My Twitter appreciation is my Rebecca Schuman appreciation

Okay, let’s tell a story of how I feel all the way down the Twitter rabbit hole, and make sure credit is given where it is due.

My original handle on Twitter was SDYtm (old soccer writing thing of which there are next to zero examples remaining on the internet, but if you want to dig through the Wayback Machine, be my guest). I can’t find on Twitter where the original post was denying my existence on the thing (original tagline was something like “You don’t see me. I’m not here. I don’t tweet or twitter or do anything that sounds like a bird.”) but it went back to 2011 or so. The first person to send me an @-reply, I think, was Smollar. The first @-reply I can find is, I think, in Japanese.

Sometime early in March of this year I decided that I’d follow the lead of my friend Wallace and start auto-posting using Buffer. I did remember that I had a LinkedIn page and I decided I’d cross-post stuff there too, and yeah, didn’t I make that Twitter handle a while back? Let me see how well that works.

It did OK for the first month, I think I had a few odd people read and reply to the things I posted even though I wasn’t taking the conventions of Twitter very seriously, and I think I paid attention every other day.

The fateful day was April 8th, when my reading came across a screed (I think she’ll approve of use of that word) about the academic job market and the failure of people in the humanities to actually get jobs. This hit home; I was talking through a couple of grad-school interested students at the time who were thinking about college teaching, and I wanted them to be absolutely sure they knew what they were walking into. (One of my old quiz mates from North Georgia posted it on his Facebook feed, too, so I knew that it was going to get some hits and be seen by those friends and I wanted to make sure I drove the point home.)

So this went into the Buffer feed early-morning on April 8th:

The target audience replied on Facebook, it stoked further dialogue, job done. (It also returned the all-time reply from one of my dear friends, Dinty Musk: “This is not hyperbolic. This is a cold, hard slap of reality. And it’s not much better for anyone going into academia. The field is SATURATED. And the Ksp is probably on the order of 10^-11 or so.” Yes, we’re chemistry nerds, deal.)

So when I checked Twitter the next day, I was absolutely NOT expecting to find this:

Again, understand: I had NO CLUE about the conventions of Twitter. I don’t think I was even expecting Rebecca Schuman to HAVE a Twitter handle. I still don’t know how she tracked down my Twitter post and why she felt so moved to reply to it, except I’ve come to find she does that with EVERYTHING that she writes.

My only response at the time was “well, if she cared enough to reply to my near throwaway tweet, well, let’s follow her and strike up conversation every now and again.” When I saw how she actually wrote her blogposts, I’m sorry, I got a tad bit giddy about the fact that she could actually bring “U MAD? O, U MAD” into an academic-labor argument.

I don’t know what exactly in my past that piece, and the tone that accompanied it, struck. I think there are two things (this is a bit of an aside, so bear with me a minute):

(1) I didn’t get into MIT for undergrad. I got in everyplace else I applied, and I was thrilled to go to the school that unapologetically called MIT “the Rose-Hulman of the Northeast”, but part of what drove me in high school was the fact that I wanted elite education, and part of what drove me in college was the fact that I couldn’t get a single word out of MIT no matter how hard I tried to talk to them, and I got it in my head that it was because they didn’t want a redneck from Hilliard, Florida, and I went from wanting elite education to wanting to stick it to elite education. It was part of why all my grad school apps went to Big Ten land-grant history schools, and why I get all worked up about how awesome my Ohio State education was, and nuts to your ideas of prestige.

(2) When I actually started my faculty career, it was without much thought at a two-year school that also served academically talented high school students (shout-out to all the GAMES kids). I thought about getting on the research bandwagon, but I progressively decided that I was far more interested in how the kids who came from places like I came from learned about science, and then I was interested in how those kids could ultimately prove professionally successfull. I threw myself whole-heartedly into what I dubbed “teaching-centered higher education”, and the two times I’ve moved, I’ve sought out those kids of schools, and I’ve found positions at those places to be lacking. I’m DEEPLY fortunate – I found a wonderful place in 2003 in Rome, Georgia that now forms the first half of my Twitter handle in a spirit of appreciation, and when I had done all I could at Shorter and needed to move anew, I found a second (struggling but) wonderful place here in the Central Appalachians, where I found a POOL of students (present and prospective) who were in situations similar to my own growing up, at a disrespected rural high school having big dreams and wanting them fulfilled.

