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?
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, Academia.edu, 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!