I have seen this particular issue evolve and come into its own over the last couple of years – not only as an assistant professor – but also as a doctoral student. With the wave of course we are seeing with more integration of social media in all aspects of life – whether it is for professional or personal reasons – we are using it both in and out of the classrooms as educators.

Which brings up this point – is it time to come to the profession and say – hey, we need to rebrand what it means to be a professor in the 21st century? I bring this up because I have on many occasions been asked what I do for a living. When I say “I am a professor” – the response I get usually runs the line of “you don’t look like a professor” or “really? what do you teach?” Then of course I reply talking about PR, social media, and crisis communications.

I do think social media is a field that crosses not only age cohorts when it comes to the academic side, but I also in practice as well. So, with this in mind, I do believe we have to consider rebranding – both to our field as well as to society – what a professor is and what they do in the 21st century.

Here are some of my ideas on how we can rebrand what the perception is for a professor, and some items I would want to share with students (and friends) who are in their PhD program to think about and consider:

  • Social media is mandatory: Professors not only have to be on social media, but they have to be engaged with it. They have to view it as another form of communication in reaching many audiences and not only showcase what they are doing professionally, but also what they are doing in and out of the classroom. I believe social media needs to be integrated into all classroom discussions. Where else can you share and connect students with others in the field? Bring in leading experts into the classroom to elevate the discussion on the topic at hand? Hold office hours and answer questions?
  • Having a blog is essential: We have heard many times how it’s hard to “bridge the gap” with academics and professionals – at least this is a recurring conversations I hear a lot from my friends in PR. However, a blog allows that bridge to happen. Write about current issues and topics you are working on and discuss how these findings can be applied and viewed in various examples (campaigns, case studies, etc).
  • Adding on to the conceptualization of what it means to be a professor: We are the best people to do this – in order to rebrand what it means to be a professor, we have to set the example and embrace it. We have to wear many hats like our students who are entering the workplace. We have to be reachers, teachers, mentors, consultants, writers, and even visionaries. We have to embrace these new rules and figure out how we are going to integrate them all together to formulate our own personal brand.
  • Your office is of course there, but your office should be out in the world and online: We have to consider where we view our “office” to be as a professor. Yes, I do have a physical office, but my office is also operated when I correspond and address questions online through social media for my students. It’s also on a video chat sessions for office hours where this could be during where I am abroad for a conference. We have to be stable and mobile at the same time – and be prepared to do our work in multiple venues and formats.
  • Don’t be afraid of doing something that is not on the “normal” PhD path: I have heard over the years from various people about what PhD students and professors should and should not do. Some ranged from not having a blog, or take time to consult, or even go to other conferences that are not in your field.
  • Set the stage yourself and take ownership of the microphone: Don’t wait for others to promote your work. You are your own media outlet, and you need to take ownership of your work and be able to share it through these various channels. To be marketable today, you have to invest in your future. Explore other ways to get your POV on research and teaching and even consulting out that has not been done. Go to conferences in other disciplines – you may get inspired by new ideas and make new connections. You may also make connections professionally that could lead to more opportunities down the road. I did all three of these options, and I have to say that while it may have been viewed as not going down the traditional route, it has allowed me to get some amazing opportunities professionally and personally I would not have had otherwise. It’s all about rebranding your own profession as well as reframing your point of view of what it means to be a professor.

In essence, all professions face evolution as society and technologies change. We are facing a lot of challenges with the tough economy, and what we have to do as professors is to be able to determine how we can rebrand ourselves to adapt to these growing changes and trends. It’s not about changing everything we are all about as professors, but it is about adding more tools, skills, and characteristics to enhance our own profession brand to become stronger and sustainable.

Hope you all are having a great day!

Best Wishes,
Karen