On March 25th, GradHacker had its first bootcamp on the topic of “Managing Your Online Social Identity”. We had an enormously positive response when the invitations were sent out to all graduate students at the Michigan State University campus. We only accepted a small number for the inaugural bootcamp, and had a waitlist that was double the size of those invited to the camp. We had a number of different departments represented including  education, rhetoric & writing, sociology, biochemistry, anthropology, history, english and engineering.

We set up the bootcamp to run more like a roundtable discussion than a series of lectures, so the group was set up in a literal roundtable- each with their own laptop booted up and ready for some online interaction.


The most important aspect of this seminar was that creating your own social identity is important not just for networking, but because if you don’t define yourself online someone else will. Sadly with online identities there is no way to opt out. You are going to be defined online- better to do it yourself. When you are up for a fellowship or even your first job, you don’t want the first thing that pops up on Google to be an online diary you wrote in middle school, or a MySpace page from undergrad displaying photos of your beer pong champion days. By creating a professional academic identity, you control how others view you- you create your brand. Grad students need to create an online persona consisting of a single image, single name and a quick blurb about who you are and what you do. Our bootcamp taught grads how to begin creating this identity.

Our opening discussion was on Twitter, beginning with a quick overview of the basics of tweeting. We briefly reviewed what it meant to RT, @, # and D, and how each of these was appropriately used. Within the first half hour, almost all participants had a twitter account and were actively tweeting in our #gradhack channel. Many of the questions we had revolved around when it was appropriate to tweet and what to tweet about. Once we reviewed the technology itself, we opened up the room to discussion about the benefits of tweeting and potential uses in graduate school.

A couple of highlights from this discussion include how to begin using twitter as a more casual way of networking, and the potential use of tweeting as a classroom resource. Throughout the entire GradHacker bootcamp we had the #GradHack channel available on the main projection screen, which updated frequently with advice from people who couldn’t attend the session, and the live version actually showed many the utility of twitter and its prime benefit of bringing diverse people together.

We also discussed quickly the benefits of LinkedIn, Academia.edu and Gravatar in creating your social identity online. LinkedIn and Academia.edu support the creation of the ‘blurb’ portion of your identity, allowing you to display your interests and CV. Gravatar is an image manager that makes it so you are only represented by a single image of yourself. WordPress.com was reviewed as being a platform for creating your own website, maintaining an online CV, and solidifying your academic identity on a single place. Finally, we had an open discussion about Zotero and collaborating online through this reference management program.

During our afternoon session, we had a roundtable discussion on the future of GradHacker. Future bootcamp possibilities that were proposed include sessions on branding and creating an identity, digital classroom and learning platforms, extended sessions on WordPress.com, and brown bag discussions where various grad students could present projects, whether digital or not, in order to get feedback from a range of viewpoints. There was a lot of excitement in the room, not just because we had a ton of coffee, but because we were a disparate group of graduate students who were connecting together in a brand new way.

We are looking forward to hosting new bootcamps in the future on a variety of grad related topics, and also want to help other universities start their own bootcamps. If you are interested in hosting a bootcamp or have any questions, you can check out the “How To Host a Bootcamp” page on our site, or email us.

[Image by Katy Meyers]

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