Twitter for Academics 101

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Before starting graduate school in 2012, my fellow undergraduate researchers set me up with a Twitter account. Little did I know then, how much it would shape my PhD. If you’re not already an academic on Twitter or new to the forum, let me share with you how I use social media as a scientist and some tips and tricks for getting started.

You might be thinking, how much can a social media app really influence your academic experiences? Of course YMMV*, but for me Twitter has been an incredible resource and launching pad. In fact, I wouldn’t be teaming up with Inscopix to write this post or have been able to establish my outreach project “Interstellate” if it weren’t for the visibility provided by Twitter. While many academics are also taking advantage of other social media platforms (e.g., Instagram, Facebook) to SciComm and network – my main digital science community resides in the Twittersphere. So lets start there.

*Don’t know what YMMV means? Scroll down to see my social media acronyms cheat sheet.

Benefits of a Digital Presence

Whenever we had someone visiting for lab meeting, my former mentor would insist we introduce ourselves by our first AND last name and state our status in the lab (e.g. I’m Caitlin Vander Weele and I’m a 6th year graduate student). Her reasoning for this exercise was simple: Your name is your brand. She’s not wrong. For example, think about how we refer to papers, “Have you read the new Tye Lab paper?” or “In the seminal paper by Schultz (1998)…”

Academia doesn’t exist in a vacuum and like any other field, name recognition is important. Imagine applying for a post-doc position where two candidates are on a similar playing field. Who do you think is more likely to get an interview, some unknown or someone whose name conjures a memory of an interesting conference talk or a smart follow-up question? Now imagine that conference happening all the time and you can drop in and out of it at any moment. This is academic Twitter.

For some of you, this is where you start with the typical response I get from non-tweet savvy academics: “I don’t have extra time to spend in a digital fantasy land making friends with people I may never meet in real life.” But let’s be honest, there is often down time in research. As a scientist in training, you spend a lot of time waiting for your behavioral paradigms to finish or your assay to incubate. Meanwhile principal investigators travel around the world giving talks, in a cab on the way to the airport or waiting to board a plane. Not to mention your commute to and from lab. These are perfect opportunities to join the conversation and explore what topics your colleagues are discussing. Further, Twitter is FULL of resources and advice that can help you SAVE time – if you know where to look and who to follow.

Still not convinced? Well I asked my tweeps (slang for your Twitter following) how they find Twitter most useful and here’s what they said:


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