And when I had occasion to talk to many faculty at research-one universities about what I did and I why I valued it, I found (to my shock and amazement) deep disrespect. I will never forget the conversation I had with a pharmacy dean at a school that will remain nameless (to protect the guilty) about what I did, and mentioning that I had a teaching load of physics, physical chem and biochem that particular semester. I don’t know what response I expected, but what I got was “it must be a shame for those students not to learn from a content expert.” TO MY FACE. The conversation ended quickly thereafter.

There are a HOST of people who love their disciplines, and not only are deeply capable of teaching around those disciplines, but remaining ENGAGED with their students and lifting their abilities up. I’ve found deep empathy and respect, more than anybody else, from the adjuncts I’ve worked with, who handle the same types of varied loads with no respect and even less pay. I’m fortunate at Virginia Intermont to work with one of the best adjuncts in the game, Tom McMullen, who can handle just about any non-major science that comes across his plate with skill and empathy. Shorter had one famous adjunct, Joe Bill Campbell [1], who taught a distinctive biology – and if you were a particularly combative advisee, I loved giving you Joe Bill for GenBio I, because he loved the combative ones and he gave as good as he got – and who, one year under duress, handled the full-timer’s botany load when the botany teaching line couldn’t be filled in time, and handled it with his curmudgeonly joy and without a single complaint that I ever heard.

And, as I soon found out, one Rebecca Schuman could explain Kant with humor and incisiveness, both for the scholar and the popular reader.

I’m not kidding: I’m still mad that I didn’t encounter a Rebecca Schuman when I was dissing every foreign language ever as a ignorant and idiotic Florida redneck of an undergrad. If anybody could have persuaded me to love German, I think it would have been her.

So I’m biased when it comes to Rebecca Schuman. Following her twitter feed and her retweets opened me up to the absolute best of academic Twitter. I found out real quick that Lee Skallerup Bessette has the most powerful retweet-fu in our little corner of the Twiter universe. I discovered the wonderful feed of William Pannapacker, and the politically potent feed of Sarah Kendzior. I discovered the writings of Tressie McMillan Cottom, which I believe are as important as anything else getting done concerning the future of higher education. I’ve “met” Joseph Fruscione (and his alter-ego, Adjunct Yoda), Roopika Risam, Stacey Patton, Liana Silva Ford, Charles Knight, Katherine Firth…I could go on, but these (and others who I really don’t have time to link!) are the people who find the things that put me into contact with the world in higher education in 2013. I’m deeply grateful for them all.

Oh, yeah, and I discovered Werner Twertzog, which might be as fascinating as everything else put together. And @Chronicle is ON IT!, which for a higher ed media nerd like me, is even more fun.

I could go on. Hopefully you get the point. Twitter is a rabbit hole, but it’s a rabbit hole that’s made me smarter, and that keeps my eyes on things that aren’t just limited to American shores or within my own science-nerd universe. (Note: the OVERWHELMING majority of people I just listed are in the humanities. I do follow scientists and science teachers too; that’s another post and another dialogue, though.)

(There is also College Football Twitter, which is yet another post that most of you don’t particularly care to read.)

Please also note: remember that I kind of started this on a whim by posting stuff to Twitter in addition to Facebook and LinkedIn? Stuff I post on Twitter gets read and retweeted, and Buffer tells me so. There’s absolutely no evidence that stuff I post on LinkedIn gets read and shared – it did get me a couple of odd people getting back in touch when they saw my stuff, but when my Twitter feed blew up, LinkedIn got real quiet. Folks, this is no joke: Twitter does what LinkedIn advertises it does better than LinkedIn. It builds new professional connections, and in dialogue, allows you to find common ground.

I decided I was “officially” on Twitter on June 14, 2013, and took the more professionally clear (and more personally meaningful) handle. (I can’t find the original tweet as ShorterPearson! If you can find it, feel free to share. Twitter, work on your dang searching and archiving.) Six months later, I don’t regret it a bit.

And one kind reply back in April started all this. (Well, that and superior taste in music.)

In conclusion, even as I was still an idiot about how to use Twitter, I said this back in May, and I still mean it, and I hope it is a sentiment that makes her as satisfied now as it did back then:

[1] the ONLY college teacher I’ve ever come across with a voice louder than mine. NO JOKE.

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