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I'm guessing that if the grad student / postdoc is directly supervising the undergrad, friending would not be very appropriate. However, would it be ok for an undergrad to friend other grad students / postdocs in the lab?

This is for a university in the U.S.

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  • 16
    It's even appropriate to befriend them in real life.
    – Maeher
    Jun 25 '19 at 6:09
  • 1
    You might like to add details about your current cultural background. Social norms are strongly dependent on local context, and country culture. For instance, you will get a different response whether you're in South Korea or Mexico.
    – Scientist
    Jun 25 '19 at 12:24
6

I don't think there is a general social media rule about this. I have had many undergraduate friends on social media during my Ph.D. and postdoc. My rule is to send friend requests to whoever you like. It is just a request, they don't have to accept it. If someone sends me a friend request and I don't care to be their friend, I just ignore it.

But if you're worried that it could get awkward, you can just ask them if it is okay with them before sending a request.

1

My personal take is:

  • Twitter: I would say this barely counts as social media any more. Its more about broadcasting your opinion and 'upvoting' other people's content on particular themes. Most established academics have a twitter account and they LOVE having more followers. Younger grad students may be less enthusiastic about Twitter coz their parents are all over it ;-) (c.f. Facebook);

  • Instagram: If the instructor has an instagram account, its probably because they take a lot of quirky pictures and want the world to see (see twitter above);

  • Linked In: I tend to get Linked In invitations from current and former students. Frankly these tend to be from the more engaged students who are probably going to continue in their field. Personally I think Linked In is appropriate especially if you are particularly interested in the topic(s) taught by the instructor and may continue studying/working in that area. Linked In is used by a lot of academics to build their networks, so I think following on Linked In is totally appropriate;

  • Academia.edu: I think following on Academic is more particular to research - specifically - reading their stuff. To me if you follow an academic on Academia to me it means you have an active interest in their area of research. If this is the case, go for it;

  • Facebook: Personally I think Facebook is fine though I never use it. It does seem more personal. Paradoxically if we were actually friends you would know it was pointless 'friending' me on Facebook. Everyone has their own opinions about this platform;

  • Tinder/Grindr: Does send a different kind of message ;-) Maybe think twice, at least while you are enrolled in their class.

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There’s no harm in sending a request, but you should be prepared to deal with the situation in which those students do not want to accept your requests. Social media can act as a platform for people to express themselves and having younger students observing their activity on social media can undoubtedly become a liability for ones career - it just creates a new opportunity for a complaint to be filed.

So go ahead and send it, but don’t be offended if the request is not accepted so to maintain professional and personal boundaries.

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There is a slight difference between a PhD student and a post-doc, since the former still falls under student rules. For a PhD student I see no problem if you know them outside class, for example from a society or a sports club. If you became familiar with them during teaching, I would suggest you asked for their permission to add them (not just sending an invitation) after the class is over and there is no insinuation of preferential treatment or conflict of interest. If they do not teach you, no problem.

For academics, both early- and late-stage, I would suggest you only followed them on Twitter and only if the account relates on research and academic issues. If you decide to do otherwise, you should definitely ask for permission - just send them a personal message on the platform or ask them in person, the same way you would ask for a business card. Even if they have no issue with it, it is still good manners and professional conduct.

Ultimately it is to the discretion of the other side to accept as @GrayLiterature pointed out. There are good reasons not to, both practical and personal. After graduation, of course, you can do as you see fit.

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