Academics: how not to lose your personal style in the era of social media

As a University Professor in a huge Department (last year we accepted the insane, unreasonable number of ~300 freshmen in Physics) my personality, style and habits are greatly exposed to my students. “He said this”, ” he did that”, “He was unshaved”, “he came in class with sneakers” and many more comments WAY FAR from the level of academic integrity and teaching efficiency that I have often become the main subject of conversations, especially when stereotypes (such as those nicely depicted in PhDcomics) are violated.

On top of that, social media is everywhere. All students have immediate access to Facebook, twitter, instagram and so many more sites that are hungry for content. And “easy” is their specialty. It does not take long for anything “odd” or “annoying” (eg failing grade in a lab) to appear, usually with a cheesy comment, in some medium that will attract Likes by several people. The nastier the comment, the more attractive it becomes. Especially in student communities gossiping is boosted exponentially by spicy commentary and thriving very fast.

So, how can an academic protect him/herself from such events? Can you just ignore such behaviors and continue to live your life? How much should you be exposed in social media, especially if you use them as educational means? Is there any red line where nasty comments become violations of personal life at a level where one should officially ask for countermeasures?

I have no definite answers to all the above. Despite the fact I am very exposed to students promoting openness in both educational and personal level, in an attempt to grow trust between the two interacting sides and strengthen the link that will benefit the educational process, I avoid following comments about my style or personality on social media. Occasionally, I become aware of bitter “personal stories” (usually after exam grades are posted) and nasty comments. I think of them as immature reaction that will fade out shortly after the first rush of adrenaline. So I pay no attention. But some other comments, strictly coming up as gossip about my appearance, my balding top, my old laptop or whatever in those lines, find me asking myself if there is some reason behind them that I should care about in the near future. Believe me, I resist. But still, I think about it.

After some time and quite some thinking, I have crystalized a few principles that I stick to when dealing with such events:

  • People are good and bad. Listen carefully to both and stick only to what good people have to say about you
  • Do not downlevel yourself to the level of students. You are supposed to be the mature one.
  • When posting to social media, incorporate academic integrity and scientific value. They will last till the universe falls.
  • Never, NEVER, backfire whatever the style of the comment is.

And as always in life: be yourself. Originality never loses value. Good luck to you, too!