March 26, 2012

From Twater to Twaddict: using Twitter as an ECR – by Charlotte

images.jpgThere's been a lot of discussion about Twitter recently, especially amongst ECRs at Warwick - Fran recently blogged about trying to get into Twitter, and last week we held a discussion amongst ECRs about the pros and cons of using Twitter as a researcher. I found this really useful encouragement to think about why and how I've found Twitter useful as a researcher, and how I go about presenting my "Twidentity".

When I first joined Twitter back in October I was initially quite sceptical about the value or how I would use it. I tentatively sent out a few tweets, followed a few people I knew, and linked up my blog. It all felt a little unknown, but what I realised quite quickly was that the only way to really give it a go was to fully take the plunge and get stuck right in. I branched out to following people I didn't know (using lists of people I followed for suggestions), retweeting and replying to others' tweets, and getting into discussions on the semi-mysterious # threads. Immediately there seemed to be more "point" to what I was tweeting, and before I knew it I was building up a decent following/follower list, getting lots of responses to my tweets, and becoming part of what I realised was a growing and lively academic community.

6 months later, at over 1000 tweets and 300 followers, it's safe to say I'm hooked.

Twitter has a useful place for all academics, but from my experience I think it can be especially useful for ECRs. Many of us initially feel disconnected from the academic community or in limbo as a researcher, but I've found that through Twitter I feel connected and engaged to other researchers. Not only is my own work getting picked up by others, but I'm constantly finding out so much about what's going on with academics in my field and in the research world more widely. My Twitter feed is a constant source of events, news, blog posts, ideas, thoughts, and queries on subjects that I'm interested in. What's not to like?

I can see the downsides, the main one being the time factor involved. Depending on the type of work you do (e.g. lab work) it might be near-impossible to tweet in your working day, and for others it feels like a distraction from work. I think if you can justify checking emails/ facebook/ texts in the day, you can probably justify 5 minutes here and there on Twitter (and I tend to find those 5 minutes infinitely more productive or interesting!). A lot of my tweeting time is the "dead time" in between doing other things, when I'm on the bus, or at the start/end of the day when I'm doing other pc-based tasks.

The issue of your "twidentity" is also an important one. Twitter is a public forum, and anyone can see what you tweet so it's important to stay professional and not say anything that might be misconstrued by an employer or colleague; whilst I have the odd tweet about the size of my marking pile (usually met by sympathy from others!), I would never tweet anything that I wouldn't be happy with a student or potential employer reading. It's also a good idea to think about how you might want to "streamline" your identity, e.g. by only sticking to certain subjects; I tweet about all the different aspects of my professional identity and a few other related interests, but with the exception of the occasional tweet about Masterchef I mostly maintain a work persona.

But the benefits in terms of networking and opportunities that have come about via twitter far, far outweigh the time investment. I'd especially recommend it if you have a research blog: not only has my readership has vastly expanded since being on Twitter, I've also been featured as a case study in a journal article on ECR Victorianists and social media, been invited to speak about my blog at a conference, and it's played a crucial role in my wider engagement activities this year. If you're ambivalent but tempted then give it a go! If you're already a "twaddict", what do you find useful about Twitter?

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