Older Academics: Get on Twitter to Boost your Career

It seemed like a great idea. Tweet all the academics featured in the journal, with a link to their article. It was a neat way of promoting the journal and the writers in one easy step. As the editorial assistant on the journal – student job to fund the PhD – I was adding value and not just sitting there staring at a screen all day.

It didn’t work.

My great idea sank after the third tweet. I found out that many of the academics were not Twitter. At first I thought it was just the ones featured in a Canadian journal of cultural studies. Maybe it was our usual reticence about promoting oneself. It turned out that age was the issue.

Academics under 40 used Twitter. Academics over 40 years of age did not.

The younger crowd grew up with social media. They made and consumed millions of posts on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or other platforms. Social media was as familiar to them as the pimples on their faces.

The older crowd of academics are familiar with the wrinkles on their faces, but do not know how or appreciate the value of sharing them on social media. They are missing a great opportunity for promoting themselves and their work.

Especially for middling academics – the majority of us – who now realise that their cutting edge research has generated little change but has caused plenty of paper cuts.

Using social media is one way of creating a tiny, perfect universe of followers who are interested in the academic’s ideas. It’s better than the global shrug of indifference.

So here are the benefits of using Twitter:

1. Promote Yourself. And the vitally important work you are doing – even if that importance is just in your own mind. A tweet can connect you to others interested in the same area.

2. Find Friends and Allies. Twitter is an efficient way of finding others who are interested in your area of work. It increases the possibility of collaboration on research projects or conference presentations. Your Twitter followers can give you feedback on work in progress.

3. Spy on the Competition. Conversations on Twitter are fast and fleeting. It is a great way of checking out what your competitors are doing, thinking or writing about. Savour that feeling of realizing that you have more followers than your rivals.

4. Cross Boundaries. Academics are forced to focus on a narrow area if they want to be successful. With Twitter those boundaries can be crossed by using and following hashtags that appeal to a wide range of users. For example, #RaceAndSpace tweets are from academics in social justice, geography, outdoors recreation and conservation.

5. Follow the News in your Field. I use Twitter to find out about the latest jobs, conferences, calls for papers and funding opportunities. These are announced long before they reach print publication or get buried on specialist websites.

6. Boost Book Sales. Use Twitter to promote your old and new books. A weekly tweet with a link to the books will do wonders of the sales. Or at least raise awareness that your books are out there, waiting to be read.

7. Gossips and Scandals. Who got fired and why? Who is being sued? How did the university handle/cover that up? Twitter is fantastic for showing the hidden side of academia and what people really think about the hot potato issues of the day. You can join in the conversations or just listen to them. Either way it is riveting.

Twitter is the electronic equivalent of the chats around the office water cooler. We know that the best conversations often happen there.

So older academics, get over your fear or condescension about social media. Get on Twitter. It takes about a minute to set up an account. Do so and start tweeting. Let the world know about you and the vitally important work you are doing.

Heartbeats in Africa: A Memoir of Travel and Love

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Hate, Freedom and Academic Crowdfunding

In my mind academics don’t do crowdfunding. They think. They lecture. They write. Academics don’t beg. At least not in public.

Crowdfunding is the latest spin on an old idea – use other people’s money to fund your dream research, inventions or business ideas. In the old days artists depended on patrons – a fat lord of the manor, a duchess with a social conscience or a scheming archbishop – to supply their projects. These days they turn to the internet.

The technology has made it easier to match money seekers with money givers. And it has blurred the lines between begging and investing.

The three most popular crowdfunding sites are Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Patreon. Each caters to a different market. Kickstarter is best for entrepreneurs with a business idea. Indiegogo is for people, especially artists, looking to fund a particular project. Patreon is geared towards creative types looking for long term patronage.

Some academics have climbed out of their ivory towers and entered the world of crowdfunding. When research grants are hard to get, crowdfunding can fill the gap.

Ask Jordan Peterson.

This University of Toronto professor has raised a staggering $61,000 per month on Patreon. That is over half a million a year. His goal is to reach a million dollars a year. Peterson is using the money to fund his research against the use of transgender pronouns and political correctness on campus. In other words why social justice, sexuality studies and feminism are an attack on white people, specifically straight white men.

So far Peterson has 5,500 people donating to his research. His biggest backers are those longing for the days of empire and white Christian supremacy. Under the guise of freedom of speech, they want the freedom to attack anyone – especially Black and other people of colour – who don’t agree with their view.

Jordan Peterson is white privilege in action.

