Executive Interview with Dr. Bridget Gelms

Image Source: SFSU

Dr. Bridget Gelms is currently an Assistant Professor at SFSU and, starting Fall 2023, will also be the Co-Director of the College Undergraduate Research Experience. She has a Ph.D. in composition & writing and wrote her dissertation on online harassment and how it prevents marginalized people from being able to participate fully on social media. However, before all of that, she was a college dropout, which is an important part of her story since it emphasizes the love she has for her job and allows her to treat each student with empathy and compassion. 

Q: What encouraged you to go back to school? 

To be honest, when I graduated with my undergraduate degree in Communications, it was at the height of a global recession, so jobs were super scarce, so I sort of just fell into graduate school because I didn’t really have any other opportunities. Once I got to my M.A. program, I funded it partly through a teaching assistantship. Teaching wasn’t really something I had ever thought about doing before, but once I started, I realized the profession really intersected with a lot of my strengths as a person. It was through that opportunity that I decided to go on to get my Ph.D. so I could keep doing it. 

Q: Can you explain what drove you to write your dissertation about social media and how it’s used?

When I was deciding on a topic for my dissertation, a mentor encouraged me to really think about what I value about my field and select something to work on that could make a real difference. For me, it was important to research something that affects more people than just those in academia (a lot of Ph.D. research is really insular in that way). I had been seeing a lot of harassment of women on social media, and I saw how it was driving a lot of people offline or into silence. So for me, that seemed like a real-world problem that warranted more investigation. Since graduating, I’ve turned chapters of my dissertation into a variety of publications, and it has actually been cited and used in a lot of other research, as well as an international women journalist alliance and the Kinsey Institute. 

Q: Can you discuss the importance of social media and the different types of writing or audiences it reaches? 

Social media is something that affects everyone, especially as we understand it as a new version of the “town square” where public opinions are debated and shaped. So it’s an incredibly important and ubiquitous communication tool. Of course, social media’s uses vary across demographics, but to me, that is what makes it so fascinating! 

Q: What interests you about writing for digital audiences? Professional writing? 

The landscape of online writing is changing all the time. There are always new platforms emerging and new audiences as younger generations age and new generations begin entering into digital spaces. But professional writing broadly: I really love this field because writing is one of the main ways we all communicate, so it’s present in almost every single professional space that exists! 

Q: What is the class you most enjoy teaching? 

I love teaching the social media class, of course, but I also really love teaching the Intro to Professional Writing class because it helps open students’ eyes to the many applications that professional writing has. What I love most about my job: every day is different, so there’s a lot of variety. I love helping students determine what they’re passionate about and seeing that passion come to life in the confines of a class. And recently, as I’ve been teaching more in a prison setting, I’ve gotten really excited about helping people who are vulnerable and looking to improve or change their circumstances through education and writing. 

Q: what would be your go-to advice or tips for someone who is graduating and entering the workforce soon? 

I once got the terrible advice, “Say yes to everything.” I think there’s a pervasive attitude, especially as our culture becomes more enamored with the hustle mindset, that we should be capitalizing on every single opportunity that comes our way. But I’ve found, as a professional and human being, that saying yes to everything is terrible for sustainability in the quality of work you want to produce. When you say yes to something, you’re actually saying no to something else. So my advice would be to get comfortable with drawing boundaries for yourself so that you can protect your time in service of doing great work and having healthy habits for your own mental well-being.