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Mentorship through #AcademicTwitter: Finding a home in criminology

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Mentorship through #AcademicTwitter: Finding a home in criminology

Throughout my life, I had always thought and felt that colleges and universities were bustling places. Students playing frisbee on the quad in between study sessions or eagerly attending classes, and professors engaging in teaching and professional activities that reflected the true purpose of the institution they serve. My own college memories from Notre Dame, the University of Pennsylvania, and Rutgers University only reinforced those beliefs, and they were one of the driving forces behind my decision to pursue a career in academia.


In the first part of my professional career as a high school Spanish teacher, I was blessed with colleagues who were my support system, my inspiration, and now, many are my lifelong friends. While taking graduate courses during that time, I viewed my professors as those who imparted knowledge, guided the way for their students, and engaged in meaningful research that had clear implications for public policy and change. I often saw them in collegial, friendly interactions with their students and each other, and I wanted to be a part of a community like that.


When I accepted my first academic job as an assistant professor of criminology at Saint Vincent College, I packed up my home, resigned from the only professional position I had ever known, and left my friends and family to begin a new chapter of my life 250 miles away. I wrote before about the challenges I faced and the rigor of the new position, but it was difficult to grapple with the loneliness that I felt both personally and professionally. My colleagues in the department were supportive and collegial, administrators and my peers at the college were welcoming, and my students were eager, but, at the end of the week, I was alone. I joked to my mom that I would often go from Thursday to Monday without talking to another person face-to-face (My main memory from that time was worrying that I was entirely too eager to talk to the cashier at the grocery store). That was, of course, pre-COVID, but I felt lonely in a new place with no friends to call my own.


It’s been four and a half years since then, and I've developed closer friendships and relationships. But envisioning my role in the discipline more broadly, I think I’ve always felt alone. Maybe it’s a symptom of imposter syndrome, but I have always viewed myself as a tangential person to the more prominent criminologists and the field, as if I were of criminology but not in it. I watched from the outside as others did important work, and I was just working to maybe get there one day. I had friends in criminology through my graduate programs, but I was young in the field, didn’t have many publications to my name, and was, frankly, a nobody. I blamed myself for that. I hadn’t written anything of importance to the field, and I didn’t “put myself out there” enough to create strong relationships with the “heavy hitters” in the field. So, I just went about my business, teaching, researching, reading, and finding new ways to entertain myself in the elusive moments of non-work.


I suppose I can openly admit that I only became active on Twitter to see what people were saying about The Bachelorette (don’t judge me) in real time, but then I stumbled upon #AcademicTwitter. I started small by following people that I knew and many that I didn’t. I just sort of creeped on their pages, watching them tweet about their work and their personal lives, the latter humanizing them and reminding me that they’re people who have interests other than research. However, in the time since the pandemic began with all of the emotion and stress, criminology Twitter became something of a home for me, and I jumped in feet first. I developed professional relationships, engaged in collaboration opportunities, and learned new pedagogical approaches.


These relationships—and, as I will proudly call them, friendships—have reinvigorated my passion for research and teaching, reminded me that I am, in fact, part of the criminology community. They have shown me that I am someone with a voice and valuable perspectives to share in my discipline. These amazing people who have graced me with their time, their opinions, their encouragement, and their humor are my mentors. They’re tenured and non-tenured professors, doctoral students, department chairs, activists, educators, editors, leaders, warriors, and, to speak to the theme of this series, mentors. They have shown me that my role as a criminologist is not simply about citations or publications, but that there are many different ways to be useful and meaningful in our field.


These friendships have demonstrated that mentorship can take a variety of different forms. As a doctoral student, I thought of it as a tired old man editing my papers. I don’t know where I came up with this idea, but I think it also lived in the same space as what I thought my role as an academic would be. Now, I believe that mentorship is helping others navigate the best and worst parts of academia, amplifying voices of those in our discipline, and pushing back against the old traditions that have kept so many of us lonely in our own fields. In this sense, mentors are those who have supported and guided me through academia, and they have been in a variety of roles, not simply senior tenured faculty.


I value these friendships and my mentors more than I ever could have imagined. They share in my achievements, understand my frustrations, and amplify my work. I can’t help but note that one of my mentor’s catch phrases is “What can I do to help?” Every time one of us shares a problem, that’s her first response, and it’s illuminating. She’s said it no less than twenty times since I’ve known her, and it warms my heart every time. She and others have shown, over and over again, that they are helpful, supportive, and compassionate, and academia would undoubtedly be better if more were like them.


I’m proud to stand with them in a variety of ways, and these relationships have served both my students and me in ways that are already innumerable, even in a relatively short time. These mentors have surely enhanced my scholarship and my CV, but they have also enriched my life and given me purpose in the discipline. They introduced me to the term “being a Care Bear” in the field (reminding me to be nicer and less jaded), and they have also shown me that resistance, change, and progress is so much easier with a team of brilliant, motivated, and supportive mentors. The vast majority of my mentors from #AcademicTwitter have been women, and they have proven repeatedly that they use their own experiences to support and elevate others.


I recently had the opportunity to participate in an online conference panel to discuss how #AcademicTwitter has affected me, and by the end of it, I felt like I was giving an acceptance speech at the Oscars, because I simply can’t talk enough about these relationships. Time and time again, we see just how terrible the internet can be, but I will always proudly scream from the mountaintops that Twitter led me to feeling a sense of home and belonging within my own field with these mentors.


Most of all, though, I can say that I’m not lonely anymore. These relationships have become more than just networking. They’re hope. They’re support. They’re humor. They’re empowerment. My mentors and friends have reinvigorated my desire to effect change in criminology in a variety of different ways and reminded me that I can and should do the same for others. Whether we’re texting about a funny TikTok or the latest episode of The Bachelor (again, sorry not sorry), sharing opportunities and collaborating, or reminding each other of our worth, I will forever be grateful to my mentors. They let me know me that I belong, and to answer my own question from April 2019, yes, I am good enough.


This is dedicated to my mentors, and although I have varying levels of personal and professional relationships with them, they are my colleagues, collaborators, role models, and my friends: Maria João Lobo Antunes, Breanna Boppre, Jordana Navarro, Rebecca Stone, Eryn O’Neal, Shelly Clevenger, Shon Reed, Breea Willingham, Jaclyn Schildkraut, Christina DeJong, Shelby Scott, Ashley Blinkhorn, Leanne Havis, David Garlock, Sarah Trocchio, Sherah Basham, Danielle Slakoff, Sean K. Wilson, Reveka Shteynberg. My sincerest apologies if I have forgotten anyone here. Please know that it’s due to fatigue and not a lack of appreciation.


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Published on: Feb 02, 2021

Assistant Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe
See more from Sarah Daly


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