When I was a doctoral student (a very long time ago), at some point my adviser sat me down and asked me the doctoral version of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” which was essentially, “What do you want to be known for?”
What she meant was, when people hear my name what do I want then to associate it with?
Thinking about the answer to this question is helpful for doctoral students for a number of reasons. It helps them:
- identify and cultivate their passion
- make decisions about how to spend their time
- understand what serves them and what they need to let go of.
It also forces them to start making decisions about the direction their scholarship is going to go in. I’m ok with during the first year having doctoral students explore multiple interests and sample from the academic buffet. But by the time Year One is over, we need to be making some decisions. Where are you gonna focus yourself?
The decision of what to be known for, and how to focus oneself, does not need to be too narrow. It needs to be appropriately narrow. For example, my focus is on adolescent literacy. My broad research emphasis is on how to help adolescents (I usually focus on middle school) improve as readers and writers. I’m particularly interested in students who have reading/writing difficulties but who do not have an identified learning disability. However, because I am interested in academic literacy broadly I am able to play around a bit in my research. It’s narrow. It’s defined. But it not confining.
That’s what we’re going for here.
Being able to articulate an answer to the question, “What do you want to be known for?” also falls in line with helping craft an online identity. If you want to cultivate an online identity, you have to first start with the question of what it is about yourself you want to promote. What do you want people on the internet to associate you with and know you for?
It’s pretty much the exact same question.
Obviously what you promote in an online space can be just one of many facets of who you are. I started this blog because I wanted a space to write about my teaching practices. I want people to think of me as a particular kind of instructor but also to know they can come here and see a window into how I think about the teaching process. This blog has nothing to do with my research.
However, if you go to my Medium page you will find that I write about the process of doing research. I did want an outlet for writing about my research, but I didn’t want to be writing up summaries of findings all the time. If people want to read the results of a study then they can read my published papers. However, if they want to know the inner workings of how I engage in conducting research, then my stories on Medium are for them.
Of course there is always room for expansion and refinement. My point here is that, in working with doctoral students, we first work towards helping them think about what they want to be known for. From there, they can work towards crafting an online identity that supports one of those facets. Once they know what they want to be known for, how they go about communicating that to the world is open for discussion. It becomes a matter of finding the right tool for the job and putting it to good use.