Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: To Network or Not to Network...That is the (Virtual) Question

Monday, October 4, 2010

To Network or Not to Network...That is the (Virtual) Question


"Facebook was more than just a means to learn about friends professionally and colleagues personally: It became a way to publicize the issues each of us felt deserved advocacy". --Heather Wolpert-Gawron (teacher)



We've all heard about the dangers of social media, about the (often unnamed) “bad things” that can come from putting yourself out there too much…I even referred to this kind of indirectly on this very blog. Typical warnings include: “Google yourself,” “Be careful what you put on Facebook,” and “Social networking sites can take over your life and eat your brain!” Wait, no. That last part is zombies (a newer obsession that threatens to take over your life. Personally, I still don’t get how that one happened. Though I recommend Plants vs. Zombies as a good procrastination tool).


But social media has had such a boom in the past few years that not just students, but educators of all ranks and types (from middle school teachers to college administrators) are starting to get involved. Seminars that teach how to harness the power of social media are now a common occurrence. McGraw-Hill (most of you have probably owned several of their textbooks) even held a large-scale a conference on the future of social media, where they decided that a main draw of using these tools is to “engage” previously distant students. (Apparently it’s all so much easier when they can care right from home!) 

Organizations, including educational institutions, are also using these sites to more effectively advertise…schools and other organizations can now reach out to students much quicker and, potentially, on a much more personal level. 

The transition from using social media exclusively for, well, social activities to using these sites for educational and professional goals is still mid-process. Many schools (especially below college level) still keep the sites blocked on public computers, and those threats I mentioned earlier are still often mentioned (though many of the same institutions who used to participate in this kind of criticism of social networking are now getting involved themselves). 

But this is all really from the educator’s or professional’s point of view…what else (besides warnings of inappropriate photos) is important on our end?

Well, if companies use these sites to market their new products and educational opportunities, you use them to market yourself. 

Yes there’s LinkedIn, the most obviously professional social networking tool. Artists have YouTube videos and MySpace pages (in fact, they’re pretty much the only ones who still have MySpace pages), some people have professional Twitter pages, and many people have blogs related to the field they plan to go into (like book review blogs). These are all great ways to turn social networking to our advantage.

But even the big one, Facebook, could be used beneficially. Even if you don’t limited profile everyone in sight, as long as you’re just a little careful about what you put up, Facebook can actually be a great professional networking tool as well. 

You don’t believe me, huh? I’m going to try to convince you. I’ll start off with a question: isn’t work always better when you get along with the other personalities? When  you feel like you get along with your coworkers personally (this should be applicable to any kind of working environment)? 

As students, Facebook makes it easier to connect to organizations and events, both within and outside of Fordham, that we might be interested in and that can broaden our networks and our opportunities (like GSAS's professional development series, or something like The Americas Society). And, specifically as graduate students, I think Facebook actually plays a pretty important role in helping to create a feeling of community for each cohort in a situation where, unlike undergrad., a lot of people don’t take the same classes and don’t live in university housing. This makes it harder for us to build a community, and Facebook helps us do that, letting us get to know our classmates a bit faster than we woud if we just had 2 hours of class with them a week and then lost all contact. And this cohort is the beginning of our professional network, right? Even if you don’t end up going past an MA or if you don’t become a professor, these people will probably still remain a part of your professional network in some way or another. And won’t it be nice, 10 years down the line, to be able to call someone your “friend” instead of just your “colleague?” So I say thanks, Facebook, for making “friending” a verb, and making personal relationships an important part of professional relationships. To me, this merging of personal and professional is the best part of the new social media phenomenon.

1 comment:

  1. For an interesting article on the way social media has changed activism, see this recent New Yorker article: