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Interviews and video by Ann Molin, CAS’16
by Ana Schwartz
Instead of prescriptions about professional development here at the end of the year, a novel seemed to be a nice way to relax from the strenuous pace of the semester. Dave Eggers’s most recent novel, The Circle, presents themes that resonate strongly with concerns stressed by Career Services, particularly in the realm of social media. The book offers an entertaining opportunity to think in a comprehensive way about the importance of Social Media for both personal and professional development. It’s a story about technology and for that reason a lot of that coverage is on digital news venues. As a consequence, the critical conversation, especially in the first weeks after its publication, circulated more widely and increasing exponentially more swiftly than Eggers’ earlier books, each of which tackled some current affair—Hurricane Katrina, for example, or the refugee status of the Sudanese Lost Boys. In this novel, a recent college graduate, Mae Holland, gets hired at The Circle, a very large Silicon Valley tech firm whose motto might as well be “Don’t Be Evil.” The plot narrates her rise within that firm, and the consequences to her personal life. It can be read as a cautionary tale, and one of the takeaways from this work of prose fiction is that an awareness of the various modes for communication, the unique qualities each has to offer, are essential to living the good life in the twenty first century.
A Social Dystopia?
The novel is bold in its claims: One of Eggers’s less subtle polemics is a critique of the way that digital innovation, especially in social media, is blurring the distinction between public and private, between personal and professional. As Mae progresses within the firm, she’s required to take advantage of several platforms for social connectivity. She begins as a customer experience representative, with a Yelp-like ratings system to measure her performance. She can compare her metrics with those of other co-workers, but the Facebook-like platform for these interactions allows, and even encourages social interaction and collaboration within the workplace. Its also common for engineers at the firm to try out beta-versions of their designs within the Circle community, such as more sophisticated dating apps. Mae’s ascent within the firm is complete when she goes fully “transparent,” and dons a worn camera to link her every action with her social media profile to become the chief interactive ambassador for the firm. But as a consequence, she loses some of her earliest and dearest friends and puts perhaps irreconcilable distance between herself and her family.
Is The Future Already Here?
Certain recent analyses of the digital climate suggest that such a situation, although exaggerated, isn’t far from the truth. The Economist, for example, hardly a venue for alarmist predictions, recently published a cover story on the implications of Google Glass, and began with a lede that quoted Eggers’ novel. The article discussed consequences of the ubiquity of social media and used the novel’s fictional phenomenon of “going transparent”—taking on a camera to share every act of every day—to hypothesize about the complete erosion of the boundary between public and private. Although The Economist story goes on to explain that the technology currently exists to make that fiction a reality, the concept of “going transparent” holds rhetorical power in both the article and in the book because it asks readers to imagine something that is ultimately, at least for now, undesirable. Yet if most readers will agree that such a future is distressing, how might the resources of social media maintain their use value for readers without becoming too scarily powerful?
Even before this future in which fears of surveillance have become reality, the more day-to-day experiences of social media cause a little bit of ambivalence: On one hand, social media does facilitate collaboration, and working with others is more fun, and more productive than working alone. There are countless well-respected studies on the power of collaboration to produce better results than solitary thought, and still more claims on the effects of social media to foster that cooperative labor. On the other hand, the wider presence of social media leads to a diminishment of personal and intimate space. More broadly, social media allows synthesis of various, seemingly diffuse interests but its use might easily lead to overstimulation, oversaturation, and fatigue.
Where Is Here? The Campus Community
These concerns are a major factor in college. Campuses are deliberately social environments, and some of the best institutions for exploration and collaboration. The widespread use of social media helps make it easier to archive and publicize ideas, to make connections based on those ideas, as well as to express those connections in, let’s be real, fun ways. This latter point is no less important than the former ones: Who you know and who knows you is just as important as the concepts and skills acquired in college. For that reason, being publicly social, taking advantage of the powerful mnemonic features of each platform—such as the conversations function on Twitter or the timeline on Facebook—allow users to take maximum advantage of the social interactions that are integral to college life, intellectual growth, and professional development. It’s no coincidence that Silicon Valley firms call their sites “campuses,” and likewise, even Eggers’ novel admits this when it makes the college friendship between Mae and her eventual boss Amy the plot catalyst that gets Mae her envied entry-level position amid scores of other highly qualified candidates.
