LinkedIn and the ABD Graduate Student

by Ana Schwartz

abd_mugFor 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

Day in the Life: Research at Tulane University’s Anthropology Department

We’re excited to welcome Dr. Melinda G. Nelson-Hurst, Ph.D to @PennCareerDay on Tuesday, March 12th.  Throughout the week of March 11th, we’re going to focus on careers in education from K-12 to policymaking to research, as a follow up to our Education and Social Services Career Day on February 27th.  To learn more about Dr. Nelson-Hurst’s bio read below, and be sure to follow her on the 12th!

@PennCareerDay_TulaneResearchDr. Melinda G. Nelson-Hurst is a research associate in the Department of Anthropology and an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Classical Studies at Tulane University.  She completed her Ph.D. in Egyptology (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Graduate Group) at the University of Pennsylvania, where her doctoral work and publications focused on the social history of the Middle Kingdom period of Ancient Egypt.  This work particularly centered on the part that family played in shaping the administration of the period, as well as on the social and religious roles that different family members fulfilled.

Since 2012, she has been conducting a research project on the “Tulane Mummies” collection at Tulane University (a small collection that includes multiple Egyptian artifacts, as well as two mummies).  This most recent project has brought her Egyptological background together with new research into the modern history of the Egyptian artifacts now at Tulane – and into the history of the discipline of Egyptology itself – in order to answer questions about this enigmatic collection.

As both a research associate and an adjunct assistant professor, Dr. Nelson-Hurst’s time at Tulane University is typically divided between teaching and research on a variety of topics.  However, during the current semester she is focusing entirely on research, most especially that on Tulane’s Egyptian collection.

Day in the Life: Biomedical Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Penn

To follow up our Biomedical Career Fair held on October 3rd, we welcomed Dr. Caleph Wilson to @PennCareerDay on Twitter for two days, Tuesday, October 9th and Wednesday, October 10th.  Dr. Wilson, also known as @HeyDrWilson, talked about his work as a Biomedical Postdoctoral Research Fellow here at Penn.  It was a great opportunity to learn about this path, whether you’re a current PhD candidate, a postdoc or an undergrad interested in biomedical research.   To learn more about Dr. Wilson, read his bio below, and check out his tweets on our Storify page.

Dr.CalephWilson Dr. Caleph B. Wilson is a postdoctoral scholar in the Abramson Cancer Research Institute and the Department of Microbiology of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.  Dr. Wilson investigates immunological therapies to develop treatments for cancer and HIV infections.  Specifically, his work seeks to genetically modify patient T cells, and transform the T cells to more effectively kill HIV infected cells and malignant tumors.

Before coming to Penn, Dr. Wilson earned his doctorate in Pathobiology at the University Park Campus of the Pennsylvania State University and his undergraduate degree in Biology from Alcorn State University.  Through engaging in investigative research as an undergraduate, graduate student and postdoc, Dr. Wilson has fully immersed himself in the biological sciences, fulfilling his lifelong goal to investigate and eliminate human diseases.  In addition to his laboratory studies, Dr. Wilson is also a co-chair of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council.  As co-chair he seeks to represent University of Pennsylvania postdocs on campus, in the local community and nationally.

Receiving great mentoring has been a major cornerstone of Dr. Wilson’s progression from a small southern town to producing scholarly work at the University of Pennsylvania.  As a result, he has prioritized mentoring undergraduates, graduate students and fellow postdocs.  He envisions that the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields will lead all future industries in the U.S. and globally.  This interest in the development of the future of STEM drew Dr. Wilson to follow policy developments in the scientific world. He took this interest one step further and last year served as a Public Policy Fellow for the American Association of Immunologists.

Overall, Dr. Wilson hopes to impact society by developing successful therapies to eradicate cancers and HIV infections.  Further, he seeks to cultivate and support talented students into STEM fields and assist them in becoming lifelong scientists.

Day in the Life: Program Analyst at the Office of the Inspector General of HHS

What is it like working for a government agency? What about alternatives to academe for PhD graduates?  Russ Tisinger, PhD, answered these questions when he posted to @PennCareerDay about his career at the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  This was a great opportunity to also get more information on careers with the government following our Policy and Government Career Fair on Friday, September 28th. To learn more about this Annenberg alum, read his bio below.  To read his @PennCareerDay feed, visit our Storify page.

Russ Tisinger is a program analyst at the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), which fights waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare, Medicaid and more than 300 other HHS programs.  He earned a Ph.D. from University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.  Before attending Annenberg he worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C. for Congressional Quarterly and The Center for Public Integrity.

Day in the Life: Business Development Leader at The Dow Chemical Company

There are a wide range of opportunities for alumni, undergrads, grads and ph.ds alike.  This semester we have highlighted a ton of these options through our alumni on @PennCareerDay.  To check out their feeds, visit our Storify page here.  We are excited to wrap up our semester by looking at life in Business Development at The Dow Chemical Company with alum, Matt Quale, on Tuesday, April 24th!  Matt will discuss a day in his life, and will address how he collaborates with Ph.D’s that chose industry over academe.  To learn more about Matt, read his bio below and remember to follow him on your last day of class!

Matt Quale is a Business Development Leader in the Ventures & Business Development group at The Dow Chemical Company.  Matt is responsible for rapidly assessing and cultivating strategically enabling technologies and new business opportunities to drive Dow’s growth strategies.  As the commercial lead on a collaborative team including a technology and finance partner, Matt focuses on the commercial aspects of new business development projects including market evaluation, industry trends, risk assessment and business model development.

Leading up to his current role, Matt graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1998 with a Bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering and joined ExxonMobil where he worked on hydroprocessing research.  In 2000, Matt joined the Rohm and Haas Electronic Materials Business where he worked on Product Development, Technical Service, and Plant Support for the slurry products used in processing semiconductor wafers.  Then in 2005 he moved to the Coatings Business where he led two process development groups.   In 2009, Matt received an MBA from Villanova University and became the Global Process Automation Technology Leader for Dow Coating Materials (Dow acquired Rohm and Haas in April of 2009) where he led a global team of Process Automation practitioners.

Outside of work Matt serves on the Penn Engineering Alumni Society Board and enjoys photography, playing volleyball and soccer, and spending time outdoors with his wife and daughter.