April 8, 2006

Taking My Own Advice

I'm realizing that creating a membership website (a task that I've been working on for about 8 months) has a lot in common with writing a dissertation or publishing a book.

  • It's big and overwhelming

  • There are not clear guidelines

  • It's hard to know when it's good enough

  • It's easy to get isolated when you're working on it

  • It's hard to do without feedback from others

So I've decided I need to start posting more about the process, and trying to get feedback both here and elsewhere.
Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Academics can be isolated

  • Academics feel overwhelmed

  • Academics often think they are the only ones who feel that way, partly because they are isolated, and because they are afraid to share their feelings with other academics

  • Therefore academics need a safe place to go to share these thoughts, and to get feedback, encouragement, and "end the isolation."

My membership site, tentatively named Cafe Academia, will offer such an environment. I'm thinking of having:

  • A discussion list or forum

  • Programs such as "One-Day Workathons," "Five-Day Quick Starts," "30 Days to a Complete Chapter" to help motivate people to work.

  • Teleclasses where subjects are presented and people can discuss everything from dealing with difficult advisors to handling a boring colleague in faculty meetings, or on the academic front, from picking a research topic to submitting articles for publication.

  • Interviews with successful academics -- those who have recently finished Ph.D.'s, who have interviewed for jobs, who have spent 2 years on the tenure track, who have negotiated book deals, etc.

  • Recordings or MP3's of interviews and teleclasses available to members on the site.

  • Checklists, forms, resources and other downloadable products, with new ones available each month.

  • Articles in areas relating to becoming a successful and satisfied academic.

I have other ideas, but I'd like to throw it open to others -- any thoughts about the goals of this site, the ideas I have for offerings, or any new ideas of what academics would like to see on this kind of web site?


At 8:55 AM, Blogger academic coach said...


This looks like a fabulous list of services. I can't wait to join.

I'll call and email to put my 2 cents worth in to the mix...


At 1:04 AM, Blogger lauren said...

I've just recently found you blog, and this post has me quite excited! I'm looking forward to joining the list, too.

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

I'm so glad you are excited by the list of services I'm thinking of having in the site, Mary and pocacosa. I know there's a huge need for this; it's just a matter of optimizing the format to fit the needs of the potential members. Thanks for your input!

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Gina,

That list looks like a great start. From past experience I'd venture that if you have any sort of discussion space (like a bulletin-board or a newsgroup-type forum), as the Fearless Leader you'll be saddled with the task of introducing new topics and actively encouraging conversation. But then, you're great at that anyway. :)

How will you deal with anonymity (or not)? On one hand, many people (myself included) prefer to identify themselves by real name on the net. On the other, this sort of membership site may be scary for some to contribute to, unless they're anonymous. When there's a mix of both, I find that often factions arise, some people feel uncomfortable with those who "hide" ("Are you my colleague next door? Will you tell on me?"), etc.

At 10:23 AM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

Hi Vika,

You've definitely brought up two issues I'm concerned about. I know it's hard to bring people to discussion forums on a website. I might try a listserv. I use private listservs for my groups, which only have 6 members, and they can become very active (and useful) places.

Re: how people identify themselves -- I don't think that it would make sense for me to enforce using one's real name. I think people will have to make a choice, bearing in mind that no matter how much I emphasize confidentiality, there is no guarantee on the internet. Since it will be a membership site, and therefore password protected, posts won't be accessible through search engines. But there is no stopping someone from sharing private posts.

I think the best I can do is remind people initially and periodically of the importance of confidentiality, and also the importance of assuming anyone can read one's posts.

As to factions, I guess that's life. There always will be that sort of thing in any group. My goal is to have a supportive, nurturing atmosphere with a sense of "we're all in this together and we'll do better if we're not isolated or antagonistic."

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Vika!


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