Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Home Back Issues No. 72: Mentoring Young Post-Docs: Preserving Professionalism With Online Identities

Apr 18

No. 72: Mentoring Young Post-Docs: Preserving Professionalism With Online Identities

Posted by: admin in

Tagged in: Untagged 

Sponsored Message

Sign Up to receive free weekly articles like these

Mentoring Young Post-Docs: Preserving Professionalism With Online Identities

Reader question: I have a few post-docs who are very promising. But I’ve learned that they are posting rather controversial political and other opinions on an Internet blog. They use some salty language, too. The postings are not job- or lab-related, but they are linking to these blogs from their Social Media profiles. (These profiles include members of our lab.) I think this behavior is short-sighted. Their youthful fervor may come back to haunt them later because prospective employers may find these sometimes-vociferous opinions, which the post-docs may no longer hold. We all know nothing ever goes away on the Internet. Do I say anything? If so, what’s the best approach?

Expert Comments:As a mentor, you should talk to the post-doc directly and explain the choices — and consequences of those choices. This is also your role as a PI and leader in your lab.

Say something like: .

“On the Internet, your private opinions can be public because it’s all public speech. Think of it like standing on a corner and expressing your opinions. Anyone can pass by and know about you. .

“I’m not saying, ‘Don’t do it.’ But you should recognize that you’re expressing a perspective that others might not find attractive. Now colleagues or future employers are judging you on those private opinions and perspectives instead of your education, qualifications and work quality. If you believe strongly in a topic and post your opinions on the Internet, understand that there may be consequences of that. .

“Ultimately, it’s a question of what you want to be known for.” .

You should also mention that a future interviewer would probably find these writings. She might ask the candidate in an interview, “I’m curious why you chose to mention this in public.” The idea is to get them to think ahead about their public speech. .

As a mentor, you might also mention the positives of social media — talk about setting up a blog to express yourself on topics relevant to your area of expertise, networking with colleagues and sharing information relevant to your work group, for example. .

Although this controversial material is on the Internet forever, it’s not too late. You can do things to re-establish your professional credentials and move contentious websites lower on search engine results. Joining and presenting to professional associations, getting your name connected to your work, posting articles on your expertise on popular websites — all of these put a different, more professional message forward. .

To deal directly with social media issues and online etiquette, our university has purchased accounts for our students with brandyourself.com, which helps students elevate the Internet contributions for which they want to be known. In the past 10 years, these social media websites have offered many opportunities to connect with others, but the informal rules and etiquette are still being developed. .

Expert comments by Mike Cahill, Director of the Office of Career Services at Syracuse University in New York.

Comments (3)
written by Irritated Conservative, April 15, 2011
Probably shouldn't say this, but I haven't hired candidates because of a lack of online savvy. It was usually in the most extreme cases, and not just caused by political views. If someone puts extremely intolerant screeds on the Net (regardless of their political affiliation) under their own name, it tells me something about their savvy, fair-mindedness and foresight.

I'm not looking for play-it-safe, Casper Milquetoast-types -- don't get me wrong. But if you can't be tolerant of others' political opinions and can't demonstrate fair-mindedness, able to see things from several points of view, then you're probably going to say things in the office that are contentious. People need to realize that not everyone agrees with you.

That said, if it's something a few years old, written when someone was an undergrad or just starting out, I probably would ignore it as youthful indiscretion in all but the most extreme cases.
written by David E. Harrison, April 18, 2011
I think the expert comments and advice are too mild.
Online speech is far worse than a speech on a street corner - more like standing at a recording and broadcasting mike and expressing your opinions, so anyone, anytime in the future, can know everything about you that you have shared.
Everyone online should always assume that everything you put in email or anywhere else on the net is shared by everyone who wants to know about you for the rest of your life.

Post docs are not kids, but adults with adult responsibilities. Their blogs and social media not only may hurt them, but may hurt you. When you look for a promotion, etc. if you have enemies, they may show your postdocs' worst material and point out that you tolerated it.
Thus be careful to make clear both personally and in online writing that you have advised your postdocs to show some online common sense.

¥outh always wants to rebel against convention and shock their elders; perhaps your postdocs are trying to cling to receding youth. However, trying to shock your elders with your online writing suggests that you are thoughtless.
written by Victor, April 20, 2011
Not much of a controversy to me. As was mentioned, postdocs are adults. Your mentoring is pure professional; if you are not close personal friends, you are not supposed to lecture them on the use of the web and social media (which they generally know better than you). So, if their posts contain any information about your Lab and you personally, if it may have consequences for anyone in the workplace except for the postdoc himself, you should protest forcibly in very clear terms. If not (if it is purely about politics, arts, foul language, but is not job- or lab-related), it is not your business, not your responsibility, and even not your right to intervene. If there are consequences for him personally, let him cope with them himself.
BTW, in the modern litigious environment, nobody will thank you for your advice. Just the opposite, if he were denied a job or a promotion, you will be a prime suspect and culprit, I bet.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

Write the displayed characters