Last week I gave a talk on social media to post-graduates from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Foolishly (but only fairly) I promised to practice what I preached. So here are the salient points (and links) as I remember them.

Why you should think about the social media

Increasingly scholarly conversation is happening online – in curated and individual blogs, on twitter, and through other electronic forums. If you are not engaging with these forms of publication you are likely to be missing part of what is happening in your field.

Participating in the world of social media helps generate a bigger (and more diverse) academic audience for your research. Much of this will be  in aligned disciplines, or in different national contexts. If you are not engaging online, you’ll be missing part of your potential audience.

Social media also helps generate a broader non-academic audience, especially with those industries to which your thesis may connect. Try to consciously develop and promote your “shadow expertise”; that aspect of your work that might inform a non-academic sector. It’s tough in the academic job market, and this could well be where your post-phd career ends up going.

And finally, social media is increasingly a factor in every employment sector. Engaging online gives you skills that will serve you well, wherever you work.

But always remember the golden rule


This is Stefan Collini’s advice to public intellectuals in Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain and it should be etched onto the computer screens of every academic who reaches for the internet.  Have something to say that is well founded and established, and well supported. Be respectful of other people’s work and opinions and give them due reference. The last thing a junior (or indeed any) academic needs is to have a ruined reputation all over the internet.

If there is a second rule, it might be this: VALUE YOUR TIME – blogging & tweeting can be very rewarding because unlike most other parts of academic life you get direct feedback. But it’s a drug. Keep your main game in view and remember: your authority to speak will in 98% of cases come from your research. So respect it, foster it, prioritise it.

How to start

See how other people are doing it. Set up a twitter account and follow scholars you admire (and those you don’t!) Read the relevant blogs in your field – some of these are likely to be co-authored. If you are totally lost, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog page is as good a place as any to begin (and you have discovered this blog so you’re not doing too badly!)

People disagree on the merits of maintaining an individual blog as against contributing to established co-authored or other forums such as The Conversation, but my view is to go for both:

  1. Set up a blog site for yourself that will act a bit like your online CV:
    • use it to a) experiment with writing pieces and b) as a place to collect any material you publish on other platforms. WordPress is easy to use and integrates well with other social media.
  2. Generate content:
    • Work in progress & the process of working (see for eg. the Thesis Whisperer or Trickster Prince).
    • Communicate research you have published (eg
    • Wait for news item & apply research
    • Provide context through your “shadow expertise” – are you writing a Phd on the history of fashion? Contact fashion magazines and pitch articles to them.
  3. Maximise your reach
    • Connect to other people’s online content through using links, and cross-promote on twitter (using #hashtags), facebook, linkedin and, among other social media outlets.
    • Write for established platforms, such as co-authored blogs, The Conversation, print outlets, your university, industry publications. The internet is a big place with a lot of shouting people on it, and you need to find a way to be heard. Established sites offer you support and a readership that is invaluable.

Parting comments

Academic research usually takes a long time to produce. It frequently works with complex information and tells stories that complicate what we think we know. The interwebs do not thrive on such complexity. This doesn’t mean you should go for simplifications , but it does mean you need to work with people’s attention spans. Put your argument up front, rather than at the end; try to stick to 500-800 words maximum. Inject some personality. Too often wonderful academic research is communicated in ways that do not make it easy for people to access or connect with. Paywalls and professional convention carry part of the responsibility, but as scholars we can do a lot more too to reach out to a public that has demonstrated a robust appetite for ideas.

Reading list

Prof Patrick Dunleavy’s Shorter, better, faster, free: blogging changes the nature of academic research, not just how it is communicated and How to write a blogpost from your journal article

LSE public impact blog and in particular their twitter guide and reading list on using social media for research

The Times Higher Education magazine’s Tips for academics on Blogging and Social Media



Breeder and Sportsman 1907

The Association of Commonwealth Universities has launched a new blog series to explore the outcomes of international scholarship schemes for higher education, and they asked me to write their first post.  Called “Measuring success?” the question mark in the title the ACU has given to the series well encapsulates both the lack of quantitive research in this field, and the uncertainty about how to measure the effects of such programmes. The international experience generated by overseas study can have profound effects on individual lives, but identifying causation is much more difficult not least because the impacts of such experience may take decades to manifest. Historical methods are therefore essential.

Since 2014 I have been working with Meng-Hsuan Chou (from NTU Singapore) on a longitudinal analysis of the careers of Rhodes Scholars across the 20th century, and this invitation from the ACU gives me an opportunity to introduce some of the results of this research. (You can also find the ACU blog post here.)

Geographical mobility and the Rhodes Scholarships across the 20th century

Founded in 1901, the Rhodes Scholarships scheme is one of the longest running programmes of scholarly exchange still in existence and has served as a model for many schemes that have since emerged. As such it offers an ideal context for examining, as well as raising new questions about, the organisation and overall efficacy of scholarship programmes across the twentieth century.

The Rhodes Trust brought students to Oxford on scholarships, envisioning (although never officially stipulating) that these students would later return to their home countries and take up public leadership positions. How far this has actually been the pattern of Rhodes Scholars’ careers has not, however, yet been systematically examined.

As part of a larger project on the long-term effects of scholarly mobility, Meng-Hsuan Chou (NTU Singapore) and I have been using data published by the Rhodes Trust to measure various outcomes of the Rhodes Scholarships across the twentieth century. Our study is beginning to reveal some striking patterns about the geographic mobility of awardees.

