During my PhD I was in a very social environment and made lifelong friends, it was a collaborative environment to work in. After I started my postdoctorate (posdoc), things were a lot different. I was in a different country and didn’t speak the language. Unfortunately, the language in the lab was not English. Making friends in the department was very difficult, so I looked to outside sources, including social media (e.g. MeetUp) and I met some great people. An added bonus was that these people were not scientists, so they did not understand the culture and pressure of academic research. It was really nice to get that mental break and travel, try different restaurants, and attend festivals. The same thing continued during my second postdoc position, where I was back in my home country, so I could speak the language. During both my postdoc positions, the feeling of isolation was tough, especially when dealing with an uncertain future. However, I tried to build a social network, one way I accomplished it was through social media.
Sometimes social media gets a bad rap, but I think it can also be used for good. I think the current situation (COVID-19) is a good example, when social distancing is increasing in prevalence. During scientific training (e.g. PhD or postdoctorate) social isolation can also occur, I experienced it. I think social media can provide me a lot of opportunities to not feel so isolated. For me, social media helped me learn about new opportunities (e.g. funding, and open lab positions), meet other scientists to network. I think I tried most new platforms that are available (e.g. ResearchGate, Government of Canada Collab, Academics.edu), although TikTok is still foreign to me, so I have not tried them all. Some of these sites worked out and others did not. I was surprised at how much academic support I found on Twitter. One of the connections I made resulted in me publishing a blog about my research and then an entire book! Through my network on Twitter I have learned that some of my scientist role models also face rejection!
I think building a network is very important in academic research, as I outlined in a previous blog post. A support system is needed when things are going well and also when they are going not so well. I was reminded of the importance of a network earlier this week when I was listening to a podcast from the Professor Is In. Since 2016, the Professor Is In have been a part of my community as I tune into weekly sessions with Dr. Karen Kelsky and Kel Weinhold.
Academia is hard, we fail a lot, and that’s OK. Having people, you can talk and work through things is so important, as I have come to realize. If you are in academic research or science, I would encourage you to build a network. And in today’s reality, I think this can be done both in person and electronically.
Stay safe and healthy!