Social media for PGRs: boosting your academic visibility
There is no doubt that social media have become an important aspect of my daily life. Though I’m a frequent visitor of different social media apps and websites, I haven’t always used these for academic purposes. Instead, I always considered these to be quite private and kept them separate from my work life. However, after some research, I am convinced that social media can be beneficial for your visibility and network as a PGR. I asked Dickon Copsey, College Employability Officer at the UofG, to share his opinions, tips and tricks regarding social media for academics and students. In this post, I will explain how you can use the most popular social media apps and websites to your advantage, without losing professional credibility!
Starting with the app I use most: Facebook. I personally don’t easily connect this platform to academia. When a former lecturer added me on Facebook, I didn’t know whether I should accept the invitation. Wouldn’t it be unprofessional for him to see pictures of me holding several drinks during a night out or a video I shared about a cat in a shark costume? I believe the key to using Facebook is to be aware of what others can see. You can protect your privacy by making everything – or a selection – of your profile inaccessible to people who aren’t your Facebook friends. I would advise to avoid posting anything controversial or potentially embarrassing/compromising. I know this is common sense, but it's worth keeping in mind just how public social media accounts really are, and how everything that has once been shared online is retrievable. Potential employers can check out your online profile and should not come across anything that detracts from your professional identity.
All paranoia aside, Facebook can be used for academic purposes by promoting your academic achievements, sharing links to your work on your profile and by becoming Facebook friends with other PGRs. PhD students often have Facebook pages where they arrange get-togethers and share links to interesting events, and some PGT students create pages to discuss courses and share tips for assignments and tests.
Twitter is a popular social media platform for academics. Being active on Twitter can increase your visibility within the academic community and develop your network. Moreover, it can bring you into contact with fellow researchers, publishers and people who might be interested in your project. By tweeting about your publications, updating others on your research process, sharing news stories related to your work or re-tweeting what others are doing in your field, you can feel more connected to the global research community and become a more visible member of it. Others can start following your work and this might bring you career opportunities in the future!
However, keep in mind Dickon Copsey’s advice: “Obviously, if you use social media to establish a professional profile you need to maintain your profile and keep it up to date and complete. If your profile goes out of date or looks incomplete and doesn’t properly reflect your achievements and experience, there is a reputational risk. Think carefully about what you have time to do before embarking on any social media platform and make sure that any research you refer to online is fully evidenced.”
If you want a humorous break from your project, check out the account Shit Academics Say!
LinkedIn is a social networking website designed specifically for professional purposes. This platform allows users to create an account where they can display their professional and academic CV. LinkedIn is especially useful for getting in touch with people from your field of research. You can stay updated on what your connections are working on and join discussion groups and receive news updates from research groups, archives, universities, museums and other institutions. Don’t be surprised to even find job vacancies there. A friend of mine found her new job after a recruiter got in touch with her, saying that her CV and profile were exactly what they needed!
Copsey adds: “Consider developing a LinkedIn profile to broaden your non-academic networks and practice articulating the transferable skills that might make you attractive to non-academic employers. Check out our dedicated LinkedIn Moodle to get some ideas for how your profile might look. Social networking platforms like LinkedIn can also help you practice articulating your professional brand and in some cases create career opportunities or new collaborations, particularly if you are keen to create partnerships outside of academia.”
The digital scholar
When asked about the importance of social media for PGRs, Copsey argued that there is a lot of talk nowadays about the ‘digital scholar’ or the ‘digital academic’ and there are clearly growing numbers of academics using academic and non-academic social media platforms to collaborate, share, discuss, and promote research. “I think social media can be fantastically useful in supporting early career researchers to establish a professional brand, to build communities with fellow researchers, and to practice communicating their research messages to a broad range of practitioner (and non-practitioner) audiences. Social media tools can be particularly useful for part-time or dispersed students studying away from campus.”
“In my work with postgraduate students, I’ve also seen an increasing use of these platforms for self-publishing. Self-publishing on LinkedIn or through social media channels and blogs can help you not only hone the clarity of your message but also can help you gather a following and get different perspectives on your research and ideas. Have a browse through the many formal researcher blogs and less formal PhD student blogs for ideas.”
“Academic-only platforms like Academia.edu, ResearchGate, and Mendeley offer a much more focused platform to network with researchers in your area and track who is publishing what or who is reading your work. If you want to find out more about who is using what in terms of research communication tools University of Utrecht completed a study in 2016 looking at exactly this.”
What are the disadvantages of social media for PGRs?
However, despite its myriad advantages, he also acknowledged that social media offers almost limitless opportunities for distraction, prevarication and even risk. “We’ve all experienced the Facebook/Twitter rabbit hole that we can disappear down for hours instead of getting on with what we need to do and I’ve talked to increasing numbers of students who are using social media blocking tools and time management ‘pomodoro technique’ apps to avoid digital distractions and make their online time more effective. Student Learning and Development can help you with this.”
“You also need to be clear how the platforms you are using use and protect your data and how they run their business and monetise. Many of the academic platforms have yet to work how they monetise their membership but with the investment they have received in recent years they will have to do so.”
Some general tips from the College Employability Officer:
- Self-publishing - start a research or non-research related blog or LinkedIn publishing stream to improve your writing skills, practice communicating your ideas and research to a non-academic audience, and start gathering followers and getting feedback. Hannah does this via her LinkedIn profile but there are many more good examples out there.
- Professional groups – join a small number of targeted professional groups to find out what practitioners are discussing in your field or in non-research fields that are related to your area of work. LinkedIn is particularly good for this but the academic platforms mentioned above also offer functions for these type of discussion fora.
- Social media distractions – social media can very easily take over your life (and can often seem preferable to writing and researching!) so try to take a realistic and strategic approach to which platforms are of most use to you and work out beforehand what you want to get out of it. The Innovate Handbook has some useful guidance on Social media strategy for research dialogues.
For more information, visit: http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/rsio/researcherdevelopment/rescomms/.
The Vitae Innovate Handbook also offers a whole range of advice and first-hand experience on how researchers can and are using social media effectively.
Finally, don't forget to read Stuart's social media manual!