My accidental community

Living and studying towards a PhD in a remote community, I have developed an unwitting network of colleagues and mentors.

I live more than 1000km from a capital city and more than 1500km from my own University. I don’t see other students very often and I don’t know many people studying a similar topic. I reach out to my supervisors regularly, but I understand that they are busy people and can’t satisfy my need for feedback from the world beyond my home office. Slowly, I have discovered a new community that offers no barriers to membership, disregards distance, is always available and expects only a little in return.

This year I joined Twitter with a personal profile. After reading advice from the Thesis Whisperer I set up a separate handle for my “professional” life (http://thesiswhisperer.com/join-the-thesis-whisperer-on-phdchat/). This solved my slight unease at subjecting professional strangers to photo tweets of my cooking escapades.

In the beginning twitter was like my daily life coach, with PhD-supporters like @thesiswhisperer and @ANU_RSAT offering motivating morsals over breakfast and linking to useful ‘How to…’ pdfs on all manner of PhD and research related topics. I followed some expert and peer-reviewed groups like @BiodiversityCRC and @ConversationEDU, who offer daily new and novel perspectives on current issues and research findings accessible through links.

Months later I was to attend a student conference on the other side of the country. I discovered another student, also attending the conference, on twitter. We introduced ourselves through tweets and met in person a few days later. My curiosity was stirred at meeting someone I’d already ‘chatted’ to and gave the conference a fun new angle.

It took a little longer to understand the value of #hashtags. #AcWriMo started turning up…Academic Writing Moment? I couldn’t figure it out and threw a question out into the ether. A helpful follower (my conference colleague) kindly explained the nature of Academic Writing Month (the month of November) and a stranger also tweeted a response, providing me a link to a Google doc where I could enter my own #AcWriMo target. I realised that real people were using their twitter community to set daily writing targets and share their successes, commiserate their failures and stay accountable. I joined the fray and offered a few progress tweets along the way, buoyed as complete strangers responded with kind, motivating words.

Lately I have been seeking out professionals in my field. Sometimes I’m privy to twitter conversations between professionals as they engage in academic banter; it feels as though I’m lurking beside a half open door in a long University corridor. Yet these snippets are offered to the public, to anyone who cares to listen, and I’m encouraged by the openness, the quick flow of ideas, and the to-the-point (140 characters) expressions.

My next step is to get more familiar with giving back to the twitter community, like responding to other PhD students who tweet #phdchat.

I guess it’s nerdy, but I’m comforted and not a little lonely knowing that I can turn to my twitter community at any time, ask a question, ponder, encourage, promote ideas, seek consolation…from complete yet kind and enthusiastic strangers.

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