Academic Twitter superstar Tim Gill reveals his secrets

Once in an academic millennium, there is a sort of paradigm shift. Of course, we have PhD Comics, Lego Grad Student, and Ass Deans who made us laugh because they share a broad, relatable truth about academia. Netflix’s The Chair is also painfully true in many ways. It is said that sincere innovation consists in seeing further while standing on the shoulders of giants. Then there is this person who stands on the shoulders of this person who stands on the shoulders of the giants. This is Tim Gill.

Dr. Gill is a sociologist by training which is a bit like a hodgepodge of The Onion and a Rorschach test. He trolls telling the truth, maybe a little too boldly at times, but in a way that you have people who are both extremely triggered by him and others who are laughing, but maybe a little hurt to comfortable, like you laugh when someone says something a little too present. Maybe things that aren’t really said in the company of polite academics.

Since you don’t win by not trying, I took a big swing and sought out an interview with this academic Twitter superstar, and guess what? I marked the interview. It’s a big win for my career, almost as good as getting published in an academic journal. Tim explains what he’s learned from academia through his extremely insightful Twitter chats, he offers advice to graduate students, and how his sociological experience in other academic fields is going well. Ultimately, I’m still learning from his tweets, reading and re-reading them like precious tea leaves, trying to find those superstar shortcuts to succeeding in academia.

What have you learned about academia by tweeting?

Academics are a lot like other Twitter users. They too sometimes respond hastily – sometimes not knowing exactly who they are responding to. For example, I am highly cited and highly published, and my work is featured in many high-impact journals. Also, my CV is long, and some people would do well to read it before stating this or that in response to one of my tweets. It is doubly disconcerting when it is another academic, and not a simple civilian, who does this. I am widely known in academia for my empirical research, and there is no excuse for other academics not knowing my work, regardless of the field.

What have you learned about different academic fields from Twitter?

I learned a lot of things about many areas by engaging with others on Twitter. In particular, I learned that there are people who study turtles, as in the actual living creature: the turtle. I didn’t think it was a thing, but there are people called herpetologists, and they do that kind of stuff. A researcher told me that they spin the turtles on their backs in their shells and time how long they spin. Another researcher said his team is working on what turtles actually do inside their shells, which is a big mystery within Turtle Research. I didn’t know any of this. So it was somewhat fun to learn. Yet, given the choice, sociology is the preferred field of study.

I also learned that some people who study Greek and Roman mythologies believe in these stories, one way or another. I think it’s a little myopic to do so. Many groups of peoples have their own set of mythologies. I’m most familiar with Celtic mythologies, and those mythologies are actually much more accurate than Greek and Roman histories, especially when it comes to sociological dynamics. So if we are concerned with facticity, we need to focus on and study Celtic mythologies with much more regularity.

What advice would you give to graduate students?

Find a program and a counselor who will respect you. But above all, engage with my many manuscripts. I have written extensively on a range of topics. If your subject seems far removed from my own subjects of study, perhaps take the hint and modify your research agenda. In other words, you don’t want to delve into something so obscure. My topics are very relevant for the 21st Century, so browse my CV before choosing a thesis topic. Moreover, qualitative methodologies are the future. You can never train a computer to conduct ethnographies, interviews, etc. It is imperative to hone these skills.