Meet the 26-Year-Old Behind Academic Twitter’s Most Popular Hashtags

It didn’t take much for Glen Wright to figure out that academics on Twitter are just like everyone else.

“#AcademicWithCats—let’s get it started people!” wrote Mr. Wright, a Paris-based researcher, from the account for his blog, Academia Obscura.

Many academics spend their days reading and purveying dense, largely humorless tomes, or buried in lab work or archives, and have a reputation as a serious tribe. Cats and Twitter, however, are great equalizers. Following Mr. Wright’s post, in early December, photographs of academics posing with their cats came pouring in. They are still trickling in today.

Mr. Wright, 26, is an improbable figure. He is not particularly known for his research at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations. He does not hold a doctoral degree. At this time last year, he had barely used Twitter.

And yet Mr. Wright has amassed a substantial following over the last seven months, due in part to his talent for giving scholars and researchers an excuse to unleash their wit—or, at least, to try. The thousands of tweets Mr. Wright has solicited with his hashtag prompts provide, if not wall-to-wall laughs, then at least an angle into the academic psyche.

He is responsible for several popular hashtags beyond #AcademicsWithCats, including #BadAdviceForYoungAcademics, #RuinADateWithAnAcademicinFiveWords, and #FailaPhDinThreeWords. The last of those is his favorite.

“It’s actually quite a good exercise in being concise,” he says. Academics “have a bit of a reputation for rabbiting on about not a lot, and taking many hundreds of words to say what two would have done.”

Academia Obscura, both the blog and the Twitter account, came out of a wager Mr. Wright made last summer with a friend. Mr. Wright bet the friend that he could get at least 10,000 people to follow a Twitter account dedicated to the amusing side of academe. The friend, a corporate lawyer who had just spent the day stuck in a course on international shipping arbitration, thought the proposal a contradiction in terms.

“Nobody will ever read it,” Mr. Wright remembers him saying. “Nobody’s interested in that.”

Mr. Wright, whose Twitter account now has nearly 13,000 followers, has been largely vindicated. Still, not every hashtag has been a winner. #AcademicsWithCats was a huge success; #AcademicsWithHats and #AcademicsWithTats, less so.

One not-very-popular tag, #ConferenceWishList, seemed to confuse people. “Half the people took it quite seriously, and were a bit bitter, and they said things like, ‘relevant presentations,’” he says. “And then there were other people who said, ‘I want a hot tub,’ or ‘I want a popcorn maker.’”

Compared with Mr. Wright’s day job—where he studies sustainability and international oceans governance—coming up with silly hashtags might seem like a waste of time, both for him and his followers. But such distractions are not necessarily counterproductive, he says. Academic life can be isolating and occasionally frustrating. A sense of community, and a sense of humor, can help keep you sane.

“When you’re taking part and you’re observing things,” says Mr. Wright, “and you’re understanding and empathizing with things that other people are saying, even when they’re short and humorous—I think it really makes people feel like they’re part of something.”

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