On the benefits of Twitter for academics

From time-to-time, I find myself trying to extoll the virtues of Twitter for academics. So, I thought I’d write out my thoughts here so I have a starting point to refer people to. I am sure that most of these ideas are discussed elsewhere, but I thought I’d share my perspective here.

Why do I use Twitter and how is it useful to academics? I think Twitter is great for many reasons, broadly, in enhancing awareness of other’s work, feeling like part of a bigger community, and sharing your own work.

1. Awareness of others’ work

Relevant research continues to be published, that is the way of academia. Signing up for keyword/citation alerts and journal table-of-contents emails can be useful, but these can be diluted with less relevant work and it can sometimes take months to years before papers end up in an actual issue of a journal (which is a problem unto itself). When first joining Twitter, it can be overwhelming — there is a sea of ‘stuff’ happening and you have no idea where to start. Hopefully you are able to find some researchers that do relevant work who tweet about papers that they come across and through this you might see some relevant papers that you may not otherwise have come across. A side benefit of this is that maybe you’ll see something that isn’t particularly relevant to you, but maybe is to one of your friends or collaborators, and you can send the paper to them.

Even if you decide to be silent and just observe others talking about recent work, Twitter can be very useful for keeping up with the field.

2. Community

Academia can often be a lonely path, where friends and family don’t really get what you’re doing and why you’re doing it — Twitter can go a long way in providing a sense of community, if you let it.

2a. We all experience imposter syndrome, but can vary in how we deal with it. Twitter can provide great support network and a way to ‘commiserate’ in this, providing a safe space to talk about day-to-day mis-adventures in academia, not just the highlights of the exciting papers you’ve read and new projects you’re working on. Sometimes you just don’t know how to approach a problem, but someone on Twitter might have some advice. Even otherwise, Twitter can provide some insight into the fact that those researchers doing amazing work you read about, they are regular people too.

2b. As you get to know researchers from far-away places, Twitter also provides a means for networking. When I attend conferences, it was always great to hear about recent studies, but then I’d go off on my own (or with friends from my lab) and that was the end of the day. After becoming friends with other academics on Twitter, conferences now also provide an opportunity to meet with them for dinner or drinks and spend time with them in-person, not just online.

2c. On the side of opportunities, Twitter can also be a great way to find out about conferences, workshops, or funding opportunities. A few months ago I heard about Neurohackweek (http://neurohackweek.github.io), which will be running for the first time in a few weeks.

3. Sharing your own work

Hopefully you’re interacting with others already, but Twitter can be useful for letting others know about what you’re working on — be it conferences you’ll be presenting at or recent papers you’ve published. Twitter can be a great way to get your work out there and get more exposure and feedback. Funding is much more competitive than any of us would like, and if you can get more eyes on your work that will surely help. Collaborations may also be borne out of others being able to talk with you directly about your work and how you went about doing it, rather than just seeing the final article published in a journal.

Hopefully these benefits resonate with you a bit and you feel like giving Twitter a shot, if you do, feel free to send me a message at @cMadan (https://twitter.com/cMadan).

Update: I gave a talk at 2017 conference of the Association for Psychological Science meeting, expanded from this blog post. The slides from the talk can be found here: https://f1000research.com/slides/6-755

Thanks to Nick Wan for telling me that Medium is integrated with Twitter, and for nudging me to do some non-academic writing, we’ll see how this goes!

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