[Your rad question goes here]: Why hackathons can be fun for junior scholars.

Matt Rafalow
3 min readApr 11, 2015


So I’m going to preface this with the fact that I’m co-hosting an academic-ish hackathon on Monday at 1pm (PST). It will be wildly fun and thought-provoking and we will be crowdsourcing #alloftheknowledge. (Please join!) But why can these things be fun and helpful?

First of all, one of the things we talked about during our panel last week was that advisors and graduate programs provide a lot of helpful information — but they don’t teach you everything. Christo and I talked about how we learned the ropes for conducting ethnographic fieldwork through apprenticeship model with experienced researchers. Rena, Cassidy, and Adar noted that there are many “dots” that students learn to connect, be it for securing funding or managing a research project, through cultivated relationships we develop in our careers. But how on earth do those of us who are new to this world manage to connect those dots? What if our grad programs or advisors are overextended, or (*gasp*) not experts in every domain for which we have a related question?

This is where hackathons and peer-to-peer crowdsourcing can help. The tools and platforms upon which hackathons occur may vary, but the bottom line is this: during many hackathons, participants “hack” together solutions for ideas, questions, or problems others raise to the group. For example, between now and Monday, April 13th we are collecting questions on a (pretty cool) platform called Etherpad. It’s a live document that allows people to take notes in real-time and also use a minimalist text chat on the right-hand side of the screen. This is a snapshot of the document right now as I’m writing this post:

Screenshot of Etherpad for Research Hackathon

The way it works (we hope) is that anyone can submit their (obviously rad) question to pose to the group. On Monday at 1pm (PST) we all open the Etherpad back up and “hang out” at the same time for one hour, adding in our own responses to each question to try to come up with different ways to tackle these questions which many of us probably have had at one time or another. Some of my favorites so far are:

What are your thoughts about “academic blogging” and maintaining a presence on social networks? Seems like everyone has a website but I don’t know where to start.


I’m new to graduate school and I know connecting with faculty is important (both in my department and at conferences), but I’m horrible at networking and it feels so awkward to just approach someone and beg them to get to know me. Do you have any suggestions for how to do this with some dignity?

Many of us have ideas about how to tackle these questions, and we might be curious about how others have done so, too. Although we position ourselves not necessarily as sole experts on the topic, we can collectively weigh in to workshop solutions.

So with that said, I think hackathons can be cool. Hopefully you’ll consider adding a rad question or even joining us on Monday to find out for yourself.