered or whose demographic or profession tends to be less well represented than others within mainstream academia. Do you agree? If so, could you elaborate?
LS: I agree that it poses a unique opportunity for those who are less well represented within mainstream media. It gives us a chance to articulate our views and respond to what others say about us. So many others seem to believe they understand our experience or that they represent us, and social media is a medium we can harness for our own benefit. It also acts as a springboard to a national, mainstream media platform.
However, the challenge to that is that everyone on social media has an opinion, whether it’s founded or not, and so those underrepresented minorities can be the target of commenters who may not understand what we’re talking about but who can still share their viewpoint with us, directly. Whereas before someone would just say something nasty about your column when they were reading at home, on social media it happens instantly and you’re expected to respond instantly too.
We as underrepresented minorities need to learn to deal with that backlash as well–and I don’t have a solution to that, but I know I’ve read comments about my work or my ideas that have stung and I had to take a step back and regroup. Lately I’ve become more visible in social media, so I’m still learning how to cope with that type of strong, negative response. But I don’t regret becoming more involved and more visible in social media. I’m a writer and I want my writing out there. Social media has been my way in.
EP: Openness, visibility and transparency have their risks, and these are often emphasised (I constantly read a lot of scaremongering telling students of job-seekers not to blog, while failing at offering useful tips on how to use blogging and social media to fit your individual needs). It seems to me we’re still learning what “the rules of engagement” in different social media platforms are (and these are likely to keep changing) but at this moment in time, what would be your main tips for positive, professional scholarly engagement with social media?
LS: I think the scaremongering comes from folks who are not blogging themselves, or who may have heard an awful story about how a blog or a tweet or a Facebook post was used against a job candidate. I wish more academics were using social media so that some of the fear were dispelled.
Ok, onto my tips:
- My first tip is, treat the people you interact with on social media like you would people in real life. I think oftentimes the fact that a person can respond anonymously to another or the fact that they don’t see the person they’re responding to emboldens some to be rude or downright mean. When I get riled up by a post or a tweet, I try to check myself: would I say this face to face? No? Then I better back down. They’re people too; that’s my rule of thumb.
- My second tip is, be social, be nice. A big part of the success of social media comes from the social part. It’s not about followers but about how many people you actually engage with. If you read a post you like, let that person know. If the tweet or post made you think, let them know too. Jump into conversations; it’s okay! When you can, respond. When someone shares your posts, thank them. It goes a long way.
- My third tip is two-fold, and tricky. Be mindful of what you say, but also be brave. The beauty of social media is that it allows people who have common experiences but aren’t in close proximity to interact. But even though social media seems transient, it posts can be found. So if what you’re posting is something that you don’t think you’d be comfortable with an employer seeing (which is what scaremongering usually comes down to), then think about why do you want to post it.
- My fourth (and last!) tip is, give social media a shot. If you’re curious, try a new site and give it some time. If after a while it doesn’t fit, let it go. Not everyone has to like Twitter, for example. Not everyone has to blog or use Facebook. I am much more nerdy in my Twitter account than on Facebook, for example. But I’ve been on both for a while (even took a Facebook hiatus for almost a year) and I have figured out how and why I use both.
I think my tips all boil down to being thoughtful of how you use social media. I am aware that I use Twitter to connect with others in academia, but I don’t intend to use Twitter just for networking, for example. So there are posts about a cool new playground or about bacon or about reality tv. I’m okay with that, and my followers sooner or later see what my feed is all about. I made a conscious decision to be open about my job but also about my extra-academic interests. But not everyone needs to do that.
EP: You have recently been appointed Associate Editor of the University of Venus. Can you describe what your responsibilities will be, as well as your plans for the future of the network?
LS: I’m happy to describe it! University of Venus, for those who are unfamiliar with the blog, is a collaborative blog hosted at Inside Higher Ed that wishes to bring forth the experiences of women in higher education and focusing on issues in higher education and how they affect women. (You can read more about U Venus here.)
As Associate Editor I hope to recruit more regular bloggers to add more diversity to the voices we already host on the blog. I also want to increase its visibility in the blogosphere and help build our community of bloggers and readers; U Venus is a project I care deeply about (I’ve been blogging with them since mid-2011) and I want others to see how awesome it is.
Lastly, I want to help our bloggers grow as writers, offering comments and support–something that’s more of a personal goal; I enjoy working with writers, especially on the level of ideas, and I have a lot of experience with academic writers. I’m a big writing nerd, hehe.
EP: Thank you for talking to us, Liana!