By Dr. Mindy Bridges
I am someone who has not typically embraced social media; I held on to my flip phone an uncomfortably long amount of time. But I have had a Twitter account for approximately three years, and I believe it has positively impacted my professional academic career. Here is what I have learned over the last three years.
If you are new to Twitter, I highly encourage you to find a colleague who is an experienced Twitter user and have them provide you some initial tips and advice. Learning how to block tweets containing particular words or phrases was very important for me. This allowed me to filter out certain aspects of current events that, while important, are not why I am on Twitter. People also have different opinions about how best to keep tweets or threads that have really critical or important information. For example, early on I found a thread from a highly respected researcher about academic writing tips. I knew I would want to refer to this often, so I direct-messaged the thread to myself. This works for me, but there might be better ways to do this. Get advice from experts!
Be selective about who you choose to follow. I followed very few people for the first 2-3 months, only following academics, scientists, and educators whose research was directly related to my own. I looked at who they were following and engaging with on Twitter. I started to follow organizations directly related to my line of research as well as funding agencies such as NIH and IES. Another thing I consider is the tone of responses. I personally appreciate spirited discussions but don’t like pompousness, so I take this into consideration when following (and unfollowing) people.
One of the primary advantages of Twitter for me is hearing about new research. In a way, Twitter can serve a similar purpose as a conference. I often hear about new research results months prior to seeing it in journal. I have also connected with colleagues that I have never met in person via Twitter; after a few positive Twitter exchanges, I now feel comfortable contacting them directly to ask questions about their research findings. Also, when I have posted information about my own research, Twitter colleagues have posted suggestions for other authors or lines of research that I had overlooked.
Having “twitter friends” is also amazing when you attend a conference. In the past two years, I have connected with people in person that I have been conversing with for years on Twitter. I have also noted researchers finding dinner dates and writing buddies at conferences simply by tweeting that they were at a particular conference and were looking for company. For young/new faculty in particular, or for folks attending a conference a little out of their wheelhouse, this can be an amazing resource.
I have not utilized Twitter to promote my own academic work as well as I should, and this is a goal for 2020. Some people do this really well. Find them and try to emulate their tweets as you think about how to promote your own work.
One other unexpected advantage to Twitter is the feeling of solidarity with other academics. Although I love my chosen career path, it can often be hard and also really isolating at times. It makes me feel better that someone else is writing a grant at 11 o’clock at night while feeling incredibly guilty about not being fully present with their family. And if they are doing it over a glass of wine, as I often do, it’s even better! But I also love to see academics that are very prolific and highly respected tweet about leisure time-- books they are reading, museums worth seeing, trips they are taking (or planning to take post-COVID times). It makes me feel like pursuing extracurricular activities is an okay thing to do during my academic career as well.
Many POWER members have Twitter accounts. I encourage you to seek them out and follow them. It’s a great way to both support our members as well as learn something about their research in the process. (Also make sure to follow POWER at @poWOMENer!)
There are many articles written about the benefits of social media, and specifically Twitter, and here are a few links that I particularly enjoyed: