Twitter is stereotypically portrayed as a website for following celebrities and posting mundane tidbits. Recently, I realized that Twitter could be used as an academic tool – to share and receive ideas and information in an educational context. Indeed, students and early career researchers should be capitalizing on Twitter to learn new information, connect with others, and share interesting thoughts.
The first thing I did on Twitter was search for researchers in my areas of interest. Very quickly, I found the profiles of some academics whose work I enjoyed. This is one of the advantages of Twitter – being able to ‘curate’ your content so that your interests alone come through. Contrast this with a science news website, which usually represents the ‘hottest’ topics in science at that moment. Oftentimes, it is better to have information on your interests, rather than the most popular stories. Another advantage for Twitter over news websites is that you can usually find links to original sources. This makes it easy to read what the authors really said – not someone else’s paraphrasing.
Twitter is also useful for providing interesting information you would not otherwise be reading. The bite-sized nature of tweets means you can be engaged without committing. In fact, Twitter requires very little effort. You can spend five minutes a day flicking through your ‘feed’ and learn about some of the latest developments or debates in your research area. This fast delivery of information is highly valuable in the busy life of an academic, and is largely unparalleled.
One of Twitter’s greatest advantages is that you get new content. Many tweets contain links to articles published in the last year, if not the last week. These can come from the Twitter accounts of journals, research groups, or the authors themselves. Twitter keeps you involved, on the cusp of new developments in your field. You can also track development of new ideas, from fledging ‘what if?’ thoughts from the people you follow.
Perhaps the most obvious definition of Twitter is a social network. Veletsianos (2012) conceptualizes Twitter as a micro-blogging service with social network features. Twitter makes it easy to network with colleagues, research groups, and organisations, even if they are halfway around the world. These advantages are not unique to Twitter; for instance, Facebook allows connections with distant colleagues. However, Twitter prevails with its low requirement for commitment. Replying to a tweet feels easier and more informal than replying to an email. Also, an email can get lost in an inbox, whereas academics may be quicker to reply to a tweet – of course, this depends on how many followers they have! Lastly, Twitter is useful for casually ‘reaching out’ – for instance, I tweeted the JEPS account (@efpsa_jeps) proposing that I write this very article.
Not only can you connect with people you know, you can find new, interesting people in your areas of interest. I initially followed ‘high-profile’ academics but, as I used Twitter more, I found some that other people were tweeting about interesting research too. These people can be just as useful for finding interesting content. These people could conceivably become fellow conference attendees, so it may be useful to connect with them beforehand.
On that note, Twitter is a great tool for conferences. Prior to a conference, Twitter can be used to announce speakers, changes, calls for abstracts, and so on (Reinhardt et al., 2009). However, Twitter’s greatest value is during the conference – to encourage commentary, facilitate conversations, and much more (Ross et al., 2011). Conferences often use a ‘hashtag’ which allows attendees to follow just the content that is linked to that conference. For instance, tweets during last year’s Society for Neuroscience conference was tagged #SfN13. Afterwards, Twitter can be used to maintain relationships with people – these could be useful contacts or future colleagues! In general, Twitter is a fantastic medium for networking.
Lastly, Twitter is like a mailing list, in that you can receive information about opportunities straight to your feed. For instance, I frequently find tweets about upcoming talks, conferences, festivals and other events. Through Twitter, I found out about a public engagement opportunity in my city; days later, I attended a meeting with those people! There are often job listings as well, which is great if you are hoping to work in the lab of someone you follow on Twitter – you get the news without having to constantly search their website. Also, sources such as Nature Jobs (@naturejobs) can be found on Twitter. These updates are less invasive than email alerts – you can scroll past a tweet without more than a cursory glance, rather than have several emails clogging up your inbox.
