Listservs are a low-tech way to get your research to a broader audience of your peers than social media can. As an active and responsive listserv member, you can position yourself as a helpful expert and allow others to learn about you and your research.
Listservs – group email lists related to a particular subject – are a relatively low-tech way to get your research and scholarship to a broader audience of your peers than social media can. Even those of us who are more traditional and/or technology-averse can often be found on listservs, which is a big advantage for the medium over Twitter and academic social media platforms.
Why are listservs so popular? Because all you have to do to reach hundreds, if not thousands, of your colleagues is send an email. This means all of the interaction happens in an environment you are already very well acquainted with: your email inbox.
Scholars all over the world use listservs in many ways: to pose questions to other experts in their field; to share new research that’s of interest to their discipline; to announce conferences and calls for papers; and to support one another virtually.
By being an active and responsive member of listservs in your field, you can make a name for yourself as a helpful expert. And this in turn can help other scholars learn about you and your research.
First, let’s get you onto a listserv or three.
Listservs come in countless flavors. They can be related to any subject under the sun – from entire disciplines like this computer science listserv to as specific a topic as this confocal microscopy listserv. They also cater to speakers of many languages and scholars at all stages of their careers.
So, how can you find the right listserv for you? Here are three good ways to home in on your listserv(s) of choice, ranging from easiest to most difficult:
No matter whether the listservs you find are expert recommended or discovered by searching, you should always evaluate whether they’ll be right for you. For each, take a look at the listserv’s archive. You can determine their relevancy to you by researching:
Once you’ve subscribed to any listserv, you should first “lurk” for a few weeks. That is, just read through the messages that are posted without responding. Lurking will help you get a sense of what type of content is regularly posted and how others tend to interact (are they curt, kind, brief, wordy, etc.?). The listserv’s guidelines or codes of conduct will often spell out what can and cannot be posted, as well. Make sure to read those!
There are three main ways professional listservs can be used to forge meaningful connections with others: sharing content, posing & answering questions, and inviting debate.
Any time you are reading an article that might be of interest to others in your field, email the paper’s citation to the listserv (within reason), along with a link to where the paper can be found (an open access version is particularly helpful) and what you liked about it. Others will appreciate the recommendation; it helps them sort the wheat from the chaff when deciding what to read.
And articles or papers aren’t the only type of content you can share: links to news articles, conference websites, datasets, open source software, and anything else you think others in your field would want to know about are good things to send along.
Promoting your own research is encouraged, too (again, within reason – keep reading). If you’ve recently published the results of a study, created software, written a book or a book chapter, released data, etc. that would be of interest to others in your field, send it to your listserv. But don’t only send your own work along: it can come across as self-promoting, and it won’t have as much weight as if you’re well-known for sharing quality content in general.
Listservs have some noteworthy drawbacks. Chief among them is the volume of email they might generate – it’s often too much for subscribers to handle. You can mitigate this by either creating an email filter that keeps messages out of your inbox, or opting to receive the listserv messages in a digest format that’s sent daily or weekly (rather than receiving messages one-by-one).
Email volume can make participation in listservs challenging. It can be difficult to keep up with the onslaught of messages, especially if you’re subscribed to more than one listserv. “Batching” your responses can help you save time–set aside time once a week to read through messages and respond to any where you’d add value.
The final limitation to listservs is that they can sometimes be politically tricky to navigate. It’s not uncommon for a message to be misinterpreted and cause hurt feelings or, worse, start a “flame war.” And researchers have found that gender differences in communication can be exacerbated by listservs.
In this case, knowledge is power. If you receive a response that’s rude, take a step back and remind yourself that:
Sometimes waiting 24 hours can help lessen the sting you’re feeling and make it easier to compose a thoughtful, measured response to even the harshest criticisms.
There will likely come a time when you’ll want off of a listserv. Don’t email the entire listserv with a request for removal! It’s a common mistake that pollutes thousands of inboxes with unwanted email.
Instead, look for unsubscribe information at the bottom of your email, or perform a web search to find unsubscribe instructions instead. Sometimes, unsubscribing can be done with the click of a button on the listserv website; other times, you’ll need to email the list moderator to be removed.
Find, join, and start lurking on at least three listservs that are relevant to your area of study.
Then, set up filters in your email application, so the listserv email you get is channeled into a folder, away from your inbox. Here’s how to set up filters for Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and Outlook.
And your final task is to batch your reading and responding to listservs. Scan your listserv emails at least once a week at a designated time and respond to any conversations or questions that you think you can add value to.