Conferences – Including the deaf academic

sign-language-translatorConferences, inclusion, communication support – these are all key words over on twitter at present. Not least because of the International Congress for the Education of Deaf People, where there was a spectacular fail to provide interpreters for deaf delegates, and even when interpreters were provided, they turned out to deliver less than stellar performances (I saw one figure of less than 20% of a talk being interpreted, which is terrible). But this, and other conferences (it is conference season, after all!) are opening up questions regarding conferences for deaf academics. [And by deaf academics, I mean academics who have a hearing loss, and who are academics in any subject, not academics in a field to do with the deaf.]

This is a long blog post, even by my standards, so I apologise in advance for that.

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Social Media – making it work for you

Social MediaYes. I know. The irony levels are high with this – using social media to discuss… social media!

But irony apart, social media can be really important to deaf students. [Actually, social media is really useful for all deaf people, but this blog is referring specifically to students.]

If you’re the type of person that really struggles with making connections with hearing people, worries about understanding hearing people, or are just concerned about networking (which, lets face it, is a necessary evil for academics) then social media can be one way of getting over that ‘hump’, so to speak.

Here’s a couple of ways in which it can be useful.

  1. It can allow you to get to know people as individuals. My partner, for example, is not English, and I recently found someone who was a part of the postgraduate group that I struggled with, via their facebook group, and that is from the same country as he is. We had a lovely chat about that country via social media and it helps the group to know that a) you’re very approachable as a person, b) gives them something to chat to you about in real life and c) allows you to break the communication barrier ahead of the face to face meeting. So. when you find them on social media, send them a message. Introduce yourself. and SNOOP (yes, I felt nosey too, but hey, its info that is out there – and you honestly think they’re NOT doing it to your accounts?). Get info on them. Note the commonalities that they have with you, outside of your course/uni, and then you’ve got a stock of info that you can ask them about. “hey, I couldn’t help noticing… XYZ on your facebook/twitter/whatever. D’you like.. ABC? Really? Have you thought about… ‘ trust me, they’ll be flattered that you took the time to remember and chat to them. 🙂
  2. Many universities, particularly if they have strong postgraduate communities in your field, will run a variety of facebook groups. In my own field, for example, I am a member of at least three, one is just the discipline-specific postgraduates group from my uni that I mentioned before, another is very discipline specific but has hundreds of members all over the country, and another still is discipline specific, but locally orientated and is about fostering relations between our academic community and people out there who are interested in the field but not academics. As a student alone (never mind the deaf bit) this can be really useful to give you a heads up on events that are happening that are crucial to your discpline, new theories, new books, and if you’re really smart, keep an eye on the names of people writing. Again, if you’re going to an event, some social media (like facebook) allow you to click that you’re attending, and if you can view who else is going, its a wonderful opportunity to bone up on people so that you walk in there confident as to who people are (photos are great for that), what they do, and a bit about them.
  3. Outside of the discpline, it can be useful as a way to keep in touch with the wider university community. I bet your uni’s student union will have a facebook group, for example, which will post info about events that you might want to go to, or info about different groups operating from within the SU that you might want to join, like… ooh.. cake baking!
  4. It can also be really useful as a way for you to educate everyone else, gently, about your requirements for dealing with your wonky ears. This can range from things like posting a link to a really cool video (like Charlie Swinbourne’s “Found”, for example), or a new work of literature featuring deafness in some way, or a link to fingerspelling, deaf awareness day, all kinds of things. This shouldn’t be seen so much as a “hey, you’re on my friends list, you must look at this”, but more in the way of drip feed… just making things available so that when someone realises that you’re the fabulous person you are and that they really want to talk to you about your work… they can access the material that will enable them to do that. Help them to help you. Many hearing people are really curious about deafness, sign language, deaf culture and would love to ask about it, but are worried about causing offence. Show them that you won’t be offended, and they’ll ask. 🙂
  5. Finally, its a way to show the world and your colleagues, what an interesting person you are, about your work, about YOU, beyond your deafness. Just as you’ll be looking for info to give you an ‘in’ for talking to colleagues, so may they be looking for info so that they can get to know you better.

However….