Twitter is more than just consuming knowledge and information. To effectively use Twitter, you have to tweet to pass on knowledge as well. In a qualitative study of 45 academics, Veletsianos (2012) found that the dominant use of Twitter was for sharing information, media, and resources. As mentioned, Twitter is often seen as a ‘micro-blogging’ platform. This means you can write fledgling thoughts or ideas that would not necessarily fill a blog post. These preliminary ideas can take flight with input from your Twitter followers. Your followers may pick up on something in your tweet and engage in discussion, which might turn into a research question! Alternatively, you can comment on an interesting paper you have just read – perhaps even tweeting the authors. This direct contact is usually rare outside a conference context. Thus, early career researchers can benefit from getting their name ‘out there’.
In particular, it is important to increase your online profile. While LinkedIn is handy for detailed, CV-like information, Twitter shows you are actively involved and interested in your research topics. Creating a ‘digital identity’ is useful for drawing attention to your work and accomplishments. For example, I have been applying to summer research scholarships, and have tweeted about my completion of various applications. Not only does this let me keep track of my academic timeline, people who view my profile will know what I am doing. In this way, the most direct benefit of Twitter is the ability to share via self-promotion.
There are a plethora of uses for Twitter in this regard. In psychology, Twitter can be useful for recruiting participants. More generally, Twitter can be used to promote a blog article, disseminate recent findings, and share data. Twitter facilitates the ethos of ‘open science’ through publicizing drafts of manuscripts, and inviting comments on recent publications. While self-promoting a few times a day is acceptable, Twitter users should be wary of promoting too much, as this can easily get annoying for followers. Plus, it clutters up your Twitter feed for anyone browsing your profile. In any case, Twitter is highly valuable for getting your research ‘out there’ and consumed by the masses. Who knows, your admired academics may even tweet you back with a comment.
In the academic world, there are several types of Twitter accounts: individuals, research groups, departments or institutes, universities, publishers, societies/organisations, conferences, and services. There are also funny accounts such as @AcademicsSay, @lolmythesis and @overlyhnstmthds. Also, some accounts are targeted towards early career researchers, such as @ECPsych, @EarlyCareerBlog, and @ECRchat. Hashtags are another way of connecting with people and joining a conversation. Relevant ones include #phdchat, #phdadvice, #postdoclife and #ECRchat.
1. If you have a Twitter account already that is used for personal tweets, make a new one. The last thing you want is for colleagues to be inundated by irrelevant tweets about daily life.
2. Use your name if possible, or a username that is relevant to your interests. For instance, my full name was taken so I combined my interest in neuroscience with my surname to make ‘synapticlee’.
3. Clearly set goals for what kind of Twitter account you want. If you find yourself tweeting too much on an academically irrelevant topic, make a new account. Decide what kind of interests you will be tweeting about, and make these clear on your biography.
4. Include a picture or illustration of yourself, so people can recognize you.
5. Do not post too much or too little. If you have a lot to say in a short period of time, use a service that can schedule your tweets throughout the day. Another advantage of this is that you can make sure people from different time zones get your content while they are awake – otherwise, it quickly disappears from their Twitter feed.
6. If you are struggling to find people with similar interests, look up academics whose papers you have read, research groups, or simply hashtags such as #psychology.
Then, you can look at who those people are following, and work from there. If you are still stuck, there are guides with tips and tricks available:
The London School of Economics created a guide to Twitter for academics and researchers: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2011/09/29/twitter-guide/
A gentle introduction to Twitter by developmental neuropsychologist Dorothy Bishop
Glossary of Twitter terms: https://support.twitter.com/articles/166337-the-twitter-glossary
Top Twitter tips for academics: http://www.scribd.com/doc/60642119/Top-Twitter-Tips-for-Academics?autodown=pdf
Ebner, M., Beham, G., Costa, C., & Reinhardt, W. (2009). How people are using Twitter during conferences. In Proceedings of 5. Edumedia Conference(pp. 145-156).
Ross, C., Terras, M., Warwick, C., & Welsh, A. (2011). Enabled backchannel: Conference Twitter use by digital humanists. Journal of Documentation, 67(2), 214-237.
Veletsianos, G. (2012). Higher education scholars’ participation and practices on Twitter. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(4), 336-349.