These uses of social media are important to consider, in part because they affect future employment prospects—social media can improve the quality of college work, and the style of professional representation. They’re also important because they affect the current quality of life at a formative age—habits of early adulthood, Ben Franklin might have observed, shape the fullness of life experience later on. These themes are also important because such technological innovations are being developed here on this campus, by members of this very community.
Penn’s been a fertile ground for such tech-driven startups as Venmo, Lore (formerly Coursekit) or even Warby Parker. The PennApps hackathon brings coders from around the world, and local resources like First Round Capital, or their recently developed Dorm Room Fund acknowledge the dynamism of this community and point to the importance of deliberate attention to the future use of apps to connect the personal and the public.
The Insights of Literature
That Penn has so many resources to create and to take advantage of digital innovation makes literature not less relevant, but more. Dave Eggers’s recent novel, despite its pessimism, is a great example of this. As a genre, novels have traditionally been concerned to represent the totality of rising middle class life, and in doing so, remind readers and digital citizens about the diversity of personal interests worth being publicly shared and perhaps also the ones that ought to be kept private. Furthermore, novels can help work out the style and methods by which to publicize these interests. A novel like The Circle very explicitly identifies certain features of life that might be best to avoid publicizing—the health of family members, for example, or beginnings of a romantic relationship. It identifies certain features of life that take better to certain platforms over others. Perhaps inadvertently, too, the novel’s vivid, if sometimes farcical description of the many platforms for sharing on social media, suggest the importance of considering which venues are more skillful for sharing different sorts of ideas or events.
Putting Insights Into Practice
This has real applicability: It’s easier, for example, to use twitter to publicize or advertise an event or chronicle real-time responses to events than it is to have a conversation about that event. Conversation is by no means impossible, though, and twitter’s conventional demands—concision primary among them—offer a challenge to be clearer, more direct. Still further, the delayed immediacy of Twitter encourages a different sort of patience for response, somewhere between the directness of speech and the delay of print. As a result of more detailed familiarity with the unique qualities of different platforms, it’s possible to leverage more advanced, subtle skills for effective, and even compelling communication, skills such as pacing and tone. This is just one example of how deliberate use of social media, can cultivate a more robust, skilled mode of sharing personal and professional interests. Maybe it’s perverse, at the end of a long, busy semester, in a season of relaxation, to try to instrumentalize even recreational reading. There are certainly other ways to read fiction, ones perhaps less suited to analysis on a digital platform, ways of reading even more pleasurable than this one.
by Claudia Acha, CAS ’15
Finding an internship abroad can be difficult, but with the right approach you can make your search easier and more effective. First you have to figure out why you want to intern abroad. Is it to travel to a specific country, work for a specific organization, or get experience in a specific field? Once you figure out your objective, you can focus your search and start looking for opportunities that match your objective. Even though finding an internship abroad is harder than finding one in the US, the extra work is well worth it.
I wanted to spend this summer exploring my interests in marketing, Latin America, and the non-profit sector. Although there are opportunities to do this at in the US, the best option seemed like interning abroad. I began my search on goingglobal.com, devex.com, Pennlink, iNet, and idealist.org. I submitted more than 30 applications. I didn’t hear back from any positions I applied to until late April. Despite this setback, I was determined to spend my summer abroad so I looked for alternate sources. I met with the staff from career services for guidance, and with their help I was able to narrow and focus my search.
At Penn we are constantly reminded how important it is to utilize our networks, and this was my next step. I knew someone who worked at the Oxfam office in Washington DC and was able to get in touch with Oxfam’s offices in Latin America through him. I reached out directly to the Oxfam office in Nicaragua and was able to secure a communications internship this way. Securing this internship took much effort and time, but it was definitely worth it. I was able to get everything I had hoped out of my internship. I got to work at an international NGO, explore my interest in marketing, and travel throughout Nicaragua.
Tips on Interning Abroad
The biggest difference I have noticed with internships abroad and in the US are the cultural differences in the work place. During my internship at Korea Leadership Center there was an unspoken rule that employees should not leave until the boss leaves the office. In Nicaragua the workplace was a lot more casual than in most US offices. Employees are not required to be in their office from 8 to 5, instead, they are given much freedom and are each responsible for finishing their work by the deadline. Make sure to do some research about the country you will be working in to avoid any misunderstandings.
