Graduate Junction, what’s your function?
[Kudos if you got the Schoolhouse Rock reference.] I’ve gotten a few messages now about the Graduate Junction, a social networking site developed to help postgraduate students. After noting it was endorsed by Durham, I decided to give it a try to see what it’s all about.
Update: see Dan’s comment below for further discussion.
The site’s goal is to facilitate academic networking, which is often an under appreciated aspect of academic professions. Users have a CV-like profile page describing their research interests and accomplishments. They are able to join groups reflecting their research and post to forums for advice about all aspects of PhD life. Users can send messages to one another and even (in the future) set up a calendar for conferences.
Does it sound familiar? It should. In many ways it’s just an academic version of Facebook. (“Academic” here means “without embarrassing photos.”) In fact, the whole interface can probably be reproduced on Facebook.
I support the community that Graduate Junction is trying to foster, but I have my reservations about whether it can successfully take off. It requires a large number of users to be useful. This is very much like Wikipedia. Why does Wikipedia have no competitors? Because of economies of scale. (Look it up in an econ textbook.) If there were two Wikipedias, each one would be worse off because they would only have half the capacity to develop articles.
In the same way, a lot of the social features in the Graduate Junction already exist elsewhere for theoretical physics PhDs, making it largely redundant:
- Social networking: “old style” networking through advisers and conferences. (I find this preferable to Facebook, see note below.)
- Profile/CV: Personal web page (you should have one), SPIRES HEP Names
- Advice forums/articles: PhD comics forums, also items at the AAAS, Chronicles of Higher Education, Institute of Physics, and many more
- Career Information: Rumor (Rumour) Mill, Postdoc Rumor Mill, SPIRES Jobs
- Conference Information: CERN Document Server
- Review Literature: String Wiki
Why not Facebook? Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think that searching for collaborators should work the same way that one searches for a new iPod. It should be more like finding the right pair of shoes: while reputation is a start, you actually need to try it out a bit with the guidance of an adviser. This is why we give talks and why conferences have discussion time. There’s much more to a good collaborator than a shiny CV. Research projects need to be taken seriously so that we can’t afford to find collaborators the way one would find an on-line date (which is itself is already somewhat dubious).
So with that I’d have to say that Graduate Junction still needs to develop a larger user base and determine what “new” feature it brings to the table before it can become useful.
For example, they could try to copy Facebook’s “poke” feature, only reimagined as “scoop.” (“You’ve been scooped by ___. Would you like to scoop back?“) 🙂
Filed under: Opinion, Student Life | 3 Comments