Tracking post-scholarship careers data

Tracking the post-scholarship careers of Rhodes Scholars across all regional constituencies at intervals of ten years between 1913 and 1983, we generated a dataset of 487 scholars with full information on 483. Using the recorded locations of their employment and post-programme study as proxies for geographical mobility, we developed three indicators to make sense of their movements:

a) Those who made their careers at home (jobs were based in the countries of election);
b) Those who made their careers both at home and abroad;
c) Those who principally made their careers outside their country of election.

It was immediately obvious to us that the majority of scholars in the years analysed established their careers in their countries of election, with more than 75% of all cohorts for all coded years making their careers at home, or both at home and abroad. Scholars who established their careers outside of their countries of election, were generally in the minority (around 20-25% of each cohort). However, since 1913 it is evident that the percentage of scholars in this category has been steadily increasing. We believe it is likely that more recent cohorts, especially those from the late 1990s onwards, may have greater geographical mobility patterns than earlier cohorts. This is borne out by the biographic profiles of living scholars recently collated by the Rhodes Trust.

One of the difficulties with this aggregated data is that it collapses the particular local and cultural contexts that shape patterns in different countries. To provide more fine-grained differentiation, we have disaggregated the geographical mobility patterns of Rhodes Scholars who have been elected from the US (a dominant cohort, constituting 35-50% of scholars in any one year) in comparison to those who were from other regions. These initially included the ‘settler colonies’ of Southern Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, Jamaica and Germany; but after the Second World War they were widened to include India and Pakistan, and a few other countries in Africa and South East Asia, and for a time also Europe. (In the last year the Rhodes Trust has expanded the constituencies of award further to include China, but this is outside the range of our data.)

Patterns in the data

Our analysis has revealed some striking patterns.

First, across all decades Rhodes scholars from the USA have been more likely (about twice as likely) to establish their careers principally at home than their counterparts from other regions. More than 80% of American scholars in all periods returned to the USA after their time at Oxford and never again lived or studied abroad.

Second, and by contrast, overseas experience was highly significant to the careers of non-US Rhodes scholars. For example, while 80% of scholars elected from the US in 1923 built their careers exclusively at home, 70% of scholars from non-US constituencies made time outside their country of origin a part of their post-Oxford career, with nearly 40% basing themselves permanently abroad. For the 1913 cohort the percentage who spent some time abroad after Oxford was approximately 45%, in 1933, 1953 and 1963 it was just over 50% (in 1943 only one student was elected), dropping to about 35% in 1973, before returning to just over 50% in 1983.

Third, the relatively high mobility (compared to other decades) of Non-US scholars elected in 1923 points to the danger of telling a linear story of increasing mobility across the twentieth century. Scholars who made their careers before and after the Second World War were much more likely to have overseas experience than those later in the century.

Our initial findings clearly show that awardees from different constituencies have used the Rhodes experience differently in the establishment and consolidation of their professional careers. While US Scholars have utilised it as a platform to pursue a variety of careers principally at home, non-US Scholars have employed the Rhodes programme as a spring-board to careers outside their home countries. Even our relatively crude disaggregation of US and non-US scholars points to the need to undertake granulated analyses that attend to regional and national context and to patterns of change over time.

We would caution, however, against making assumptions between these patterns and the notion of ‘brain drain’. As several recent studies in other contexts have shown, this concept is likely to oversimplify the relationship Rhodes scholars have with their countries. I have demonstrated elsewhere that Rhodes scholars who were academics maintained strong ties with their home countries, supervising the next generation of leaders and scholars from their countries of origin by hosting their stay abroad (see Pietsch, 2013). These types of impact are only beginning to be discussed in the literature on scholarly mobility. The importance of such intergenerational networks might also be considered in other professional contexts, notably medicine or management consulting. In these instances, rather than acting as the source of ‘brain drain’, Rhodes Scholars who have made their careers outside their countries of origin have nonetheless still contributed to knowledge mobility and ‘brain circulation’ – factors that are usually considered to sit at the heart of national innovation.

Tamson Pietsch is an ARC DECRA Fellow at the University of Sydney and the author of Empire of Scholars: universities, networks and the British academic world, 1850-1939 (Manchester, 2013). Part of her research with Meng-Hsuan Chou on the Rhodes scholarships will appear in Giles Scott Smith and Ludovic Tournès ed., Global Exchanges: Scholarship and Transnational Circulations in the Contemporary World, (Berghahn, 2016).

Domain School Search

I’ve got a new project on the go that focuses on the way we talk about houses. It’s the product of many a conversation with my friend and co-researcher, Frances Flanagan, about our society’s obsession with property.

Moving back to Australia after several years living abroad, it seemed everyone was talking about property: at dinner parties, at work, at the school gate, and in the newspaper. ‘Where do you live?’ was invariably the first question people asked us.

Frances and I wanted to think more carefully about what all this house talk adds up to? What are we really talking about when we talk about houses?

We are hoping that people will help us out by telling us about the houses they have lived in, the homes they have made and their frustrations along the way. There are no screening procedures and we are inviting anyone above the age of 18 to participate in our study.

You can fill out our survey here and find out more about the project, including ways to stay updated as we progress at And please forward it onto your friends and family too.

Both the questionnaire and the interviews take the form of open-ended questions about your experience of and feelings about property. They also include some questions that help us understand how these experiences might differ across age, income, geographic and gender groups. We do not seek access to any of your personal information and all responses will be anonymised in any subsequent publication.

And in case you were wondering, the picture at the top is of the new search within school catchments facility from – saying better than we ever could that houses are about much more than savvy finance.


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