Can early career researchers use social media to benefit their career?

12 06 2015

My PhD journal has come to an end as I submitted the revision of my thesis this week. Exciting! I also published my first peer reviewed journal article last week– Use of blogs, Twitter and Facebook by UK PhD students for scholarly communication at Observatorio (OBS*) Journal.

The journal paper described how participants in my study used social media tools to benefit their research work and build up professional profiles. It also discussed challenges and difficulties they may face. Strategies to maximise their practice were also suggested — to link different social media tools together for cross-platform promotion, to create a personal learning network (PLN), and to build a professional online profile. A blog post with more detailed discussion was written for the Higher Education Development Association, University of Oslo– How PhD students use social media to help their research development.

To reflect on my own PhD journey, social media has certainly helped me getting recognised and getting my work out there. I was approached for presenting at academic workshops and conferences because I blogged about the work I had done on open science and social media. I was also contacted by various journalists, consultants, startup companies and universities in the United States to give comments on Chinese social media because they read my blog posts.

I have met PhD students and early career researchers who told me that they started using Twitter because they met me and what I had told them, and more importantly they found Twitter helpful. I hope more early career researchers can use social media to benefit their research development one way or the other. It might not be for everyone. The time and effort that one needs to invest on using a new media tool can be tremendous and overwhelming. Moreover, it might be more comfortable to hide behind a desk and computer screen than being out there presenting ideas and work that are still at a very early stage. As early career researchers, we need that confidence to believe that our work is good enough to let the world see it. How long will it take to turn our research into a journal paper? It might take a few years. If you could build your professional profile through disseminating research ideas on social media, why not do it?

early career researcher

In a conference paper ‘Seeking and sharing research information on social media: A 2013 survey of scholarly communication’, I talked about academics actively contributing research updates on social media and passively gathering information using new media tools. If you don’t have the confidence or don’t feel like sharing your ideas because of various concerns, you could still use social media to search for and gather useful information. For example, more and more universities and colleges are setting up YouTube channels to distribute educational content, such as lecturers and training sessions. Wikipedia, blogs and other websites has been frequently cited in academic articles. Some academics may feel guilty of only taking and not giving. One respondent from my study commented, ‘Oh dear, I benefit but don’t contribute. Oops.’ However, passive audience are not free-riders because their presence are much needed to motivate contributors to keep writing blogs, keep re-tweeting useful information, keep contributing to wikis and so on. Moreover, audience can give feedback and comments to help contributors improve the quality of their work.

The last important point is that social media can help connect us lone researchers, build up our social capital and improve our sense of belongings. Social media is ‘social’, after all. You can’t have a drink together in the pub if you are in two difference cities or even countries, but you can message each other easily through Twitter, or simply join the conversation of #phdchat and other hashtag communities out there in your area.

So the answer to the title question is that yes, early career researchers can use social media to benefit their career. Researchers at any career stage can adopt Twitter,, Research.Gate, Linked.In, blogs and other tools out there for various reasons and to various degrees in their research work. You may be active participating or passive viewing, as long as you find the time and it benefits you!

When technology goes wrong at presentation #phdchat

17 10 2012


I recently gave a presentation in Methods Fair organised by Methods@ Manchester.  My topic is “Why I use mixed-methods to research scholarly communication and academic use of social media”. It’s a one day event of many workshops and poster presentations for new PhD students from universities all over the country. My talk is about my methods for my PhD project, which incorporates both qualitative and quantitative methods. I had a PowerPoint presentation of 24 pages. Unfortunately, the PowerPoint went funny and kept running through by itself and wouldn’t go back to the page I wanted. I guess that this was because I was rehearsing timings and probably accidently clicked ‘use rehearsed timings’.  In that moment when I was in front of 20 people who were all looking at me, I had to stop the slide show and used ‘normal’ mode which the main screen was smaller than ‘slide show’ mode.  I don’t know if the audience could see the slides clearly in ‘normal’ mode, but it’s definitely a lesson learnt and to be improved next time! The slides for this presentation is accessible at


Using Nvivo10 to capture social media data

2 08 2012

I attended the PGR student conference in School of Education, organised by Methods Manchester today. Although I’m a Sociology PhD student, there are many interesting workshops and talks that could benefit my research. I was very impressed by Elizabeth Wiredu and her Nvivo 10 training session. It was fun and easy to understand how Nvivo was used to code and analyse qualitative data. Moreover, the new version of Nvivo 10 has added the function of generating social media data by clicking ‘NCapture’. It is a new tool in Nvivo 10 that can capture data from Twitter (such as search of # theme), YouTube and so on. If you are social media researchers like me, who are still trying out all those fancy tools out there that may make our life a lot easier, try Nvivo 10. They have a free trial of 30 days. My university said they have bought the software and are looking into this, and hopefully will install in all university computers soon! Fingers crossed!

There other tool I know which can analyse Twitter and YouTube data is NodeXL. For Twitter, it generates the nodes of users (by search a particular user or a hashtag that have been tweeted) and can visualize the network of users. On the other hand, Nvivo 10 captures all the conversation by searching a topic and generates text based qualitative data.

The University of Manchester have regular training courses for Nvivo (organised by Methods Manchester) and NodeXL (by CCSR) if anyone is interested!

Reflection of attending Co-production of Knowledge Conference

1 08 2012

It has been two weeks since I presented my paper at the ‘Co-production of Knowledge: Social media, STS and…’ conference in the University of York. I have met a lot of interesting people who are doing similar research and I could possibly collaborate with in the future.

