Professorial/Professional Branding

Professional identity, professionalizing into a discipline, and the acquisition of a professional self have been on my mind since I began an MA TESOL program back in 2009. I felt that to be successful I would have to be aware of the ways of being that were valued by my disciplinary community. I would need to learn how to do those things. Now, some may debate the degree to which I have been successful in doing this. Yes, I have a growing list of publications with increasingly more competitive outlets. But, I haven’t secured a coveted tenure-track job where I’d get to train new TESOL professionals. Yes, I have been recognized for my expertise in an area and invited to speak about it to others. But, it’s on a topic that has fallen from mainstream focus in writing centers—although it may be gaining interest in EFL contexts. So, have I branded myself successfully? Or, at all?

Today’s blog post is going to respond to a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article by Scott Talan, an assistant professor of communication at American University. In this article, “Is Professorial Branding for You? Yes, it is“, Professor Talan argues that all of us professionals, whether we like or not, are now a brand—our own personal brand. Fortunately, he doesn’t do the trite thing of discussing how to become a powerhouse brand—a Kaplan or a Chomsky or a Pinkert. But, he does give some crucial advice on how to build your professional brand. Much of this is tied to the vital role that the internet plays in finding and consuming information. So, he recommends carving out and carefully curating a brand presence online through a faculty bio page, a Twitter, a blog, an account, etc. All well and good, although I would point out a bit biased towards Western academics as there is little account for globally accessible platforms—keeping in mind things like Twitter and some blogging platforms are blocked in some parts of the world. Also, it doesn’t account for alternative, regional platforms. Wouldn’t it be wise for someone interested in global China studies to be on Sina-Weibo? Likewise, shouldn’t a scholar interested in language learning in Taiwan maintain some presence on Line? I suppose this would be part of the brand analysis that he recommends doing, but not even making a passing reference to this creates some issues for me as a critical reader.

Another thing he suggests is that you create a web of links to resources online to better control public perception. So, if someone videos your plenary address, link to it on your professional profile or faculty page. If your grad students snap photos of you at a conference, tweet them out to your followers. Now, a possible issue here is that it shuts out those of us who want to be professionals but fiercely guard our privacy. While this isn’t me—if anything I overshare, even before the first glass of wine—I do know junior professionals the fiercely guard their personal and online privacy. What are they to do? Are they to be left behind in this new age of the professional brand? It is possible that their CVs and local works will begin to speak for them. But, if the first thing a search committee does is google you, will they be left out?

He also encourages you to consider what emotion you evoke in others, which is all well and good. But, it’s his admonition to find what value you add that is troubling. In the modern university, faculty of all levels from adjuncts to full professors are being bled dry of their value. We perform countless service hours that don’t bring professional recognition or institutional reward—frankly, they don’t count for a hill of beans. And, if you sold the hill of beans, you’d at least turn a profit. Perhaps enough to buy a cold Dr. Pepper or Mr. Pibb. We also are bled of our “additional” value through the publication process. Yes, we must publish for promotion, for tenure, for professional development. But, we see little-to-no compensation for this labor. Those on the tenure-track may say that their publication work is part of their total compensation package. But, for those of us off the tenure-track, it’s a labor of love. So, the advice to start thinking about additional value-added leaves a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. My professional activities are the value I bring with me. But, they are also me. They are the performances of professional self that I offload onto the world and the world wide web. To encourage me to find more value that I add to the system is frankly an insulting over application of a capitalist metaphor. It invites predatory views of academics and their labor that can lead to further exploitation and marginalization. Honestly, it gives us words like teacherprenuer—suggesting it’s not enough to be a teacher, you have to find ways to monetize that teaching, even if it’s only the school system that benefits.

Now, there is a certain dissonance here. Despite how he framed his advice, I’m afraid I have to agree with some of it. I know that I certainly attempt to have a brand, although I don’t call it that. I share my publications and my presentations as widely as I can—on this blog, on Twitter, on—frankly, my friends get sick of the seemingly shameless self-promotion and naval gazing. But, I know that when I’m on the job market, or when people are considering if they want me to come give a talk, they’re looking me up online and I want to control the impression that I give them. I want to control, to the best of my abilities, that digital performance of professional self. So, what’s the middle ground here? How do we crack open this advice so that more can participate? How do we problematize this advice, and the professional environment in which it operates, so that we recognize as valid and valuable other ways of participating?

