This peer interview is with Sarah-Louise Quinnell. You can follow her on Twitter @sarahthesheepu and @networkedres. 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?
Sarah Quinnell: I am many things to many different people! I am the founder of Networked Researcher (this blog), I am the Early Career Blogger for SAGE Social Science Space, I am a freelance researcher affiliated to UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and more formally I am the Learning Technology Manager for Maudsley Learning a Community Interest Company based at the Maudsley Hospital in Denmark Hill, South East London.
Maudsley Learning is tasked with producing anytime, anywhere learning in the area of mental health and well-being. I am in charge of developing and maintaining the digital learning space as well as working with clients to develop digital learning solutions in relation to public information and professional development on Mental health conditions and care.
I absolutely love my job, my research interests focus on how people use digital technology to access and navigate virtual space for learning and professional development. In this job I can embrace my geeky side and play with gadgets, do serious research and make a difference in people’s lives and potentially end the stigma around mental illness.
EP: Tell us about Networked Researcher, how it came to be, all the beefy details! In other words, why are we here?
SQ: Wow! Why are we here… that’s deep! Ultimately we are here because in 2007 I contracted Scarlet Fever and was unable to do normal, ethnographic field research and instead I built a web site and did my research online. From this I got interested in the way social media can be used for research and professional development.
Post-PhD I became involved in a number of online resources to support early career researchers and I was asked to write blogs on social media and give talks and presentations and thus it was natural that eventually I would build my own site. So I did and then it grew! Over the last 12 months it has grown massively, there are now two of us who work on it and many contributors have joined us. It is no longer just a web site talking about technology use, it’s a platform and a community for people to publish and share best practice in the area of digital research. It’s the basis of the Networked Researcher Training Consultancy.
I am very proud of how it has developed, I am very humbled at people wanting to participate and Ernesto for coming on board to develop it with me. I think, well I hope, we have both got a lot out of it, especially when we presented NR at the AHRC Digital Transformations Moot.
EP: It’s been a real pleasure. Tell us about how you got into blogging, the ups and downs…
SQ: It comes out of what happened in 2007 with a little bit of help, well actually a lot of help and encouragement from Dr Charlotte Frost, founder of PhD2Published. It is fair to say that without Charlotte Networked Researcher probably wouldn’t exist (so thank you, Dr Frost).
I was used to writing blog style pieces as part of my PhD research, posting updates on how my work was developing but nothing seriously. As I was approaching my Viva Voce examination I asked on Twitter if anyone had any Viva advice and Charlotte, through PhD2Published, gave me some brilliant tips and introduced me to her blog. After a number of conversations I agreed to come on board as Managing Editor and that is really where I cut my teeth in the world of blogging and where my confidence grew to develop this site. Here I learnt not only how to write a good post but how to market myself and my writing and from there many invitations to guest blog came.
There have been many highs, I’ve been invited to speak at a number of events based on people finding my blogs and being interested in what I had to say. I have never been shy of saying things that are controversial and that is always a calculated risk. I am more recognised for my online work than I am for my offline publications. I think I embody the alternative academic or rogue scholar concept.
With the highs however, come the lows. As I don’t shy away from the controversial I have received some quite nasty criticism over some of the things I’ve written and sometimes it can be quite hurtful, particularly when the trolling takes people away from the real subject of the blog. Sadly this is part of the blogging world but doesn’t happen that frequently and the positives certainly outweigh the negatives.
EP: Please tell us about the positives. Any particular anecdote stands out?
SLQ: The fame and the glory… no… seriously being asked to present the project at the AHRC Moot and being asked to speak at different Universities and run training. One of the coolest things was being asked to be on the panel for the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference postgraduate forum to talk about social media use. It was absolutely amazing to sit alongside many eminent professors and talk about what I did and be respected for it. I had arrived academically.
Also your coming on board was a huge thing for me as we have been able to develop the concept but also the fact you thought it was good enough that you wanted to be a part of it was a real honour and I am so grateful.