I presented my pilot study in the big theatre with 23 audiences, which was quite good attendance considering it was the afternoon of the last day of the 3 day conferences. Among the audience, we did a little survey and found about 1/4-1/3 of them had academic blogs. Some questions were raised, such as whether I’d analyse online content rather than interviewing people, whether there is a difference between blogs for research and for teaching students. These are good questions that I can reflect upon and consider in my future research.

Some presentations were very relevant to my research area and I also enjoyed meeting their presenters, such as Dominika Czerniawska with her Open Access paper, Mark Dang-Anh with his Twitter Algorithms paper. I missed Rene Konig’s presentation as it was at the same time as mine, but his research sounded really interesting and I’d love to learn more about it.

The downside of this trip to York was that I got food allergy and ended up in hospital emergency department on the first night. Staying in the York University campus and being so remote to city centre and all the resources didn’t help when I had problem at night time. Luckily I recovered quickly the next day and everything ran smoothly afterwards including my presentation on the last day. So the lesson is bringing all kinds of medication that might be needed and being careful next time—don’t get too tired! Conference could be very exhausting and stressful, especially when you are a PhD student with nerves!

Looking forward to my next conference trip though! 🙂


Presentation for social media conference

23 07 2012

I presented this at the conference ‘Co-Production of Knowledge: Social meida, STS and …’ in University of York, 18-20 July 2012. I welcome any comments and feedbacks. I’m also looking for interviewees who are UK based researchers regarding their reasons of using or not using social media for research. If you are interested, please let me know:

Should we use social media for our research?

25 06 2012

My abstract “Should we use social media for our research?” has been accepted for presentation at the “Co-production of Knowledge: Social media, STS and…”Symposium which will take place from 18-20 July 2012 at the University of York. Further information about the conference is available at:

The abstract is as below:

Should we use social media for our research?

The globalisation of internet development has eliminated constraints of time and space and this breakthrough has led to many changes in the way people communicate with each other (Hewitt, 1998). These changes have also made their way into science and scholarly communication. While scholars used to depend on browsing the most relevant published papers to stay current with research in their field, or meeting face-to-face in meetings and conferences to exchange newest information and latest research findings, the adoption of online social media, such as academic blogs, Twitter, wikis and discussion forums has enabled a real-time communication and dissemination of scientific content (Maron and Smith, 2008, Neylon and Wu, 2009, Procter et al., 2010, Gu and Widén-Wulff, 2011).  However, the traditional practice of science is based on academic reward system that emphasis the priority of discovery (Merton, 1957). Would the use of blogs and micro-blogs compromise or even sabotage the academic reward system? Some scholars have criticized scientist bloggers who blog their research rather than waiting to publish their final result, as not fair on collaborators by leaking result and as to circumvent peer review process (Cox and Forshaw, 2011). Others praised web blog and social media to have provided great opportunities for a lively and stimulating scientific debate reaching beyond the research community which are valuable to the general public (Kendrew, 2011). This raises question that how to discuss new scientific findings which have not yet been peer-reviewed in an online public place. Should academic researchers use social media for research? If yes, how to adopt it properly?


This paper is based on pilot interviews with UK academic researchers, and the findings will be developed into survey questionnaires to get a representative sample. Around four to six qualitative interviews with UK academic researchers who use blogs and Twitter in their daily research life will be conducted to explore how they use social media to find information, getting ideas about their work, find peers to co-operate in a research project or co-write a paper, and disseminate scientific knowledge to a wider audience.  The findings determine to identify the pros and cons—the benefits and the problems of scholarly use of social media, predominately blogs and micro-blogs, and researchers’ concerns towards ownership and appropriate use of their online content. The study also explores the strategy that scholars use to make the adoption of social media benefit their work to the maximum. 

Another six to eight interviews with researchers who have not adopted social media tend to explore the reason of resistance and investigate possible strategies to enhance their trust of social media and the confidence that the benefits of using social media outrace the efforts. Understanding why some academics choose not to adopt social media is an important part of a critical approach in identifying the boundaries and difficulties of social media as a medium for scholarly communication. Novel forms of science practice have challenged the traditional norm of science and only a majority acknowledgement of these new forms will lead to the shift of the whole system. More empirical research need to be done to test the feasibility of full adoption of social media and set regulation for the new practice.




COX, B. & FORSHAW, J. 2011. Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw explain the big bang [Online]. Guardian. Available: [Accessed 6 Feb 2012].

GU, F. & WIDÉN-WULFF, G. 2011. Scholarly communication and possible changes in the context of social media: A Finnish case study. Electronic Library, The, 29, 762-776.

HEWITT, P. 1998. Technology and democracy. In: FRANKLIN, J. (ed.) The Politics of Risk Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

KENDREW, S. 2011. Brian Cox is wrong: blogging your research is not a recipe for disaster [Online]. Guardian. Available: [Accessed 3 Feb 2012].

MARON, N. L. & SMITH, K. K. 2008. Current Models of Digital Scholarly Communication: Results of an Investigation Conducted by Ithaka for the Association of Research Libraries. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries.

MERTON, R. K. 1957. Priorities in scientific discovery: a chapter in the sociology of science. American Sociological Review, 22, 635-659.

NEYLON, C. & WU, S. 2009. Article-level metrics and the evolution of scientific impact. PLoS Biol, 7, e1000242.

PROCTER, R., WILLIAMS, R., STEWART, J., POSCHEN, M., SNEE, H., VOSS, A. & ASGARI-TARGHI, M. 2010. Adoption and use of Web 2.0 in scholarly communications. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 368.