From the Archives: Advice to ALx Graduate Students

A long time ago, I was asked to write a guest blog giving advice to my fellow graduate students at Purdue University. You can read the original in all its youthful splendor (or naiveté) here.  In that guest blog post, which had the god-awful title of “Keys to the Graduate Kingdom”, I told my fellow graduate students to: (1) be willing to change; (2) be determined in their lives but patient while waiting for results; (3) become great actors (fake it ‘till you make it); (4) have people to turn to; and, (5) have filters—don’t just spew whatever nonsense comes to mind. I still stand by some of that advice, but it was given in situ; I was at that moment also a graduate student. Now, I’ve been out of graduate school for two years; during which, I have been a core member of the full-time faculty at a Sino-American joint venture university. So, as I was walking my dog this morning, I began to wonder, what advice would I give to graduate students today? What advice do I give to my graduate students from the Silver School?

Relish the Time Available to You

I can remember sitting in my initial advisor’s (Dwight Atkinson) cramped, windowless office in Heavilon Hall just needing him to sign off on a form that would allow me to take an additional .25 time position. I needed the extra pay to decrease potential reliance on student loans and to pay off a few credit card bills. He was cautious, worried that I would lose myself and that my academic performance would suffer. His final piece of advice was to make sure that I kept up with reading because there’s no place like graduate school to get up-to-date on the readings in your field and to stay up-to-date. At the time, I laughed it off. Of course, I would keep up with my readings! I loved reading and would always keep up with it, even after I took a full-time job.

Graduate students, let me tell you now, relish the amount of time that you have available during graduate school to read, read closely, and read widely! As a junior faculty member, I can tell you right now the first thing that becomes difficult to keep up with is an aggressive reading schedule. You might think, Oh, I’ll read during my commute. You’ll try to, but when you’ve taught three sections and had to use all your patience not to throttle a senior faculty member when they say something stupid about the L2 students at your university…You will not be reading on your commute home. You’ll be texting your spouse about how you want to be a stay at home dad. You’ll be looking at alt-ac jobs and dreaming of escape. You’ll be losing yourself belting out pop hits along with the radio. You won’t be reading.

You’ll think to yourself, I’ll read one article or chapter every day. That’ll keep me up to date. No, it won’t. In graduate school, you read so much. I can remember reading between 5-8 articles a day on the weekends, and a good 3-6 during the weekdays. One a day will not keep you up-to-date with the literature in your field. I have a backlog of about 20 readings that I still want to get through to be caught up in one of my sub-areas. And, as soon as I picked up my iPad to start reading, I realized that my conference is next week and I should really be preparing for that…

TL;DR: Enjoy the structured time in graduate school to read a lot and to develop strategies for staying up to date after you take a full-time gig.

Learn to Network

While I’ve always been passably social, I’ve never been overly good at networking. I’m still not. I’ve been in China for two years, and my professional network is still laughably small. Part of this is because while I was in graduate school, I just expected my professors to introduce me to people when we traveled together. Don’t do this. Learn to network on your own. Find out how to “casually” bump into people at conferences without sounding like some sort of love-struck fan, or self-indulgent creep. Don’t introduce yourself to your academic hero with a ten-minute dissection of their work and twenty-minute presentation on your own. Rather, be a human being. Sure, have an elevator summary of your work ready. But, just talk…make a human connection. Or, better yet, just listen at first. But, learn how to network.

You are a Young Professional

I know that student is still part of your official title, but in any other field, a highly trained 27-year old would be seen as a young professional. You are too. Keep that in mind. Act like one, and eventually, others will treat you like one. If, however, you decide to act as a listless student, you will only ever be treated like a junior professional. Act like a young professional and take ownership over your professional development. Know when to listen to your advisors and know that sometimes they won’t know what’s best for you. They haven’t lived your life up to this point. They can only advise, not make the decisions for you. But, know this, if you do go against your advisor’s guidance, have a well thought out rationale for your and link it very precisely to your desired professional development. And, again, in all things act like the young professional that you are.

