By Siobhán O’Connor
So you might think that PhD land and social media don’t have much in common but it’s safe to say that without utilising the benefits online, interactive platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have to offer you might miss out on quite a lot during your postgraduate studies. Here are my top reasons to use social media right throughout the PhD process.
In the beginning God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. This light comes in the form of information on up and coming PhD studentships and other funding opportunities, which could support you through your journey as a doctoral student. Some universities now use social media in conjunction with more traditional avenues to market teaching and research opportunities, as social media can very quickly reach large audiences around the world in a targeted way. My advice would be to sign up to at least 2-3 frequently used social media sites and follow the universities, research groups, funding bodies and other relevant organisations in your area to ensure you identify funding and scholarships as soon as they are advertised.
At the beginning of your PhD studies, social medial can be useful to help you get ideas for potential research projects and questions to ask and answer. By following well known academics, research groups and conferences in your area you can see what topics and hashtags are being discussed, which could help focus your thinking on a particular subject or identify a pressing problem that needs to be addressed. Meeting these people in person could be impossible due to the geographical and financial limitations of PhD students early in the process, so getting online and connecting with others in your field will only help your cause. Social media is a virtual network and it’s there to be exploited as much or as little as you want.
As every PhD student knows, it’s a long and often-lonely road from start to finish and social media is another quick and easy way to network with fellow students, both for work purposes and as a social outlet. Most departments, schools and research centres have their own social media accounts (e.g., @gppcglasgow) with corresponding hastags to follow news and activities (e.g., #healthwellbeing). If you want to organise or attend an event, or follow what’s happening if you can’t make it in person, then social media is the place to do this. Its interactive, real-time nature is ideal for keeping up to date with current events and communicating your plans to targeted audiences of students, researchers and others. An offshoot of this is if you are stuck with an element of your research study, your network of online followers might be able to help you answer that tricky methodological or philosophical question. Many researchers enjoy helping colleagues who are struggling with a challenging element of their work (as we’ve all been there and will again!!) or they can at least point you in the right direction.
As you come towards the end of PhD land (yes there is such a thing!!) social media once again becomes useful when you want to disseminate your research to the world at large. Researchers are being asked to engage more with the public to ensure what we do translates into the real-world and benefits the people who fund our work. Social media is a fast way to get your results and the positive effects they have out into the public consciousness. Academics are starting to write “tweetable abstracts” of their research studies so they can get key messages across quickly and simply. Social media is also trawled by traditional media organisations who monitor it for newsworthy stories. Who knows, your research could be one of them so get online and start publicising your results. Researchers in your field also do the same and so the significance of your findings could be recognised by others via social media, which could spark collaborations and future post-doctoral work.
Building up your Altmetrics (https://www.altmetric.com/) could also be beneficial if you remain in academia, as they are now being considered in addition to the barrage of traditional metrics such as citations and impact factors by which the quality and impact of academic research is judged. Major publishers now provide altmetrics for published articles such as the number of views and downloads of a paper, the number of likes on Facebook or mentions on Twitter known as “tweetations”. This information could potentially be used to demonstrate how widely your work is publicised to both academic and lay audiences.
Regardless of your opinion of social media, its uses far outweigh some of its negative effects, so please consider it as a valuable tool in your armory as a postgraduate student and future early career researcher.