I've been asked to talk about how to "enhance a global reputation" for this professional skills workshop.
Immediately imposter syndrome shouted in my ears, why are they asking you?
So I've some advice for myself and others building a global reputation about their research, the projects they are passionate about or anything else you wish to gain prominence in doing well - while, at the same time, imposter syndrome shouts loudly (and often convincingly) at you.
My work focuses on identities in tech communities. For example, I've written extensively about the mislabelling of "women in tech". The BBC has featured my research, including Laurie Taylor's BBC Radio4 programme Thinking Allowed, and articles in The Guardian, The Independent, and many other international media publications. I try to embody the notion that self-promotion is just as much promotion of scholarly work, including the communities I research, as the opportunity for enhancing my own professional reputation.
Unfortunately, this gem about self-promotion and other possible pearls of wisdom are lost to subsequent self-doubt. So in acknowledging what channels to use for optimum reputation enhancement, we need first to recognise our capacity to feel that we are worthy of sharing our ideas.
In terms of self-promotion (especially social media), I have buckled under the nasty criticism of anonymous trolls who throw rebukes laced in misogyny and personal attacks. Self-promotion is being prepared to be vulnerable or open to public attack, in very different ways from defending academic knowledge we are used to at conferences. Different perspectives and disagreements about research are exhilarating. Cyberstalking is terrifying.
In the past, I have let systems and processes bury me into silence, temporarily at least. One example is asking for support from journalists and marketing teams who had published my research when a social media pile-on directed at me critiqued 'women in tech' as 'bitches' or 'catty'. There was very little support. I found myself, like the communities I research, once again silenced and singled out for attack.
In the process of recovering my voice, I have had to face the reality that speaking out (or not) is just as much about me as it is the communities I research and belong to. Being silenced as a scholar feels unjust. One way I have found to cope is to remind myself that silence is a strong theme in my research. Thinking about overcoming being silenced is when turning to multiple channels to self-promote and engage with different groups has allowed me to connect with others and gain interest in my work.
About Impostor Syndrome
Self-doubt is not unique to scholars. Nevertheless, for working-class scholars, disabled scholars, women scholars, immigrant and international scholars, our bouts with impostor syndrome — feeling as though we do not belong or are not as good as our colleagues — remind me about the importance of finding networks of support. Some of the best networks have been internal to my institution. For example, I've found solace in the MAMs (Mother's and Mother's to be) University of Durham network and other groups that operate around the academy. I am also a member of different supercomputing and women tech communities who help support and promote research and women in leadership positions. These communities are deliberately closely allied with my research.
In terms of building content and targeting channels, be aware that this is a personal decision as much as a professional one. Social media content occupies your personal space. You create and respond to this content today in your home, alongside your loved ones. I encourage my fellow scholars to make this realisation a crucial part of their professional consciousnesses and think about how you can protect yourself from possible unwelcome intrusions or comments about your work, professional image, and even personal life.
In building a public-facing professional brand, I have worked with journalists across the board and spent much personal time creating unique content on my website and social media. One comforting thought is that journalists do not care about imposter syndrome. Effective treatments for impostor syndrome, then, should entail raising one's consciousness and, ideally, engaging in and asking about institutional norms and policies. One method could be as simple as asking about the university social media policy and strategies to protect your public profile.
As an advocate and researcher of women tech communities, of course, I follow Sheryl Sandberg - Facebook's COO. Sandberg speaks on the "lean in" philosophy. While I do not entirely agree with her conceit, I know for sure that my new found consciousness, including linking the promotion of my professional work with the enhancement of the communities I belong to, has become a way to build a reputation.
Self-Promotion And Community-Promotion
Beyond recognising self-doubt, I often force myself to accept invitations (if my schedule allows) as a powerful means to overcome my initial self-doubt. For example, I have just been featured as part of the SC21 (supercomputer) conference in a pre-recorded interview. The sole reason I accepted the invitation was that I forced myself to do it, ignoring the internal voice that pointed out that there are more successful and visible experts.
Why would I push myself in the face of intense self-doubt? I push myself because the impostor syndrome I suffer from is the same pathology that limits and casts doubt in the minds of other scholars. I push myself because every time I decline an invitation, there is a good chance that another person like me will not be invited or will decline the invitation in my place. This is especially true for some of the large commercial tech events I attend, which lack diverse speakers or make events fully accessible.
I push myself because this job will never be easy; academia is a demanding profession by design.
If you are already feeling self-doubt and the twinge of guilt for turning requests down, with the stress of being overburdened with new demands, the knowledge that your actions directly affect your communities is more pressure. Notwithstanding, thinking of the positive flip side — promoting your scholarship and perspective helps promote your communities. Having this thought in the back of your mind will help alleviate self-doubt and allows a method for channels to target for self-promotion. This is the remedy that is working for me.
What comes next? I'd like to see an ally skills workshop focused on advocating for one another and moving beyond the concept of 'virtuous rescue.' I don't require rescue. I require empowerment. We require empowerment.