Engage in Self-care

You might have outrageous demands on your time, but (spoiler alert) it doesn’t change once you graduate. You’ll still have others making insane demands on your time. It’s better to learn effective self-care while you’re in the relatively protected environment of graduate school as opposed to out in the I-need-this-paycheck real world. I’ve seen both graduate students and junior scholars run themselves ragged and burn out completely. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s not good for your career, and it’s certainly not healthy. Make time for yourself—to go to the gym, to watch trashy TV, to date, to do nothing. Also while you’re doing this grad-school thing, learn to laugh at yourself. It’ll make things much easier if you have a good sense of humor during all of this, too.

Finally, have fun with it. Graduate school is one hell of an adventure. There are days that I miss it terribly. Never miss the shite pay, but miss the people and the classes and the atmosphere.

Soochow Conference on English for Specific Purposes

So in November, I’ll be taking my first trip to Taiwan—perfectly planned to be just a few short days before a very quick trip back to the U.S. for University Senate. This year, I’ll be presenting on the professional writing course that I designed for the Global Masters in Social Work program at NYU Shanghai. I’ll be talking about how courses like this at the graduate level serve a higher purpose than just introducing students to notions of “good” writing and citation standards. Rather, they serve as key sites where students are exposed to the disciplinarily situated ways of deploying literate resources in order to both communicate with others while also constructing and performing a professional identity.

I’ve decided to share a working draft of the paper here (available through the link at the bottom of this post). Since it’s a working draft, there is still some need for editing and revision, which I’ll complete after I get feedback from the conference attendees. Once that’s done, I’ll upload a completed draft to my page.

Paper Title: Disciplinary Literacy and the Acquisition of Professional Identity: Professional Writing in a Sino-American Joint-Venture University.


Graduate education plays two crucial, concurrent roles. First, it facilitates the acquisition of professional language and ways of thinking through socialization into the discourse community of the discipline (Cho, 2013; Williams, 2010). Second, and related to the first, is scaffolds the acquisition of the literacy practices necessary to succeed in graduate school, as well as those needed to be functioning members of the student’s chosen profession (Casanave & Li, 2008). However, little work has examined how this literacy acquisition can facilitate the acquisition of a professional identity.

This paper examines the ways in which a professional writing seminar in social work was designed and delivered to make explicit the professional literacy practices of the field of social work. This seminar is part of the requirements for non-native English-speaking (NNES) students pursuing a Global Master’s in Social Work (gMSW) degree from a Sino-American joint-venture university in eastern China. This paper discusses how program administrators positioned the NNES students and how the course was designed to resist a deficit view of second language (L2) professional writing. It then discusses the evolution of students’ views towards professional writing as a critical site of professional identity performance.

To access a working draft of this paper, click here.

National Day Hiatus

During the first week of October, China celebrates National Day, a week of reflecting on the struggles and efforts that have given birth to modern China. My understanding of it is that it’s analogous to July 4th in the U.S. but longer! During the national day holiday, I’ll be traveling back to the U.S. to visit my spouse and to attend a series of shared governance meetings with NYU Shanghai’s parent campus (NYU Washington Square).

During this time, ALx (Re)Coded will be taking a brief hiatus so that I can focus my time on family and a few pressing conference/publication deadlines. When I get back to China on 9 October, I’ll pick up the blogging again by starting to dig into some of my recent work on graduate student professionalization and the acquisition of professional literacy and identity.


Personal Reflection: Language Learner, Language User

Today’s blog post is going to be a personal reflection, of course, colored by my position as a professional in the field of applied linguistics. This reflection has been kicked off by some experiences that I had while taking a short vacation with my husband a few weeks ago.

Allow me to begin by setting the scene. For those that don’t recall, my husband is a Chinese national that is living and working in the United States; while I am a U.S. national that is living and working in China. Recently, he decided to come to China to visit with his family in southwestern China. After that, he stopped by Shanghai for a few days so that we could go to Shanghai Disney; I could show him the city; and, of course, I could make him suffer through coming to work with me for a day. Afterwards, we headed off to Tokyo for a few days of exploring and experiencing someplace new. It was an exciting time, as neither of us had ever really been…a bit sad considering that I spent six years of my university experiences studying Japanese and designing research projects that either looked at Japanese ESL student writing, or that looked at JFL teaching methods. While we were in Japan, we decided it would be best if we had defined roles—to prevent any bickering. So, he was the navigator (since the maps want to load on his phone), and I was the communicator (since we hoped that some of the dormant Japanese would resurface). It was in this role as the communicator that some of what I talk about theoretically as an applied linguist really, truly came to life for me.

