Some in the academic world have proved resistant to social media, but for many scholars, it is as useful and as ubiquitous a tool as the textbook or the test tube.
For Eva Amsen, outreach director for F1000 Research – an open science publishing platform for life scientists – using social media is a key aspect of the academic’s life and something that, for a PhD student, could aid the doctoral process and enhance future employment prospects.
Dr Amsen’s number one tip for getting the most out of social media during a PhD is to use it to contact and converse with people. “Not talking to people is the main mistake [tweeters make],” she said. “If you just broadcast things on Twitter, no one can really find it unless they’re following you. Replying to other people’s tweets and joining in on conversations – especially if you have something useful to say, not just favouriting or retweeting a tweet – [is] how you grow your followers [and] meet new people.” By doing this, others will learn “what kind of person you are and what you add to a conversation”.
Additionally, Twitter levels out academic hierarchies, which can give people the confidence to speak to experts. “It’s really easy for students to talk to professors,” Dr Amsen said. “There’s not as much of that hierarchy; everyone is at an equal level. I see PhD students talking to the equivalent of their boss at the same level in social media.”
She added that Twitter made it much easier to engage with academics at conferences. If you and a speaker both are on Twitter, you can use it to approach and talk to them after the event, she said. Social media make it much easier “than if you didn’t have that channel of conversation”.
Besides these practical professional uses, Twitter and blogs can also help doctoral students to “connect with people” to discuss the frustrations and difficulties they encounter in their study.
“It can be really isolating to do a PhD, and [people use] Twitter to find others in similar situations and just talk about what it’s like,” Dr Amsen said. “They’re also complaining about things that are going wrong with their work or with their career [and about other] insecurities.”
Twitter’s popularity and scope make it the best tool for advancing employment options, she believes, but LinkedIn can also be beneficial.
Dr Amsen co-manages a website, MySciCareer, that highlights the many different kinds of careers that scientists can move into. “A lot of these often end up in fields where people use LinkedIn. So sometimes you see that, when they get near the end of their PhD, students start thinking about this and then create a LinkedIn profile.”
Despite the benefits, Dr Amsen has warnings for those racing for the Twitter sign-up page.
“Keep in mind that it’s public. Even if what you say is not offensive, if you persistently make typos in your tweets, for example, everyone will be able to see that and it just looks bad. [Remember] that everyone can see what you’re doing and might be a future employer.”