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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Postgraduate Diary: Graduate Junction

Friday, August 29, 2008

Facebook took off thanks to the sociable Scrabulous addicts at universities in the US and UK, who provided its initial pool of registrants. Facebook is great for staying in touch with friends (and excellent for indoctrinating a generation of virtual stalkers), because you can display your profile in all its aspects: provide a snappy status update, post a blog or note, see how you fit in to your friendship networks, display photos of the night before. But it is precisely because your profile is so accessible and broad that Facebook can reveal your true nature, otherwise hidden behind the mask you present to employers, schools or universities. For this university tutor, for example, it's a great way to find out what your students are really up to. So, Sheila Smith, I do wonder why, if you were too ill to complete your essay on time, you were well enough to be photographed in the local nightclub.

If you want to avoid such exposure, you need to become a dramatic artist, able to control your profile online and display a different costume and face for different readers. In my case, for example, I am conscious that academics may consider my blog here to represent the standard of my academic writing, when actually my posts are often written hastily and clumsily. Hence I author this website and blog under the protective pseudonym of Ishmael, and choose to tell about it only to selected friends and colleagues.

The problem is that many of my fellow postgraduates - not just those I know personally - may be more open-minded and interested in my work; thus keeping it concealed from some academics also means that I may not reach the broader audience of postgraduate readers, and thus the blog cannot become a way for exchanging research ideas which is, potentially, one of its best uses. How, then, can I put my research face out into the world, without having either to display the other hard drinkin' fun lovin' side of my character (as would happen on Facebook) or to conceal myself behind the smokescreen of a pseudonym (as in The Pequod)? Step forward Graduate Junction.

Graduate Junction stems from the concerns of two postgraduates, Esther and Dan, who wanted to provide researchers with way to share research with others, and to host listings of relevant information (conferences, jobs etc.) without being compromised by banner advertising and beery photos. Having recently been treated to a revamp, the site allows postgraduates to post their research profiles, create networks and forums for sharing research in particular disciplines, to publish research blogs, and to post on message boards.

There are also listings of conferences which, being searchable by keyword, are far more workable than Conference Alerts - in the case of the latter, you have to be so careful about what you choose, because you either end up being emailed about loads of irrelevant events, or none at all. Similarly, though jobs.ac.uk provides comprehensive listings, they are almost too complete. I may aspire to be Professor of Modern Literature at Cambridge one day, but for now receiving emails excitingly headed "10 new jobs," all of which turn out to be way beyond my scale, is a bit depressing. I would prefer fewer emails, with jobs that a lowly postdoc like myself might realistically attain. Given that Graduate Junction's audience is solely the postgraduate and new academic community, the jobs listed there should tend to be more relevant.

It's clear, then, that there is a space in the market for a site like Graduate Junction. And - to confess my conflict of interest - as I play a small role on the inside, I know that Esther and Dan are really pushing to develop it in the right way. The comparison with Facebook here is both appropriate and unfortunate. On the one hand, Facebook succeeds because it has a critical mass of users, so that it becomes pretty hard not to sign up to it; if Graduate Junction can attract a substantial proportion of the postgraduate community, there is every reason to believe that it, too, will become an integral part of the postgraduate student's life. I know Esther and Dan are working very hard to publicise the site as widely as possible, and I suspect that this October, when new postgraduates start their courses, will be the vital test - if it garners sufficient support, Graduate Junction will take off; if not, it may simply fade away.

If it does take off, though, it will diverge from Facebook's route in one respect. Facebook has used its social network to hand advertisers their dream markets on a golden platter. Dan and Esther, however, will probably not want to star in any Hollywood movie; they want to produce something that works for the community, rather than using the community to turn them into billionaires. There is no charge for registering, no intrusive banner advertising, and no sense of corporate ownership. The only corporate involvement (and monetary charges) are in listing jobs and conferences in a way which, as I said above, is actually very beneficial to the postgraduate community.

So what, then, is to stop you from signing up right away? Well, it may be that you already have a research profile on your department's web page, contribute to a message board in Google Groups, and blog on your own website. Why should you add yet another online space which you must continually monitor and tinker with? If Graduate Junction gets over the first problem of building a critical mass of users, the corollary issue will be whether it can allow users to synthesise their activities in other online areas under the umbrella of Graduate Junction. Whereas I will not publish this blog feed automatically to Facebook (because I need to keep my anonymity), I would be prepared to let other postgraduates read it, and would be happy to syndicate it to my profile in Graduate Junction. Likewise, I could do with some way of keeping my publication history all in one place, so that when I publish a new paper I do not have to edit my department's web page, online curriculum vitae, and Graduate Junction profile, but can edit just one and syndicate it to the others. This problem of synthesis is a big ask - and an issue for Web 2.0 in general, not just for Graduate Junction. But I have all fingers crossed, and every belief, that Graduate Junction will go some way to solve these problems in the future.

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Posted by Alistair at 10:28 am


Anonymous Nathan-Graduate jobs UK said...

Hi dude,
Excellent resources here! Thank you for putting this together. This information is really thorough. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

7:02 am  

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