Some students rule out an internship abroad due to financial constraints. However, there are numerous resources to find funding for internships abroad. Like some students at Penn, I did not have the luxury of being able to have a non-paid internship. I tried looking for research opportunities, scholarships, and other sources for funds to pay for my internship abroad. Luckily, during my scholarship search I stumbled upon the Steven Alloy Global Internship Grant sponsored by the International Relations Department at Penn. Thanks to the generous support from the International Relations Department, I was able to spend my summer just the way I envisioned it.
My advice for students searching for opportunities abroad would be: start early, be creative with your search, tap into all of the resources you have access to, and persevere. This investment will be well worth the effort.
by Ana Schwartz
For a Ph.D candidate in the humanities, LinkedIn might seem to be only remotely relevant. LinkedIn serves as a platform for connecting professionals, yet several important qualities of the academic profession don’t lend themselves to smooth representation in such a social network. Graduate research demands a highly specialized skill set that’s not often widely applicable and the networks cultivated in academia are often already close, occurring independently of a central platform—at conferences, through personal introductions, or perhaps on intra-disciplinary message boards. Anticipating future publication makes sharing samples of professional writing online a dicey proposition. Furthermore, academia boasts a unique culture of industry loyalty: tenure—or the pursuit of tenure—prevents great investment in alternate career paths, and in turn, diminishes the need to demonstrate a skill set beyond those taught in graduate school such as research, teaching.
Nevertheless, if we consider the growth of LinkedIn as a reflection of its possibilities, and its increasing flexibility across professional communities, there might be some utility in the social network. Career Services at the University of Pennsylvania offers appointments as well as walk-in visits during which students can work one-on-one with advisors to identify how LinkedIn, among other resources, can best supplement a student’s career goals, within the academy or otherwise. During a recent fifteen-minute walk-in meeting, Joseph Barber pointed out several important networking features that LinkedIn provides to help users represent their unique professional qualities. Cumulatively, these features—facilitating connections, showcasing endorsements, and providing tools for ongoing networking and social engagement—can be useful to research-oriented academics by facilitating professional reflection and self-assessment.
Profile-Based, Not Post-Based
LinkedIn is a social network that, like Facebook, and unlike, say, tumblr, is profile-based rather than post-based. Because LinkedIn prioritizes professional networks, the profile data used to suggest connections follows educational and employment history and can show how many degrees of separation exist between any two users. Although searches for other users must often be deliberate rather than prompted by the network, and because LinkedIn places high priority on public networking, there’s little point in making a profile difficult to find. And since a user often has to search out connections, the cumulative character of these connections can be a deliberate, if small part of a professional profile.
Demonstrate Expertise with Endorsements
These connections can become meaningful first, and most obviously, in leading to more connections, both virtually and in person. Second, they can be useful through the “endorsement” feature. LinkedIn allows users to request and grant endorsements regarding skills and expertise. These endorsements range from mastery of specific software (“Microsoft Office”) to facility in a broad skill set (“Research”). Over time, these endorsements appear in a graph that showcases the individual’s strongest qualities. Note that endorsements can be solicited. If a user considers herself exceptionally skilled in fundraising, for example, she might request endorsement in that specific facility by those familiar with her expertise. These endorsements can range from checking a box to writing a prose recommendation of another user’s strengths, a feature much like the letters of recommendation that often act as the currency of the academic profession. As a graduate student with teaching obligations, and thinking back to the first few letters requested by current and former students, this feature here provides useful insight into the sorts of skills and values that might be demanded by future employers of undergraduate students and advisees.
The Value of Groups
But LinkedIn also provides platforms to directly create connections, through shared content, through groups that create and organize communities, and through search tools to locate relevant individuals in the field. One of the most compelling features LinkedIn provides is a platform to repost content from elsewhere on the web, with a space for comments and conversation. These posts often take business and industry as their theme, but range over a broad spectrum of specific topics. Because they’re hosted on a professional network, the discussions that take place following these articles tend to significantly more thought-provoking than the general tone of conversation elsewhere on the internet. And because they take place within the platform, a user’s profile will link to recent comments, which highlights not only the topics that interest individual, but also point to his or her specific thoughts on the topic, as well as the quality of his or her participation, writing style, etc. Similar to the posts feature are groups, organized around industries and interests, where users can connect based on shared qualities but in a more general fashion, as well as interact in a more direct, if still exploratory fashion, with others. Content such as articles and job searches can be posted within groups, which range from “English Teachers Anonymous” to “Penn Swimming Alumni.”
