Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In My Facebook

The end of the academic year is sort of getting close(r), and so it is time to Review Things. Yesterday we reviewed my progress, such as it is, in my language class. Today we will review my evolving Facebook Philosophy, which has recently been updated (4 minutes ago).

When I first started getting involved in the FB universe, I consulted more savvy colleagues, including one who had spent a lot of time thinking about FB in the context of professor-student interactions. He told me that the #1 Rule is to accept all friend requests from students, but never send a friend request to a student. So that's what I did.. for a while.

Now I ignore this rule: I no longer 'friend' my students. There was no specific incident that made me change my mind; I just didn't enjoy it or find it interesting or useful, and I doubt if the students did either. As long as my students know that I don't accept any such requests and am not singling anyone out to be a friend vs. not a friend, no one seems to mind (or care).

My colleague (who is actually a friend in real life) teaches at a small liberal arts college, and perhaps that is an important difference between our FB experiences as professors. He and his students spend a lot of time together, take goofy pictures of each other in the department and post them on FB, and in general have more actual out-of-classroom experiences that make the virtual out-of-classroom interactions more meaningful.

I have other colleagues at Big Research Universities like mine who friend all students who send them a request and they end up with hundreds of student-friends, but that type of FB ecosystem is not for me. I have fun with FB and various groups of real friends from various phases of my life, past and present, but so far I remain unconvinced that I need this type of relationship with undergraduate students in the courses I teach or that my students really want me to see the pictures from the parties they went to last weekend.

I think it is a good thing if students see their professors as real people with real lives outside the classroom and with non-academic interests, but Facebook isn't how I want to convey that information to my students. Also, my status updates tend to be bizarre, and that might be counterproductive.

29 comments:

engineer girl said...

Hey, I came across your blog looking for advice about grad. school and trying to see if academic reseerch is something I want to do...and it's definitely been helpful to see what a professor's job is like. If you have a few moments to spare, I had some questions. I was wondering, what's a typical "day in the life" like for you...like an hour by hour breakdown kinda thing? Is most of your time spent on writing grants, or on being in the lab doing experiments with students?

-female engineer undergrad at large research university, soon to be Masters student, trying to decide between the PhD/Academia route and industry

Kris said...

It may be useful to keep a 'student' FB account, as I find many students now don't read/reply to email. They can all be friended, but no need for them to be involved in the typical circle of friends comments. It means the more student-science related posts go there (things related to the courses or of science interest that more experienced friends saw 10 years ago ...). For me this has been a good compromise solution.

female Science Professor said...

I considered that option but I really don't want to use FB for student communication.

Prof-like Substance said...

I'm with you. I have a FaceBook account, but have made it clear that I'm not interested in being FB friends with my students, grad or undergrad. Having talked to grad students who are friends with their advisor on FB I think I made the right decision. What they thought was a good idea at first has left them weary of what to put on their accounts and changed what they include. Despite the fact that I am good friends with my grad students in real life, I don't need to intrude on their social lives to that degree (nor they on mine).

Mrs. CH said...

Could you instead make a "group" for the class? That way, you're not "friends" with them, but you are able to keep in contact with them on FB. You could post info about assignments and exams, and students could ask questions or post study groups, etc.

Another benefit of that is the students can leave the group once they finish the course, and other students can join.

Anyway, just a thought!

right-wing prof said...

I don't want my students to see what I write on Facebook. However I always keep in mind the possibility that they might. Google the foolish religion professor at Dartmouth who didn't realize here profile was public until it was too late.

female Science Professor said...

I repeat: I have no interest in interacting with my students via FB, not as a group, not as anything. I tried it. Maybe I should have tried more, but at this point I see no reason to.

Moonjava said...

I agree with you and I'd probably do the same. I don't even friend strangers or make myself available for searching other than friends to friends.

I'm also from a large university (PhD student), and I would never try to friend a professor, that would be a little weird to be privy to their lives or vice versa. I've seen past GSIs but still can't bring myself to friend them.

a physicist said...

I have found becoming FB friends with undergrads who (1) have worked in my lab and (2) have now graduated and moved on, has been a nice way to keep in contact with them. I'm less keen on being FB friends with current students in classes I'm teaching, but it hasn't been a big issue yet.

All FB users (students and faculty) should look into the privacy settings, you can sort your friends into groups and then restrict what each group can see. This should help those who want a bit of privacy between students & faculty (in either direction).

Curt F. said...

female engineer undergrad at large research university, soon to be Masters student, trying to decide between the PhD/Academia route and industryI apologize to the threadjack, but I just wanted to compliment engineer girl on her formulation of her choice. The Masters degree is a great jumping off point for deciding whether industry or academia is for you! (At least in engineering.)

My sense is that a few too many people defer on this decision until they are post-docs or graduating Ph.D. students.

Kevin said...

I've never seen the point of Facebook, so don't have an account. This makes the friend/not-friend decision easier.

I do have to decide whether or not to acknowledge connections on LinkedIn, though, which is hard enough. I get requests from people whose names I vaguely remember, but whom I have no real recollection of. I generally ignore these. Despite that, I have too many connections. Luckily, LinkedIn now lets me make a note for each connection so that I have a chance later of figuring out who the person is.

John V said...

