Master's Student Shares Communication Tips, From Twitter to Elevator Pitch

November 3, 2020

Alex Johnson, who will take over The Graduate Center's Instagram account, talks about her studies and academic goals, and shares tips for other academics who want to become better communicators.

Alex Johnson
Alex Johnson

Alex Johnson, a master’s student, will take over The Graduate Center’s Instagram account on Wednesday, Nov. 11, to shed light on what it’s like to be a graduate student in a time of remote learning. Johnson is well-versed in social media; she runs the social accounts for the Center for the Study of Women and Society (CSWS). She also works as an editorial assistant at Feminist Anthropology and an intern at Women’s Studies Quarterly

She told The Graduate Center about her studies and academic goals – and shared tips for other academics who want to become better communicators. 

The Graduate Center: What is the focus of your studies? 

Johnson: I am a second-year student in the Women’s and Gender Studies master’s program at The Graduate Center, CUNY. I have a background in philosophy, and the focus of my work is in literary theory through a feminist lens. I am currently working on a thesis that critiques popular fantasy work for the ethical failures of representation and narrative, and all of my work centers around “ethical fiction.”

GC: What is one unexpected thing you learned in the course of your studies at The Graduate Center? 

Johnson: I wouldn't say that anything was necessarily unexpected, in terms of my courses. I will say that what was unexpected to me about the GC itself is the community that The Graduate Center offers; I had never expected to feel so supported, listened to, and respected as a student, but the GC and the CSWS have provided all of those things! 

GC: What are your goals after graduation?

Johnson: I am currently applying for Ph.D. programs in English Literature, with a concentration in Women's and Gender Studies or Critical Theory. In my dissertation, I am looking to work further on the idea of ethical fiction, seeking to answer these questions: What is ethical representation? How do fictional narratives impact real-life identity development? What is ethical fiction, and how can it be developed as a methodology of both criticism and praxis? How do responsibility and power tie into fictional creation, and where can ethics sit within that? How does unethical fiction create hermeneutical injustice for marginalized identities? 

GC: As someone who works with social media in academia, what advice do you have for other scholars who want to be more effective communicators?

Johnson: First, get a Twitter account! I work with a lot of scholars, authors, program directors, etc., and many do not have an online presence. If you want to get the word of your work out there, Twitter is a great place to build a community — #academictwitter is already a developed community and a great place to start. Plus, when you give talks or publish articles or books, you have a landing page for fans to find you, engage with you, and ask you questions, from all around the world. 

Second, develop an elevator pitch! If you're networking, whether on purpose or on accident, you are bound to get one question (in many different forms) over and over again — “what are you working on?” Being able to answer that question without hesitation, in two to three sentences, could open doors that you weren't even looking for in the first place. There are plenty of resources online about how to design your pitch; just make certain that it is simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. You can always explain in more detail once you've done the work to hook your audience in the first place.

Third, and perhaps most important, remember that what you're working on is probably not common knowledge. The likelihood that those outside of your field know the ins and outs of the language and research that you are working in is low to none. Talk things out with someone outside of academia, have them tell you what is confusing, then spend the time to simplify those points. I think one of the challenges that we in academia must face and must consider is accessibility and making at least the general or overreaching points of your research easy to understand is a small way to get people involved and educated around what you're working on.