I have launched my own Patreon site. On the other side of my life I write adventure stories about travelling while Black. It’s probably the kind of thing that would make Jordan Peterson twitch. It takes time and money to do the research and to travel for the adventures. My PhD scholarship does not stretch that far. How many patrons will fund me? Will you be the first?

Patrons will get recognition. The dedication page of my new book will record the names of all the generous souls who donated for a year of more. They are investing in the success of a student and a Black travel writer.

50 Places: A Black History Travel Guide of London

10 Things Tourists Notice About Toronto

When I started the Black History Walks in Toronto, I assumed that my clients would be older, come dressed in linen and sun hats, and of course, wear sensible walking shoes. And most would be white.

My theory was based on the people that I see on heritage walks in the city. I stand out in these crowds of history buffs as I am younger and Black.

Well, my assumptions were plain wrong. I have had every ethnic group on the Black History Walks. There were Black people and white people. And Latinos, Arabs and Asians. To my surprise about a third of the people on the walks are Canadians, some coming from the suburbs of Toronto.

The one thing my clients have in common is a curiosity about Black history in Toronto. Most thought there was little. In the walk, we talk about an African Canadian history that goes back to 1600s, and specifically in Toronto, to 1796 when the modern city was founded on Indigenous land.

As part of the walk, I ask people what are the things that they notice about Toronto. Some of their answers were unexpected. Here are ten of the memorable ones.

1. Few Police Cars. An African American student was surprised that there were so few police cars on Toronto’s streets. In his home in Erie, Pennsylvania, police cars are on every intersection. But only in the Black areas of the city. He feels like he lives in a garrison. He was amazed that stores in Toronto accepted his credit card, without asking for other identification like his driver’s license and phone number.

2. Colonial Legacy. A woman from South Korea found it easy to move around city. The pattern of street names – King, Queen, Adelaide and so on – were the same in her travels in Australia and New Zealand. The British colonial legacy was alive in the former colonies.

3. Green City. A white woman from suburban Oakville was astonished that the city centre was so green. She had never noticed the trees in all her years of driving through Toronto. The walk goes by a ravine and several large parks.

4. Diverse City Centre. A French woman was astonished that the city centre was so multicultural. In Paris, Black people and immigrants live in the suburbs, cut off from the opportunities and vibrancy of city life. The woman now lived in a small city in Ireland. She had left France as was tired of being passed over for promotion. Her education was fine. Her performance was fine. Her skin was not.

5. Pawn Shops. The Latino couple from New York noticed the lack of pawn shop, beer stores and cheque cashing shops as we passed a sketchy area of the walk. These businesses line the streets in poor areas of their city.

6. Fearless after the Terror. A Black French woman jaywalked across the streets. She ignored my caution to wait with the rest of the group for the cross walk signal. She was dining with friends when the terrorist attacked the restaurant in Paris. She spent six hours locked inside and hiding under the tables, unsure if she would live or die. Nothing scared her after that night.

7. Blacks in the City. A student from Vancouver was astonished that so many Black people live in Toronto. Her home city is racially segregated into Chinese, South Asian and White areas. And the groups rarely mix. She felt invisible as a South Asian walking around Toronto. She liked that feeling.

8. Grave Matters. The African American friends were amazed that the graves were in the ground. In New Orleans tombs are above ground, so that they don’t float to the surface in the frequent rains and floods. Or wash up on the streets, half-rotting, like they did in Hurricane Katrina.

9. Rude Canadians. A British woman had just finished her master’s degree in Toronto. She was fed up with people asking her where she was really from. Canadians could not seem to get their heads around that Black people lived in England too.

10. Less is Better. “I feel less Black in Toronto. Nobody is looking at me and expecting trouble.” This was from an African American man, on a long weekend break from Los Angeles.

The Black History Walks are more popular than I expected. They won’t make me rich, but they supplement my tiny PhD scholarship. The walks are a good indicator of the thirst for a more inclusive history of Toronto. Black people have lived in the city from its very birth.

50 Places: A Black History Travel Guide of London

Black History Walks in Toronto

The next time you are in Toronto, give me a call. We can spend an afternoon chatting and walking as we explore the Black history of the city.

Together we will trace the Toronto footsteps of abolitionists Harriet Tubman, Josiah Henson, and others. As we explore homes, churches, and cemeteries that played key roles in the Underground Railroad, we’ll discuss why and how many Black leaders—including former slaves—migrated to Toronto and built the foundations of a strong Black community.

On the walk, there will be stops for drinks and we will end it with a tasty snack at a Caribbean café.

