Impact Blog

Tweeting for impact? Can social media augment graduate research?

February 2022

Social media is a highly visible and near universal mode of open discourse. Its use for educational discussion and networking is well established and continues to increase. Twitter and LinkedIn are typical platforms of choice for much of this academic exchange.

Even as far back as decade ago, one in 40 scholars in the US and UK were found to be active Twitter users. Many PhD students, supervisors, and academics regularly utilise social media platforms for professional and social networking and as news services. But what value do these channels really provide to graduate researchers? Can they augment and amplify the research journey?

There is a growing body of research on the use of social media in academic and educational contexts. For example, Malik, Heyman-Schrum & Johri’s 2019 literature review for International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education examined the use of Twitter across educational settings.

The paper analyses more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific studies published over a ten year period. Their review indicates that Twitter is often seen as a “useful tool for communication due to high accessibility, novelty, and real-time format”.

Tweeting for impact

With their enormous user groups social media platforms offer opportunities to reach large and diverse audiences. Posting research findings, published papers and discipline specific insights can increase impact through communication, connection and dialogue with non-academic audiences.

This activity provides emerging graduate researchers a quick and available means to strengthen an online presence and demonstrate professional credibility. With its lively discipline specific dialogues and exchange, Twitter is an accessible platform whereby PhD students can begin to build a reputation as a subject matter expert.

Networking, networking, networking

Social media platforms, in particular Twitter and LinkedIn, offer graduate research candidates a ready means to expand professional networks both in and outside of academia.

Examining the value of LinkedIn for communicating PhD qualifications to secure non-academic roles, Chris Cornthwaite suggests that the real power of LinkedIn is that it allows the curation and active communication of skills and achievements.

“You get to take all the little parts of you that make up who you are: your talents, your skills, your history, and even your picture, and put forward the absolute best image of yourself to the world,” writes Cornwhaite.

LinkedIn has become a fundamental tool for job seekers and recruiters. Both academic and professional roles are often advertised or shared on it. LinkedIn is often used by employers and recruiters to view and verify the credentials of potential candidates.

The platform is also used to facilitate potential collaboration opportunities. Users often use LinkedIn as an informal means to enable introductions with potential employers, collaborators, mentors and to approach PhD supervisors.

A platform for pedagogical exchange

Academics, supervisors and graduate researchers across the globe are using social media as a pedagogical tool. These platforms provide a ready means to gain scholastic insights as well as to exchange and interrogate ideas. Social media can be an effective medium to discover and publicise understudied material, including fragmentary texts and non-English scholarship.

The unique interactive features offered within various social media platforms also provide non-traditional and opportunities to communicate and collaborate. Used hand in hand with traditional supervision modes of exchange using these platforms can lead to improved student engagement and motivation.

A worldwide exchange of ideas

Social media can be a great medium for engagement and interaction. Platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn have become forums with thriving discipline specific exchange. While not without very real pitfalls (which need to be front of mind when scrolling the feeds) these platforms provide graduate researchers opportunities to share insights and trade ideas about topics relevant to their projects. They also offer ample opportunities to test propositions and crowdsource information.

Most institutions have formal and informal academic forums for graduate researchers and academics to interact and test ideas. These local peer groups provide a fantastic resource, but social media platforms can also augment these networks by providing ready access to scholars across the globe.

It’s surprisingly easy to connect with researchers with shared interests with a quick tweet or message. Depending on the situation, responses can also be more forthcoming than from email.

As interaction a central characteristic, sharing, retweeting and responding to other people’s posts is key to building a thriving following. Using and following hashtags is also an effective way to find researchers and topics within relevant fields.

On Twitter #PhDChat, #AcademicTwitter, #PhDLife and #ScholarSunday are hashtag forums with lively discussion. PhD students and graduate researcher from across the globe pose questions, share resources and engage with one another. These discussions are often amplified through tagging and retweeting. Prominent accounts for this activity include as @PhDVoice, @PostdocVoice, @OpenAcademics, @PhDspeaks and @PhD_Genie.

A convenient means to stay informed

Many within the academic community use social media, and Twitter in particular, to aggregate their news intake. Following journals and researchers within a field of interest offers an easy and time effective way to for research students to stay abreast of new discoveries and publications. These platforms also offer an easy way to see what academic peers from across are concerned with and working on.

A means to concise writing

On a final note, it is worth recognising that active engagement with social media has the inadvertent upside of forcing users to write concisely. This is particularly true for Twitter. The platform’s famous character limit of 280 characters (which was originally 140) encourages succinct writing and communication.

Image by dole777 via Unsplash.

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