Connect with Alumni
More specifically focused are the tools under the “Networks” tab, particularly the “Find Alumni” feature. This tool taps into the immense data that LinkedIn gathers from its users. Based on a user’s listed alma mater, and her connections, both personal and institutional, she might locate key individuals at one or two degrees of separation, and then sort them by alma mater, by industry, by specific skills or even location. Toggling categories yields smaller or larger lists of relevant individuals, whose profiles a user can often access (although not always, depending on the other user’s privacy settings and level of LinkedIn membership). Based on usage of the resources named earlier—connections, content, groups—these new alumni connections might be present themselves as more or less relevant to my professional interests, and, vice versa, the archive demonstrating a given user’s own interests might bridge a connection between two otherwise distantly connected alums.
At this point, reflection and self-assessment becomes inevitable. A profile is by default visible to others and can shape a more vivid representation of one’s professional interests and qualities than can a resume alone. Through this frame, LinkedIn appears as a useful tool for discerning unique strengths—the combination of networks (connections), skills (endorsements) and knowledge (content). This is relevant to the ABD doctoral candidate in a number of small, but meaningful ways. Generally speaking, it’s a nice refocusing from the intense—and to some degree necessary –tunnel-vision attendant to research and writing. It reminds the doctoral candidate of a wider world and the possibility of other career paths. Specific to my own dissertation, it’s a useful though experiment about the way that media and genres shape personal representation of the individual, but you don’t have to be an doctoral candidate in English Literature to be reminded of the one of the greatest resources of the university—the diverse and intelligent people with which we’re surrounded with here at the University of Pennsylvania and the value of these colleagues to all disciplines.
Ana Schwartz is a PhD candidate in English Literature specializing in genre and seventeenth century American writing. You can check out her common-place blog hosted by tumblr at http://www.m-d102.com.
by Panxin Jiang, W’13
Every semester around the time OCR rolls around, I discover that suddenly, a portion of my friends start disappearing from my Facebook chats and messages and these new contacts appear. We always hear horror stories about how employers checked up on a person’s Facebook profile and decided to not hire them or to retract their offer as a result of what they find. As a result, a number of people modify their names so that prospective employers would be unable to find them using social media.
However, what people need to realize is that you aren’t only recruiting during recruiting season. Headhunters and companies are constantly taking names and reaching out to prospective employees. We all have friends working for other companies who might suggest your name when a position becomes available. Recruiting does not just occur when you are actively seeking a job, but also at times when you least expect it. Because of this, shouldn’t our online profiles reflect our best every day and not just days where we are actively seeking a job?
Our generation grew up in a world filled with social media. We are accustomed to posting photos on Facebook and tweeting our feelings on Twitter at our whim. In fact, it is difficult for me to imagine a time where we could not connect with friends via Facebook or Twitter. I often find myself deactivating from Facebook only to reactivate my profile a few hours later. And while there may be a number of benefits that social media brings into our lives, such as connecting with childhood friends who we haven’t seen in years and who live across the country, there are a number of disadvantages that we need to be wary of.
What you put on your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus, or any other form of social media will stay with you forever. You might put up a potentially risqué photo only to take it down a few seconds later because of the nature of the photo. However, in the time it took you to delete it, a person, maybe a prospective employer, may have downloaded that photo onto their computer. Once you upload a photo onto the internet, you lose control of who has access to that photo.
Privacy settings may help, but in a world where we all know someone who knows someone, all it takes is a favor and everything on your profile could be leaked out to a company. Because of this, the best way to avoid having potentially damaging photo appear on your profile on any other social media site is to not put it out there for the world to see.
So, the next time you log into any social media platform that you use, look at your profile and think about whether it really reflects who you are and whether your profile is what you want portrayed about you. Who knows, it might even impress someone and land you a job.
Panxin Jiang is a senior at the Wharton School concentrating in Accounting, Finance, and Real Estate. Asides from social media, she enjoys shopping, cooking, baking, and exploring all that Philly has to offer. You can find her on LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Facebook.