Social media has drawbacks as well. Things you post there can come back to bite you where you’d rather not be bitten! So, follow these rules for happy social media-ering… (is there such a word? no? well there is now!):

  1. Your university will almost certainly have rules about social media. Look them up and follow them. Trust me, said rules are there for a reason and a lot of them will echo what is said here. Not to mention that really, its just not worth triggering a dispute with the uni for. No one needs that kinda stress in their lives.
  2. Most social media options have privacy settings. Make sure you enable them, so that only people that you allow can see what you’ve posted. And remember, if you can see their stuff, then chances are, they can see yours! I’ll never forget posting a pic of xmas lunch on my (real name) twitter feed, and my lecturer greeting me after the xmas holidays with “Nice lunch, wish I was there!”. I’d forgotten that in asking to see their feed, they also had the right to see mine! Although I had no problem with them seeing my xmas lunch – it was a good spread!
  3. Some social media sites change their rules on privacy on a regular basis, and some will change your settings on the basis of “we’re changing this rule to XYZ, this is the default, if you want it different you need to change it” and then don’t tell you that they’re changing it (one particular site is very bad at doing this… naming no names but it begins with an F…). Don’t be caught out by that and check your settings regularly. Make sure you periodially check what can be seen by people who aren’t your friends too!
  4. Remember, the internet is a jungle. Privacy is a forgotten principle there. If you don’t want it being shown to your mother, don’t put it out there – even if you’ve got privacy settings that make your social media account look like Fort Knox. If its on the internet then assume that people can view it. That includes those drunken 3am pics of things you really rather you could forget you’d ever done!! Forget about deleting stuff – you can only do that if you posted it, and  deleting stuff from the internet is much easier said than done! This is particularly the case for when you come to want that super important job that you’ve been working towards – it is now common practice for people to google the applicant, and look for their social media accounts. Those pics of you falling over drunk at 3am can be held against you! When going for an interview, DO google yourself and see what’s out there about you, so you’re prepared. Also make sure that you see your social media through their eyes. What do your photos say about you? That you like to spend every saturday night getting absolutely totalled, or that you’re a confident person who enjoys travelling and seeing the world? Which would you rather employ?
  5. Along the same lines, don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. As Mr. Swayze memorably said in Roadhouse, ‘I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice’. For example, if you must have a giggle with your friend about that lecturer who wears the very odd clothing, then don’t put it on social media, and if you absolutely must, then don’t use the lecturer’s name and don’t include any identification details. You don’t need to sanitise all your opinions but make sure that even if someone who is trying to get you in trouble takes a screen shot of your social media account, that there’s nothing there that would enable that.
  6. In addition, be very careful about what you say about organisations and people that are important to you. For example, posting things about your employer can cause a whole heap of trouble. Just don’t do it.
  7. If you want to post stuff that you would rather your supervisor/granny/employer didn’t see then do consider setting up social media accounts with fake names. This doesn’t always have to be cos you’re ashamed of whatever you are posting. I’m definitely not ashamed of being DeafStudent (in fact, my real identity is rapidly becoming the world’s worst kept secret!). But it is always an option. If you are going the sekrit-identity route, then make sure that you don’t inadvertently give away your super-hero identity by cross posting, or replying to something with the wrong blog account, or even sharing a blog entry with the wrong twitter feed – there are automatic things for that on wordpress, for example, which I have to carefully check or it will post something with my real name on it onto DeafStudent’s twitter feed! Also think about inadvertently sharing, in your writings or photographs, where you come from – mentioning a location, or a recognisable location in a photograph. Even just the name of otherwise generic things can reveal far more about you than you thought.

Social media is about communication – let that work for you to help you deal with issues in real life. You may think its a waste of time – perhaps it is, there’s no doubt that things like facebook can be terrible for procrastinating on that essay that you really don’t want to do and you’ve been dragging your heels on. And there’s no doubt too that social media can cause terrible problems, twitter trolls have been the source of real heartbreak for people, for example, and bullying is as rife – if not more so – in the social media world as it is in real life. But despite all that it also has the power to do a lot of GOOD. Used wisely, used well, it can really help to create the connections between you and hearing colleagues, help to educate them about deaf awareness, make you friends, and get you information about important things and events.

How do you use social media? If you have any thoughts or tips that I haven’t written about here, please do feel free to email me – deafstudentuk at gmail dot com. If you are a deaf student thinking of going on to study at postgrad level, or a postgrad already, there’s a facebook group running already! Please do get in touch with me – we only get stronger together!

Networking

Networking

Networking

Networking is a key skill if you want to work in academia. It is so important, that The Academic’s Support Kit, an invaluable series of books for anyone wanting to work in the industry, has a whole book devoted to it – Building Networks – and I doubt very much that Boden, Epstein and Kenway are alone in thinking this way. Its a skill that needs to begin early – and as a deaf person, its a skill that I know I am lacking. [at least, in person. Online – I totally rock!]