I already lead walks for two outdoor clubs and a Meet Up group. This walk is done through Airbnb. It is part of their new programme called Airbnb Experience. The idea behind it to get an insider’s view of the city and to share in the activities that make city life so vibrant. As being outside and Black history are my passions, it made sense to combine both.

All prospective Experience hosts are screened and trained by Airbnb. I am in the first group of those launching the initiative in Toronto. Others are offering food and wine tours, mural painting, silk screening and a jazz safari.

The Experience is a chance for me to earn some extra cash. Studying for a PhD, even on a full scholarship, is expensive. Many PhD students graduate with their head stuffed with knowledge and their bank accounts stuffed with debts. I don’t want to be one of those.

So the next time you are in Toronto, check out my Black History walking tour.

Black History Walks in Toronto

Teaching at the Swingers’ Convention

“I can make some extra money teaching at the swingers’ convention and that will pay for the side trips,” said my graduate classmate.

“Swingers’ convention? Who goes to those?” I said.

“Swingers.”

“What do they do there?”

“Swing.”

“But. Okay. So. I am liberal but maybe not as open-minded as I thought. Conventions are for business, not for… Really? Are you kidding me? What are you going to teach them?”

“Sexuality workshops. In other words how to stick fingers up butts for sexual pleasure. White Republicans love that kind of stuff, never mind what they say in public. There are the swingers’ cruises and weekend get-aways. If I can teach at a few of those I will be set for the summer. I did a 45-day road trip last year from Toronto to Florida and L.A. All of it was paid for by doing swingers’ seminars.”

“I want to go backpacking in Central America. I thought that was adventurous but the swingers’ convention is something else.”

“As a sex health and sexuality teacher you get to see all kinds of interesting stuff. The academic conferences are one thing, the fun and the money are in the swingers workshops.”

Heartbeats in Africa: A Memoir of Travel and Love

Joining the One Per Cent Club. Is It Worth It?

‘Be humble. Be open to new ways of learning. Be ready to unlearn some things.’ A professor repeated this mantra many times during the first few weeks of seminars. He reminded us that we were now the elites in the education system.

Behind his words I heard a challenge: would we behave like all other elites, and think that we got here just by sheer hard work, and are therefore entitled to all the benefits of being on top of the pyramid? Or would we remember how things are now stacked in our favour?

I have never belonged to an elite club. But I do belong to a point one per cent club – the illusive group of Black people who enjoy outdoor activities. Go ahead and roll your eyes, chuckle in disbelief. I am used to that reaction.

Thanks to starting the PhD, I have now joined an elite one per cent club. This is proportion of people who hold the advance degree in most countries. Some 25 per cent of Canadians are university graduates according to Statistics Canada 2013 National Graduate Survey. This is such a middle-class norm that it long ago ceased to have any meaning for me. Middle-class kids go to university, it is simple as that. Of course, it is a whole different game for working-class children, but that is another story. I had no idea that with a PhD I am now among the privileged of the privileged.

In Canada there are about 210,000 PhDs and about 4,000 joining the exclusive club each year.  According to Statistics Canada, we need to produce double the number of PhDs to keep up with the USA and the rest of the developed countries.

The modern PhD started in Germany in the 1850s. The programme was so successful that it spread first to the rest of Europe, Canada and the USA, and then around the world. Is the PhD worth it?

Before applying for the PhD I interviewed six professors – I wanted to make sure that my idea was not full of lead. Most of them told me that my chance of getting an academic job at the end of it were about as good as turning ice into diamonds. Both are sparkly and shiny, but only one is a girl’s best friend.

It takes about ten years of study to get a PhD. From the Statistics Canada report a lot of PhD graduates will ride off into the sunset – of temporary, low-paying, part-time jobs, as academics for hire.  Few of us will make it to be professors with benefits, high salaries, and each year a fresh crop of underlings to sing our praises (at least in front our faces).

The figures are sobering. A person with a bachelor’s degree earn a median income of $53,000. For a master’s it is $70,000. And for a doctorate, wait for it, it is a whopping $75,000. Four extra years in school for a fistful of extra dollars. A PhD is pretty much a waste of time financially, especially for those not working in academia.

So why am I doing it? Well, I don’t have the skills of a nurse, teacher or construction worker. They all earn more than a PhD after considerably less years in school.

I am not doing the PhD for bragging rights either. Okay, a little bit for that. I am doing it because I like to learn. It is a chance for me to research something that interests me. And I hope at the end of it that I will shift from the one per cent to the thirty per cent club – that is the number of PhD graduates who actually become academics.

Heartbeats in Africa: A Memoir of Travel and Love