Twitter and the modern researcher

Twitter and the modern researcher

We all know that social media can be a time-thief. You check in to Facebook or Twitter for ‘a quick look’ and the next thing you know, three hours have passed and you’re sharing your eighteenth cat video.

People often say it’s best to abandon social media if you want to get things done. But can using social media help you with postgraduate studies?

Dr Tseen Khoo, La Trobe Lecturer with Research Education and Development (RED) team says a very enthusiastic YES to that question:

‘If you’re going to find distractions, you’re going to find them anywhere. Social media can be one of them, but if you’re intent on procrastination, you will procrastinate whether social media is there or not.’

We chatted to Dr Khoo and Research Communications Senior Advisor Jason Murphy about how social media can further your postgraduate study.

Why you need it

Dr Khoo notes that social media is especially important if you’re regionally based, as frequent travel to conferences, where face-to-face networking can happen, is costly and time-consuming:

‘If you’re regionally based and looking to network, you can’t not be on social media. [Social media] brings information to you. People want you to follow them, so they put out stuff that’s valuable to their followers. Often in academic and scholarly circles that means announcements of Calls for Papers for journals. You hear what’s coming out of conferences, with people live-tweeting events.’

‘If you’re actively engaged – whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or a LinkedIn group – you can amplify your researcher voice no matter what stage you’re at.’

Jason Murphy agrees:

“It’s a good platform for bringing people together. The research experience can be quite isolating. Social media helps people to find others with similar interests, to get tips on how to do their research better, tips on writing, and maybe find out about conferences. I think it has a potential to be distracting, but it also has really good, positive applications as well.”

How do you use Twitter for good instead of evil?

Dr Khoo suggests attending one of her regular Introduction to Social Media workshops in the RED program (check in for updates on the next session) to learn how to best use social media. Until then, Jason Murphy recommends you start by exploring common media hashtags, like #phdchat and #acwri (short for Academic Writing), and begin to build a network of accounts within your areas of interest to follow. He recommends engaging in the conversation as well, not just lurking, saying:

‘A lot of people on Twitter hang on the sidelines and watch what’s going on, but you’re not really going to grab the work that way – you have to put yourself out there.’

The idea is simultaneously simple and challenging. The 140-character limit on Twitter posts means that specific terminology, hashtags and other slang may be used. Dr Khoo says:

‘You’re joining a community. You have to spend a bit of time getting to know the language, the tone, how to conduct yourself, all that kind of stuff. You also have to decide what you’re bringing to the space and why you’re there, which gives clarity around how you might sound and what you might want to find.’

It may take the investment of some time to get to know the community and how best to contribute to it, but the rewards can be significant. When it’s done well, says Dr Khoo:

‘…it’s a gateway to all sorts of other resources: it leads to web pages in other sites, new publications, conferences that are on, blog posts that people are writing on your topic. It opens up so much in your own network that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.’

How does it really work? Shut up and write.

Dr Khoo and Jason Murphy are behind the popular @LTUresearchers account. For both experts, the value is in the information that is shared through accounts and related hashtags, and in the sense of community it can give to students in campuses across Victoria.

‘The feeling of isolation on regional campuses especially is quite pronounced,’ says Dr Khoo, ‘We’re about connecting them as one group and feeling like we are La Trobe graduate researchers, no matter where you are.’

Students can participate in online events, but also make connections that can turn into face-to-face catch-ups, enhancing everyone’s ability to network.

Besides sharing news and links that are of use to La Trobe research students, @LTUresearchers runs communal Shut Up and Write sessions under #ltusuaw. Even students in face-to-face sessions use the hashtag with their remotely located colleagues to get writing done in solid 25-minute chunks.

Twitter is of course not the only social media platform, although it’s the most popular for this type of interaction. LinkedIn can offer contacts with industry partners and organisations, while there are also websites and blogs.

Twitter for Academics 3

Top Tips

With so much to keep in mind, what is the top tip from each of our gurus?

Dr Khoo recommends that you decide on your rules for social media interaction.

‘If people are uncertain how they’ll go in the wild west of social media, my key advice is to have your own personal rules for social media engagement. If you say ‘I will not swear on my professional account’, it automatically cuts out a bunch of stuff you won’t publish.

I never use the names of my kids or family on Twitter. For yourself, you can work out where those boundaries are and give yourself that sense of assurance when you’re pretty new.

Steve Ladurantaye has rules for his practice as a journalist, but many of them carry across general professional behaviour on Twitter.’

Jason Murphy’s advice is about patience and perseverance.

‘For a lot of people just starting off, it’s a bit intimidating or discouraging is they see our academics with half a million followers, but if you chip into it a little bit every day and keep pushing forward, you’ll grow and grow.’

Your social media toolkit

Dr Khoo and Jason Murphy suggest that postgraduates check out and, and that they follow these hashtags:

  • #phdchat
  • #phdlife
  • #acwri

Image: Smartphone by kaboompics CC0.1.0