With this in mind, I recently went to a postgraduate meeting. This, promoted as a series of seminars aimed at postgrads in my field at my university, with cake, tea, and an inevitable trip to the pub after, isn’t unusual in the academic world. It allows students, who often focus intently on their own little sphere, to keep tabs on work that is being done in the wider field; to discuss their work with their peers; to get help and feedback where necessary; and most of all, to make the contacts that in terms of their careers, will be invaluable. These are the people that I may be working with in future. Developing a good relationship with your peers is an absolute must for anyone who is serious about a career in academia.

I had, I will be honest, been avoiding this. I’d gone to the first, set up as part of the induction week and the university paid for an interpreter to come with me. I had a great chat with one chap about the focus of his MRes, and listened to the talks provided by the people who ran the group. So far, so good. Then came the bad news. SFE wouldn’t fund attendance at the seminars as part of my DSA, as its not a compulsory part of my studies. I can’t use any other source of funding for it, like Access to Work, as its not employment. The University can’t fund access to everything, and more to the point, this was strictly a voluntary thing. And there were bigger battles to fight: there was also the risk that DSA would not cover the various field trips that I needed to make throughout the year as part of my studies (in the end, the university agreed to fund those, thank god). So I let it lapse.

Then I got talking to one of my interpreters. She’d been a PhD student herself, in an unrelated field, and knows well the demands of academia, and is a trainee interpreter. When I mentioned this group to her, she offered to volunteer to interpret the sessions, as it would give her greater experience of working in a university setting. I lept at the chance, we agreed the time and date, and off we went.

We walked into the room where the session was being held to find just 5 people in there. We said hello, and then the people returned to their conversation. Fair enough, I thought, they were mid conversation when we walked in, and I talked to my interpreter instead. In sign language, which I think, in retrospect, was a mistake. Other people came in who were greeted and spoke to the group… and they all more or less continued to ignore me. They huddled in a little group at the other end of the room, and the only time anyone spoke to me was to offer me cake, or to respond to a direct question (I asked the speaker where he would be speaking from, and introduced myself and the interpreter – which is only good manners). The talk itself was interesting enough but I left feeling upset and disheartened by the attitude of the other attendees towards me, and wondering if I should persevere with this or just give up on it and find some other way to network.

I discussed it with my other half (who, I should add, isn’t deaf, wasn’t there, and isn’t an academic, but he is ferociously intelligent and occasionally comes out with smart stuff!). He listened sympathetically, let me rant about it for a bit [the words ‘clique’ and ‘bad mannered’ featured a lot, along with ‘disablist’ and ‘gonna write about this for BADD!’] and then simply pointed out: ‘did you say anything to them?’

‘um. well. no. but.. but… hearing! they’re supposed to be welcoming and stuff to new people!!’

Even I saw through the fallacy and stupidity of THAT one as soon as it left my mouth.

Yes, they are supposed to be welcoming but, ahhhh… give them a break. Yes, they made a mistake and they may well be kicking themselves for allowing me to walk out of there without saying anything to me. But seeing it from their perspective, I began to realise. Someone walks in, who they don’t really know, and they don’t know my needs, who I am, anything about me. I could be one of those incredibly touchy people who threatens to sue the entire world if anyone says anything that is even a tiny bit wrong (and yes, we all know they exist) so.. well.. can they really be blamed for taking the safer course? Am I not just as much to blame for continuing that status quo, not introducing myself (I am able to talk for myself, the interpreter is there to help out with communication coming in, not going out), not making my needs clear? Could I have done things better to try to ease their fears and help them to communicate with me?

In a world full of prejudice, regardless of whether you’re the one with an ‘ism’ or not, sometimes its all too easy to take the safe route and not say anything. I do that myself. Sometimes, when I don’t have communication support, its too easy, in group settings with new people, to take the easy route and not introduce myself, or to stand awkwardly and pray that sometime I do know talks to me. Sometimes I’m just tired and I don’t think I can be blamed for that. But if I can’t be blamed … then neither can they.

So. I’m going back to that group in a few weeks, with my interpreter. I’m going to email them ahead of time so they know I’m coming and who I am. Give them enough information so that they’ve got stuff they can ask me about. Bone up on the people who are in the group (the group’s on facebook as well) so that I have stuff I can ask them about. And then [this is one of those times where there’s a fantastic sign for it and the equivalent in English is a bit pathetic in comparison] … I gird my loins and step into the lion’s den.