How to stand out (in academia) during COVID-19?

I am now in the middle of my first year of post-doc at ANU. COVID-19 has changed the world as we knew it. Even more so the academic world – no classes, no conferences and no research (for some. luckily, one of the advantages of being a computer nerd is that I was able to do research). Due to my chronic illness, I found myself in a “risk group” and couldn’t leave the house for several months (I still shouldn’t). As an aspiring academic aiming for a faculty position in one of the world’s top universities (you know who you are) I found myself facing a huge question :

How do I make sure to stand out now?

Doing cutting edge research is the first priority. However, standing out in conferences is not an option anymore. Before COVID, my YouTube channel was one of the things I had that only a few others in my position had. Now, almost every conference, talk, and paper are digitally online somewhere.

So I did the first thing anyone should do in a crisis – I adapted.

I realized that in order to stand out I need to develop some new skills. Luckily, two emails from ANU’s network for early career academics (NECTAR) couldn’t come sooner. The first said that LinkedIn learning is available (for free!) for ANU staff. The second had a short note about a “social media for researchers” #SOME course. Both emails were the kind that I would usually skim threw and quickly hit the delete button but there was something special about these two.

So I began my journey.

The first thing I did was to enrol into the online courses in
LinkedIn Learning. There is a lot to choose from! So I set a goal – I will increase the production quality of my academic online content. I saw too many youtube videos with bad sound, bad videos and bad presentations and I decided to be on the exact opposite side of this spectrum. In order to do that, I needed some tools – Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After effects, and more. I am still making my way through the courses but I already integrated some of the things I learned into our latest research and created a website I am really proud of (check out the IKEA assembly dataset page). I also never liked my profile picture and “improved” it a bit:

My first output from the photoshop course: My profile picture before (left) and after (right)

The second thing I did was to enrol into social media for academics #SOME course, taught by A/Prof. Inger Mewburn. It has only just begun but I can already feel the impact. I thought I had a well defined digital persona and online presence but the first lesson on “Branding for academics” (by none other than Inger’s twin sister Anitra Nottingham) helped me distil it to something that just feels right. Also, special thanks to Victoria Firth-Smith (which I am not sure what is her exact job title in this course, but I don’t think she is the kind of person that particularly likes titles so I guess it is fine) for letting everyone feel safe and welcome. I am going to dedicate a series of blog posts for the things I learn and my experience in this course.

It turns out that adapting takes time. I am not sure if the things I am doing are the right things to do but they sure feel right (and if not, at least it is fun). These are the things that feel right for me and may not apply to everyone.

The main take away from this blog post is – instead of trying to force the old ways to work in this new world, create new ways that work more naturally for you in it. Don’t engineer the answer – rephrase the question!