“Yes, I want to be an academic social media superstar!”

September 2013


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Thesis Whisperer, Dr Inger Mewburn recently visited Victoria University of Wellington to discuss the merits of incorporating social media into academic research. Education Review invited two research students to share their reflections on the workshop.

Heath Johnson

When I returned to university to pursue a PhD in March 2013, I knew there would be three main components to embarking on an academic career: preparing a sterling thesis, publishing in reputable journals, and developing a reputation for myself in academic circles. I am currently spending almost all of my time on my research and devoting very little to the networking, something that I hope to remedy. Further, while publishing and attending conferences are great ways to get your name out there, it’s a bit like fishing with a rod: in order to catch more fish, you need to cast a bigger net.

Dr Mewburn provided some informative and persuasive arguments for creating a presence for yourself on social media, one that I will be adopting as I progress through my PhD studies and eventually enter the world of academia. I kept a personal blog (current in stasis) several years ago, and one of my striking memories of that experience was how quickly and widely a well-written blog can be read. To that end, Dr Mewburn’s advice hit home:

  • identify your audience,
  • choose two or three themes upon which to write,
  • keep your messages tight and succinct, and
  • write often.

Further, draw readers to your online presence through other social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Like many others, I have been dubious about the value of Twitter. Who wants to read my inane ramblings? What I failed to realise is that Twitter is an incredibly powerful networking and collaborative tool. Again, by posting regularly on topics of interest, one can attract a disparate and engaged readership. This can be used to highlight your work, to help find sources, and to collaborate. Think of how often you’ve gone into a meeting to ask colleagues for help; now imagine your colleagues are global in reach, located in multiple time zones, with access to a worldwide range of resources. That is your new network; that is the potential of Twitter.

In her presentations, Dr Mewburn stated that if you Google your own name and the first links that come up are your faculty listings at your institution, then you are not in control of your online identity. Social media allows you to take control of that identity, better develop your networks, and disseminate your contributions. We should all be doing it.

Heath Johnson, BComm (Dal), MBA (Oxon.) is from Moncton, Canada and is a PhD Candidate at Victoria University of Wellington.

Aitana Forcen Vazquez

I have a personal blog, and I have a Twitter account, and while I’m quite active on the first I had no idea how to use the second. I’m doing a PhD in Physical Oceanography, and I love science. During my two and a half years of doctoral study I have been thinking about Science Communication. I strongly believe in sharing knowledge. I believe that people knowing what scientists do will lead to a better understanding of the problems and hence to a better way of finding solutions. I always thought scientific blogging was an “easy, affordable, anyone can” way to do it. But anytime I think about writing my own science blog I am left asking: What am I going to write about? How can I get people to read it? Is it going to be interesting enough, professional enough, good enough?

When I saw Dr Inger Mewburn’s workshop at Victoria University, “So you want to be an academic social media superstar”, I had just started to read her Thesis Whisperer blog three weeks before. I thought the blog was great, and the workshop was an opportunity to learn about academic social media from a very successful blogger.

The first part of the workshop, blogging, went from the personal experience of Dr Inger Mewburn to “you can also do it”. She gave us some useful tips and resources to create our own blog - some “what to do”(and “what not to do”) ideas: Find the gaps that are waiting to be filled in your own discipline, choose a good theme to write about, be engaging (and short); as well as the importance of a good name! I really liked the idea of including an introduction/explanation/biography, a good way to keep the blog on track and not divert your own writing from the main purpose.

The second part of the workshop, Twitter, started with a real time demonstration of the power of this (still scary) social media tool. During the workshop we got lots of responses to Dr Inger Mewburn’s tweet about why we should use Twitter, showing us the power of this channel. It feels so alive and quick. I was impressed! Three things I learnt in the workshop. One, there are thin and thick tweets, you wouldn’t believe the amount of information you can put within 140 characters! Two, Twitter is to connect with real people you want to share knowledge with, people “you would like to have gone to High School with”. Three, you can use Twitter to give and receive information (lots of it), publicise your blog, teach and even network!

Now, I am even keener to start my own science blog (although it will have to wait until my thesis is finished!) and am determined to explore the Twitter world to become an active user. After confirming the amount of people that Twitter can reach, who wouldn’t?

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