Social media key to getting ahead, PhD students hear

Skills, reputation and peer networks can be built online even when stuck in the lab

January 9, 2014

Source: Alamy

Expert communicators: extending the conversation outside the lab is key

Social media provide PhD students with a way to extend their professional networks, get value from conferences they cannot physically attend and develop communication skills, according to experts at a conference for doctoral students at research institutions in the Cambridge area.

The EBI-Sanger-Cambridge PhD Symposium, known as eSCAMPS, is an annual conference run by doctoral students at the European Bioinformatics Institute, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge.

This year, organisers added a mandatory session on the use of social media in science, with experts discussing how PhD students can build a reputation online, interact with other researchers and engage with the public.

Steven Witte, a PhD student at the Sanger Institute and a member of the eSCAMPS organising committee, told Times Higher Education that postgraduate courses in other disciplines, for example business, are already integrating social media training. “We saw that as a gap in scientists’ training,” he said.

“Social media give everybody some tools to do some things that could previously be done only with traditional media,” he said.

Mr Witte said that scientists traditionally communicate with each other through published literature and by attending conferences. But social media now allow early career scientists to come into contact with each other more often, and provide new ways to communicate with the public and policymakers.

Delegates at the conference – held in November at Peterhouse, Cambridge – heard that many PhD students are already active on Twitter, which can help them find postdoctoral positions, raise their profile as experts in a specific field and search for potential collaborators. Others enhance their reputations by blogging about their work in the lab.

Twitter can also help to bolster students’ communication skills, said Eva Amsen, outreach director at the journal F1000Research. Such skills are vitally important for writing research abstracts for papers, grant applications and teaching courses, Dr Amsen, who also spoke at the event, told THE.

She noted that Twitter was also a “really good way” to extend conversations beyond the laboratory or conference.

Through the social network, students can get to know the broader community in their field and researchers they have never met before.

Following proceedings on Twitter allows those who cannot make it to an event to find out what is going on, Dr Amsen added.

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