Why should scientists use social media? Is Twitter good for my career in research?
Here are ten game-changing advantages to boosting your online presence:
- Keep up with the latest news in your sector.
People are increasingly getting their news from social media, and scientists are no different. Most major scientific journals, societies, research centres and academic publishers will have a presence on Twitter, and some may also be on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. These social media platforms are often used to promote new books, reports, blog posts, and journal publications, as well as upcoming events.
Scientists can follow these accounts to get real-time, easily digestible updates. It is also possible to group people and organisations into lists on Twitter, so you can create dedicated feeds for different topics and dip into each as you please.
- Hear about career development opportunities.
As well as news and topical events, organisations often share opportunities for career development. These could include career-focused panels and workshops, professional development schemes, new vacancies, and funding announcements. Scientists can also learn from one another by sharing experiences from their own career journeys, useful resources, and advice.
While LinkedIn is an obvious choice for this type of content, organisations will also often share these updates on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can check us out on Twitter and LinkedIn for regular updates on new grants, career schemes and events.
- Build your professional and social network.
Social media gives you access to an international community that can reach scientists from different fields and institutions, and at every stage of the career ladder. Dedicated hashtags, such as #scicomm on Instagram and Twitter, can help scientists easily find one another, and more specific hashtags, such as #climatechange and #mentalhealth, can narrow in on particular interests.
This can lead to introductions to people and organisations that you are keen to learn more about, foster new mentoring relationships, and even lead to future collaborations.
LinkedIn and Facebook are particularly useful for creating groups for like-minded researchers with a common background, interest, or goal.
- Raise your profile.
As your network grows, you can also build your reputation as a trusted expert voice.
You can share images of your work and interesting facts about your area of expertise, and also celebrate paper publications, awards, conference attendance, media appearances and public engagement activities. In this way, you can become a recognisable and trustworthy figure in your field.
This can lead to more exciting opportunities, such as invitations to discuss your work or expert opinion with the press, write a guest blog post or journal article, or speak at an event.
There is also evidence that sharing your work on Twitter can increase citations and downloads of your scientific papers.
- Support a more diverse and inclusive medical science and healthcare sector.
Social media has become a powerful platform for raising awareness about equity, diversity and inclusion. Many scientists have taken to Instagram, for example, to prove that you do not have to fit a particular mould to pursue a career in science.
Hashtags such as #ScientistsWhoSelfie, #WomenInStem, #disabledinSTEM, #LGBTQinSTEM, #BlackWomeninScience, #BWIS, #BrownGirlsInSTEM and many more celebrate diversity in the science community, and they are also used to encourage people from underrepresented groups to consider a science-based career.At the Academy, we often share scientists’ stories of life outside science on Instagram and Twitter to encourage the conversation around the diversity of voices in science.
You can use social media to share your own experiences and insight, and you can also be an ally for other scientists from underrepresented groups by reposting their experiences and showing your support.
- Be able to reach out to the public.
Science and society benefit when researchers are open about their work and share their findings beyond academic circles with the public. Platforms like Twitter provide scientists with the opportunity to reach the public directly, and to present their research in an accessible way without jargon and the paywalls.
This might be tricky if you’re used to writing in a more academic style, but – with a bit of practice – you can get the hang of honing in on key messages and even using photos, infographics, and videos to convey your findings.
Public engagement can be especially impactful for countering dangerous misinformation. The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the crucial role scientists play in engaging with the public to shape decisions about their health, including through sharing clear, evidence-based information on social media.
The World Health Organization shared a series of ‘COVID-19 Mythbusters’ on social media, in the form of infographics. An article in the Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) Journal outlined a study that found these infographics had a positive effect in correcting misconceptions about COVID-19 prevention.
- Engage directly with patients.
Direct access to the public can also help scientists to engage with patients, who have lived experience of the conditions they are researching. These patients, also known as lived experience experts, can co-design research studies so that scientists are asking the right questions, using suitable methods and drawing sensible conclusions.
As with any kind of patient interaction, it is important for engagement over social media to be conducted sensitively and empathetically.
- Bring about changes to policies at local, national or international levels.
Social media has become central to campaigning and advocacy, including in the world of science. You can use social media to highlight the importance of scientific research for society, and advocate for better funding and policies.
On 13 August 2021, the Finnish government announced a proposal to reduce research funding by €40 million for its 2022 budget. But on 10 September, amid a Twitter campaign highlighting the importance of research called #minätutkin (#I research), this proposal was halted.
Matias Mäkynen, the chair of the innovation and research parliamentary working group, tweeted a thank you to researchers for the campaign and announced that the cuts had been withdrawn for at least the next year.
- Fit it around your workload.
Many people avoid social media because they “don’t have time”, but it doesn’t have to eat into your day – you can put in as little or as much as you want. If you’re serious about engaging online, consciously build it into your routine until it becomes a habit. The beauty of social media is that it’s portable and personal, so you can use it in the way that suits you best.
- Share as much or as little as you want.
It doesn’t have to be all work, no play. Many scientists share snippets of their personal interests, hobbies, and personality in their posts. This can actually help to make your profile more relatable and boost your following.
However, it’s important to share only as much as you are comfortable with. Be sure to look after yourself, and – if you ever face any harassment online – reach out to your institution for support and report any inappropriate behaviour.
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