Language Attrition & Cognition

I have to admit that I was a bit shocked by just how much Japanese I have lost over the years. Or, more appropriately just how much has been replaced by Chinese. So many things that used to be automatic in Japanese I had to struggle to access. For example, we went to one restaurant, and the waitress asked us in Japanese how many people we had. I used to be able to respond to that without thinking, using the proper numeral form as well. Automatically, Liǎng wèi came out. This caused confusion each time it happened—whether it was asking for prices or just saying thanks. The automaticity of many of these phrases had switched to Chinese.

Which got me thinking about how linguistic, cognitive networks come into play as we navigate our ecosocial spaces. I was most certainly consciously aware that I was in a place that not an English dominant country. In my mind, I was hyperaware of the need to perform in a language other than English. However, when under pressure to perform, the cognitive machinery switched over to the most accessible non-English language meet this contextual need. It just happened to be the wrong one far too often. An interesting quirk that I noticed, even when I was hobbling together some Japanese and English when talking with people, like when I was trying to talk to a kid about how to find the nearest subway, the filler phrase was almost always zěnme shuō (how do you say in Mandarin).

For us to successfully navigate our short stay in Tokyo, I also had to make use of some extended cognitive affordances to make up for my lack of linguistic ability. This need was heightened by the fact that my spouse had a knack for picking places to eat that were not targeted at foreigners, which was great because we ate at a lot of restaurants that were popular with Tokyo denizens. So, for me to discharge my job as the communicator, I needed a few things. I needed my handy dandy phrasebook app, and I needed access to Google Translate. It was also super helpful when I had a patient and willing interlocutor, which seemed to be most people we engaged with. Using these three things, we managed quite well, much better than if we had just pointed and grunted. But, even with being able to use extended cognitive affordances (the apps and the internet) it was a cognitively and socially demanding task to not appear to be the rude foreigner. Something that was made even more complicated by the differing social scripts.

Social Scripts: Governing How to Behave

If you ever want to be reminded of the role that social scripts play in governing interaction, and social behavior just take public transportation wherever you are. My spouse and I got slapped in the face with this when we first started taking the metro in Tokyo. We were tired and on stimulus overload because of all the newness around us. The first couple of times walking through the subway stations and getting onto the trains, we were very much being driven by our dominant “public transit social scripts.” That is to say; we were doing things like we would in China. So, queueing is only really a thing until the doors open. Then it’s a rather free flow of people in and out of the trains. Also, when navigating the subway, it’s about moving quickly to get to your exit. This may mean weaving in and out the crowd.

We applied this social script when we first landed in Japan, which may have got us a few odd looks. This is because in Tokyo you, largely, wait until people have disembarked before you move your way onto the train. Also, you stay in your lane as you walk through the subway…in most places, this means staying to the right. Eventually, we got the hang of it. But, if we were overly tired, we defaulted back to the Chinese social script.

This got us thinking about how these social scripts might have emerged. For example, in post-WWII China, there was the cultural revolution, food shortages, and significant rationing. Some cultural anthropologists have posited that this means the social script for queueing in China is one where you must rush to get a limited supply. Japan received significantly more support from other nations during its post-war reconstruction, which helped alleviate some of these concerns. Certainly, there are other cultural forces driving these differences, but my spouse and I found this to be an interesting thing to consider.

Some Final “Fun” Bits

  1. It was exciting being in Japan where people actually know that my wrist tatoo says “Ganbare” and not just a string of random Chinese characters. The airport security guy was like, “AY! Ganbare! Good tattoo”. While my students are often like, “Um. You know that doesn’t mean anything, right?”
  2. It was fun “messing” with people in China. My spouse is Chinese and when we would go out together service staff would often turn to him, expecting him to order or to pay…or just to communicate. They were a bit thrown when I was doing it.
  3. Sideways glances. My spouse got a few glances while we were in China. We were at Disney and I wanted to get my “Magical Passport” Stamped. So, I would be going up to workers asking them where I could get it stamped. I would be using very simple (and poor) Chinese while my spouse was standing right next to me. A few times the person looked at him imploringly, as if saying “Dude, his Chinese is so bad. Help him! Help me!”