#13.Thou shalt not: 5 faux pas websites of PhD

Let’s admit it, the internet has revolutionalized how we conduct research – particularly literature reviews both peer reviewed and grey. Once upon a time, if you wanted a journal article, you had to go to the library – and here I am not talking about the online library, I am talking bricks and mortar library  – and the get the article yourself. It was actually more complicated than that. You had to climb flights of stairs, because for some reason the elevator was never working or it didn’t go to the basement. After you got there out of breath, you had to then read through rows and rows and rows and rows of dusty books, before giving up and deciding to get the call number of the journal you were looking for. If you were lucky you’d find it, and then coughing up a dustball, you would carefully remove the journal and in the process drop about 20 others, secretly stash them elsewhere (like you remember exactly where they fell from) and then you’d go to the photocopying machine. Yes, to make a physical copy. And woe unto you if your photocopy card was empty, the coin operated card machine was probably located at the other end of the library. All this just to get one article that might be pertinent to your paper.

Things have progressed significantly since those days.  If you want an article now, there are thousands of journals that are entirely online: you get complete lists of the references cited in a particular article, a list of other articles that have cited the same article and possible articles of interest given your search. You’d think that this would make us better researchers. Au contraire, a lot of us have gotten lazy. So I figured, we need some help in this department (its mostly a note to self…). As you do your research remember that though you might draw upon these websites, make no mention of it lest you suffer the ostracization by the academic community.

5. Facebook

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Now, lets be honest, we ALL spend tons of time on Facebook. In fact if your degree was to come from the University of Facebook, you would’ve fulfilled your credit requirements and graduated six times over. It is no wonder that the national average for PhD in Canada is 7 years…5 of those are the sum total of time spent on FB.

Here is the toughie about it: PhD can be extremely isolating – you’re spending tons of time focused on a very narrow topic of research that presumably you and your supervisor are (or once were) interested in. And in this isolation, you need to connect with people, so what better way to do so than through Facebook.  Consensus here is that it is not so much the content of FB as it is the aggregate time we actually spend on it. Yes, preaching to myself right now and will log off just as soon as I see what everybody else has been upto…

4. Twitter

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Admittedly I am a relatively late adopter to twitter. I opened an account back in 2009 and then couldn’t understand all the hashtagging, ReTweeting and at @ting that was going and so I just let my account sit there. In 3 years which is like 30 years in internet-speak, twitter has now picked up so much so that all of my funding agencies, government, NGOs and basically every talking head in my field is on twitter. So now I have no choice but to follow them so they can in turn make their funding dollars follow me. The point here is HOW you engage. Twitter speak makes sense in the world of twitter…but don’t be updating your supervisor on your #PhD and letting her know that #justsayin she should #showyouthemoney. Not on email, not on your FB status and certainly not in real-life speak. Anotherone I am guilty for (at least on the FB level)

3. YouTube

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Pretty much the same warning as FB – beware…if you want to graduate, Get. Off. YouTube! Unless of course you have been working extremely hard and are taking a well deserved break to calm your nerves before working hard again. That or you are launching your YouTube channel that is intricately connected with disseminating your findings aka knowledge translation/transfer….no? Then log off!

2. Google

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This is a tricky one because upto about 2 years ago, you couldn’t really say I ‘googled’ it and be taken seriously in the academic world. But we all know that students don’t have time and professors have even less time. Whats the most handly thing before you go for a meeting? Google! We google everybody and everything, at least I do. Thankfully, googlescholar exists so that we can feel less badly about googling our journal articles and so that we can actually cite them as a legitimate source. In fact google scholar is quite useful to my everyday work (in a non contraband sort of way).

Now if you are going to google your articles, slip in the scholar just to hint that you would NEVER just google them. You’re an academic. You use google scholar!

1. Wikipedia

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This has got to be the faux pas of faux pases (pas’? pass? passes?). My name is B and I am a wikipediaholic. There, I admitted it. Wikipedia settles arguments, easily. Never mind that the person arguing the loudest might have actually re-written the wikipedia page to suit their ‘facts’. Its actually scary how wikipedia is gaining or has gained legitimacy as a source of information albeit anecdotal. Even if you wrote the wikipedia page on Molecular Physics, you still cannot cite it as a source in academic writing…at least as far as I know. I remember in first year a student committed the ultimate crime of citing a source from Wikipedia. There was hell to pay on that day and once the academic dragons stopped breathing fire down our throats, we were more than convinced never, EVER to do it again.

I have to remember that the point of this faux pas list is not hypocrisy, it is awareness…we all use the 5 websites above constantly – perhaps more often than we are willing to admit…we just have to normalize them in the realm of academic research…if they aren’t already…

What are the other faux pas websites have I missed?

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