EP: Thank you Sarah, it’s been my pleasure. There’s still resistance to the idea of academics “marketing” their “identity”… what can you tell us about this?
SLQ: Oh yes, there certainly is sadly. I think that blogging and promoting yourself and your brand as a researcher is an essential part of the job whether you work in Higher Education or outside like I do. People need to know who you are and as we are now in an age where the focus is, quite rightly, on engagement beyond the academy and impact this is the best way, in my mind, to do so.
I’m very proud of being a ‘rogue scholar’, I think it fits with my naturally subversive personality. Academic culture needs a rethink and to be shaken up a bit and this is a great way to do it. Any institution is a product of its individual resources and in research that is its academics so it makes perfect sense to me.
What also makes sense however, is the fear. To talk about technology you need to be able to manage change. I think it’s essential that we are all change management specialists and are gentle with our more senior colleagues in how we engage them with technology.
In the end it boils down to being able to say ‘Tweet the Sheep’ at the end of a conference and everyone knowing who I am and that is awesome.
EP: What would your advice be to those still not sure about linking blogging and social media to their public academic persona? In other words, we know that the online public sphere can be a minefield, so what would your tips to navigate it successfully be?
SLQ: That’s a very good question! I would say that you need to decide on how you are going to approach social media, have a strategy why are you doing it, what do you want to get out of it. Being there just because everyone else is is somewhat pointless.
When you know what you want to achieve look at what different applications can offer you and choose the best selection for you to achieve your goals. Do not try everything just because its funky or your online profile will be littered with dead accounts.
Are you going to be professional or personal or both? I am a social professional so I will talk about work and my life outside of work and my views on certain things because that’s all that makes me who I am. Plus I would be too confused by two separate approaches. However, this can get you into trouble as I have experienced if you say something your organisation does not like. Thus speak to your line manager to make sure they know what you are about!
Lastly enjoy it, network, embrace even the most random opportunity. My career has developed and transformed largely through engaging with technology. I’m not where I thought I would be but I am really enjoying where I have got to.
EP: What are some other academic blogs you would recommend for those looking for inspiration (and why)?
SLQ: The ones that inspire me are: PhD2Published, where it all started for me. How to negotiate your way through the minefield that is academic publishing is tough and this is a fabulous resource for doing so. Also:
- The thesiswhisperer is a go to resource for all those completing their doctorates. Friendly support from across the world.
- The Social Science Space is a great one for, well, social scientists really lets you engage with the discipline and your peers.
- The LSE Impact blog is important for the same reason good debate and community development across platforms.
Last but not least would be The Comics Grid because that’s where I found you! Plus it’s funky and informative and shows a different side to scholarship.
EP: Ha ha! That’s very kind of you, to include the Grid! Finally, what is your personal vision of the future of Higher Education? Not necessarily in a science fiction kind of way but in a ‘realistic’ fashion: considering the challenges the sector is facing, where would you like to see change going and how do you see that happening? (Not easy, I know…)
SLQ: Wow; OK, again, deep. My personal vision for Higher Education requires more money and more engagement and less fear and stigma. More money for taught postgraduates. I have 2 nearly 3 (will finish my third master’s degree this year) and the funding for Postgraduate Teaching Schemes is non-existent! It’s hard work doing that type of study in a year and many PGTs, especially in Health and Social Care are working professionals so more funding and support needs to be driven toward PGTs.
We also need more engagement beyond the academy. The days of the Ivory Tower are well and truly gone, thank goodness, so let’s get out there and change the world. The best way of doing that is engaging with people!
The final one relates to the above I suppose: let’s stop calling people with PhDs failures for moving out of the academic sector and engaging with people and working commercially. Nothing wrong with exploring other options. Don’t make people feel bad; there are only so many jobs in labs!
How will this happen? Well, that’s the $6 million dollar question! It requires a huge culture shift both at the legislative level and in HEI’s themselves. Will it happen? I think it needs to but I won’t hold my breath just now.
EP: Thank you for talking to us, Sarah.