Why You Should Twitter if You Science

Before I began to use Twitter [which is equivalent to, before I became an academic], I used to hate on it. Why would I waste my time with one more endless feed of information and random chit-chat?

However, if you are a scientist, then by the nature of the work you do, you must be closely familiar with the work of at least a few, but more likely, quite a few other scientists.

It varies a lot by the discipline or sub-area, but in many of the most cutting edge research areas, scientists use Twitter in ways that can be highly meaningful and impactful to their careers. 

For example:

  1. Twitter is an excellent way to publicize your work, especially before, during, and after conferences. Use of Twitter can increase citation counts [1]. Most of your followers are likely to be other academics at first, but growing your audience and writing about your work in short form can eventually lead to outcomes such as media coverage of newsworthy science [2]. Some academics I know Tweet more-or-less only when they have a paper accepted. Great! It’s an easy way (in a public forum!) to show that you do, in fact, accomplish work. And it does, in fact, *occasionally* get published. Celebrate, cite, and be merry!
  2. You can also be creative and strategic in how you represent yourself to the world, apart from your publications [3,4]. What have you accomplished lately? What have you failed at, and learned from? What is your personality and sense of humor like? Many academics enjoy casual conversations and jokes on Twitter [5]. It’s an enriching way to connect with people you enjoy in small, fun bursts.
  3. Meaningful relationships can be formed on Twitter. This one’s a personaI anecdote. I recently met a new collaborator from a different institution over Twitter; her contributions then made a huge positive impact on our recent paper submission. A sample size of one is a proof of concept, but I’d bet money that others have had similar experiences.

I could make this list longer, but who has time for that? 😛 The point is, there are known benefits. 

And yes, of course, there are also challenges, hurdles, and risks [3,4], which I will not dwell on here. These are not insignificant issues–yet as with all things, it is possible to learn and grow in order to overcome barriers and develop skills.

If nothing else, being on Twitter feels a bit like asserting to the rest of your field that you too, do, exist. In the long run (or at least as long as Twitter remains a thing), your presence there can go far to amplify your voice in a space where other people will go on talking, whether or not you decide to participate.

If you’re a new graduate student, this is especially important. More likely than not, no one knows who you are yet. You’ve got a lot to learn and explore, and that’s exciting! Follow the leaders in your discipline on Twitter, and you’ll get access to at least some of what they’re thinking about. It is educational, enriching, and entertaining! The three E’s! (Is that a thing?)

Anyway, here’s a bit of good news to end on: I’m fairly certain that you will, indeed, go on existing–whether or not you get on Twitter. But why not give it a tweet, and see what’s out there? 😛 

Make your profile today. (And you can follow me too! I exist, I swear!)

[Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/V6CdmV277nY, https://www.pngegg.com/en/png-zyqtc]

References:

[1] Eysenbach, Gunther. “Can tweets predict citations? Metrics of social impact based on Twitter and correlation with traditional metrics of scientific impact.” Journal of medical Internet research 13.4 (2011): e123.

[2] Côté, Isabelle M., and Emily S. Darling. “Scientists on Twitter: Preaching to the choir or singing from the rooftops?.” Facets 3.1 (2018): 682-694.

[3] Smith, C. Estelle, et al. “[Un]breaking News: Design Opportunities for Enhancing Collaboration in Scientific Media Production.” Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2018. 

[4] Smith, C. Estelle, Eduardo Nevarez, and Haiyi Zhu. “Disseminating Research News in HCI: Perceived Hazards, How-To’s, and Opportunities for Innovation.” Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2020.

[5] Simis-Wilkinson, Molly, et al. “Scientists joking on social media: An empirical analysis of# overlyhonestmethods.” Science Communication 40.3 (2018): 314-339.

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