It's fun to keep a FaceBook page just to watch the trends in how it is used. I "friend" any requesters I recognize, and occasionally make uncontroversial remarks.

It's not an efficient way to communicate, there are always better alternatives.

I was surprised to get a FaceBook message this morning apologizing from someone who didn't return a call and suggesting a conference call this morning. I've no idea why he didn't email like the rest of the world, what if I didn't forward messages to email?

slac said...

As a rule, I will only accept Facebook friend requests from students who will not have another class with me. In grad school this has been easy since I only teach a couple of courses, but as a professor at a liberal arts college it will likely mean waiting until graduation. This allows Facebook to serve its intended purpose: keeping up with people you've gotten to know who you don't see on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

I am curious FSP - what did you do to the students that you already had as friends on FB? Did you kick them off your friends list? If so, did you explain to them why you're doing this? And if not, don't you think future students could feel you're treating them unfairly?

Karen said...

Ah, but I would absolutely "friend" you if I knew who you were. I'm much enjoying this blog, particularly because this is my first year as a female science professor on the tenure track.

By the by, I don't friend my students or accept their friend requests.

Greg said...

Funny, I was just trimming all my students out of my friends list just before I cam here to read your latest posting. :)

Anonymous said...

Facebook has tons of privacy options -- you could still friend all the students and just give them very limited access to your profile.

female Science Professor said...

I REPEAT: I have no interest in interacting with my students via FB, not as a group, not as a pod, not as a separate student swarm with special privacy settings, not as anything.

Anonymous said...

This is not related to this post, but to "engineer girl"'s post asking " I was wondering, what's a typical "day in the life" like for you...like an hour by hour breakdown kinda thing?"

As a professor in science, I would say that one of the top reasons why I like to be a professor is because I don't have a "typical day". I would die of boredom if I had a job with a typical day, and I truly enjoy the fact that my "typical days" change often as I teach different classes, get involved in different collaborations, get new students, undergrads, postdocs, etc.

Greg said...

FSP, you are starting to sound like a broken record. Wonder why people don't read the comments before they post. I have recently come to the same conclusion as you. I have no desire to interact with my undergraduate students on FB.

I have not removed my graduate students and some of my former undergraduate research students yet. I am curious if your lack of desire to FB (is that a new verb?) extends to your graduate students.

billie said...

I'm surprised by how many commenters have suggested that it would be a good idea to create special groups or accounts specifically for interacting with students. Unless you were especially interested in creating such a venue for communication, why is this necessary?

I am a junior faculty member who teaches an introductory class of 350 students and I will often get friend requests during the first week of class. Surely these students are not crushed when I click ignore to their friend requests... I am very open to seeing these students before and after class, in my office, as I walk across campus, etc., but my FB account is for me and my personal life, not for work.

Anonymous said...

"The Masters degree is a great jumping off point for deciding whether industry or academia is for you! (At least in engineering.)

My sense is that a few too many people defer on this decision until they are post-docs or graduating Ph.D. students.
"

FWIW, I'm an engineer too who did MS first and then decided to go into academia so did PhD. Now, after many years as a postdoc, i.e. 'overdoc', I'm regretting my choice and trying to go into industry.

I don't think the MS necessarily helps clarify your career choice of industry vs. academia. Sure it will help immediately if you end up realizing that academia is NOT for you. But if you instead find that you want to go into academia, it still may not be a wise choice given how untenable academic careers are becoming these days.

Female Science Grad Student said...

wow ... it somehow never occurred to me that professors might be on facebook... I always saw it as some kind of student thing. But not that you mention it ... I searched for some of the professors in my department - but didn't find anyone. Maybe they are hiding?

Once google showed me my advisor's profile from a different networking site, where I also have an account. But I didn't friend him. I thought that would be strange.

female Science Professor said...

Random comments on comments:

re. typical days: I don't have a typical day either, and that's part of what I like about this job. Sure there is a sort-of routine related to teaching and meetings and various deadlines that are always at the same time each year, but mostly there is variety of the interesting sort.

re. professors on FB: A fast-growing segment of the FB population is middle-aged people, especially women. I interact with my college and high school friends via FB, just like real people do.

Sam said...

"...not as a pod, not as a separate student swarm with special privacy settings, not as anything."

LOL - as I am about to go upstairs and teach one of the last classes of the semester, I now have the most awesome visual of my students as pod-people in a swarm... and it fits them!

Thanks for making me laugh!

Thomas Joseph said...

I've successfully avoided this issue by refusing to get a Facebook account.

helena.heliotrope said...

As a student, I don't want to be facebook friends with my professors. They might realize that I sometimes skip class for no reason.

Honestly, I'd find it really obnoxious if a professor made some sort of a Class Group - I'd feel obligated to join, but would also feel obligated to censor myself (ie: no more complaining about that project at 4a the night before it's due.) And some students don't use facebook, or attempt to limit their internet use - it seems like they'd miss out on stuff.
So, all around, I applaud your decision.

Jackie M. said...

You should start an FSP twitter account so the rest of can see how bizarre your allegedly bizarre status updates actually are.

Anonymous said...

i'll reiterate the comments above for engineer girl... the flexibility and lack of a "typical day" in academia is good: you can work whatever 60 hours per week you want to.