twitter for scientific research — tips and tricks
I have always considered Twitter as a source of procrastination and distraction. So far, during my everyday working routine as a postdoctoral researcher, I kept an eye on Twitter tab just to quickly catch new funny memes or breaking news.
Recently, however, it seems that more and more scientists are spending time on this platform, sharing links and sometimes ideas. Here I collected a few tips I consider useful to start using Twitter for scientific research:
Look for relevant accounts in your field
Collecting relevant accounts is the very first step you should consider. Most influential or connected accounts will bring you to other accounts, and you could quickly start building your own network.
To select relevant accounts, you could start looking for hashtags of interest for your research topic. For example: #fmri, #pymvpa, #neurofeedback.
Explore the results and try to catch recurring accounts. I suggest to repeat this operation several times for the first days.
You can also take a look to this article for a collection of influential accounts put together by Science a few years ago.
Make the most out of Twitter lists
You can organize your Twitter contacts in lists. I find this really useful, because I can conceptually arrange accounts for example by topic.
You can create a list called “Journals” and add the twitter accounts of the journals you consider most relevant for your research (e.g.: @FrontNeurosci, @F1000Research, @biorxivpreprint, …).
- Content of the lists is not mutually exclusive: this means that you can include a contact in many lists. For example, you can include @FrontNeurosci in a list called “Journals” and in another list called “Neuroscience”, and so on.
- Lists could be public: This means that you can carefully build a list of contacts and someone else on twitter can follow the list you created. This is very useful, given that you may not want to reinvent the wheel. For example, @neuroconscience built an interesting list of cognitive neuroscientists.
Choose your favorite desktop client
Twitter offers an official web interface to the social network. However, in my opinion it is not powerful enough for productive purposes:
- At work, it is likely that your main focus would not be on Twitter. This means that you will switch to twitter tab not so frequently. Twitter official web interface packs all the unread tweets together: you may lose relevant information, and you could be frustrated when discovering that out of hundred of tweets there were just one or two relevant bits.
- Official interface dedicate relevant space to world trends. In my opinion this is absolutely not useful for scientific research, and it is also a source of procrastination.
Tweetdeck is a web application now developed and maintained by Twitter itself. Its most powerful feature, in my opinion, is the possibility to organize streams of tweets in single, separate columns:
- You can create single columns for each of the lists you created or followed. This is really useful to keep track of the information in the way you thought.
- You can create a column out of an hashtag. This is extremely useful in many different situations: you can keep track of a specific topic, e.g.: #defaultmodenetwork, #bayesianstatistics, …; or specific events, e.g.: #OHBM2016, …
- If you switch back to the web app tab after a while, you can easily individuate which columns have updates and choose to explore just those ones you want to browse.
- Unfortunately Tweetdeck does not have a mobile counterpart. There was one a few years ago but Twitter decided to discontinue it.
Choose your favorite mobile client
Twitter app presents, in my opinion, exactly the same flaws as the browser version. There are many mobile apps to easily visualize lists and organize tweet streams in columns.
Plume is very easy to use. It works in the same way as Tweetdeck. Unfortunately it does not have a browser counterpart;
Hootsuite might be a bit more hard to learn, but it has a browser counterpart: this means that you can be consistent between mobile and browser.
Build knowledge on top of Twitter
In my opinion, for a researcher the most important part of being on Twitter is to have an immediate and constantly updated idea of what is going on in scientific community.
Nuzzel is an interesting tool (available both as a web application and on mobile) that basically scans your Twitter timeline and reports the most retweeted tweets. This gives you an idea of what is being read and discussed around: if many people shared a paper, chances are that it is worth reading it.
Medium is a platform for publishing long-form text (like the one you are reading right now) highly integrated with Twitter. You can write rich texts using your twitter username, you can cite other twitter accounts, you can easily integrate images and other media. This might be a way to communicate thoughts and commentaries in a quick way and start the discussion.
My current setup
I am currently using Tweetdeck on my web browser, Plume on mobile and Nuzzel (which I personally consider the most relevant tool in this context).
I currently maintain a list of twitter accounts mostly related to cognitive neuroscience and neuroinformatics, but I am always looking for other relevant lists, not necessarily related to these topics.