Twitter is a social media platform sometimes referred to as a “microblog” due to the 280 character limit of a single tweet. It has become popular for its capacity to rapidly disseminate ideas. In newsworthy moments, it can often be a more expedient information source than news networks themselves. For example, rapid adoption of hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeTooSTEM have resulted in global social movements.
Concerns about Twitter include occasionally questionable reliability due to the proliferation of artificial accounts called “bots”. Even so, the rapid dispersal and growth of content via Tweets make it an effective mechanism for sharing research and professional development. Indeed, Twitter’s greatest benefit for scientists may lie in its capacity to help Early-Career Professionals (ECPs), especially those identifying as marginalized, to find and cultivate a community that extends beyond scientists within their immediate professional circle or geographical range.
IDENTIFYING AS AN EARLY CAREER PROFESSIONAL (ECP)
Tailor Your Twitter Bio:
Use your profile description (a.k.a. Twitter Bio) to represent what you are hoping to bring to Twitter – whether that’s your research expertise, your academic philosophy, your values, and/or your personality.
Determining if your Twitter will be Professional, Personal, or somewhere in between:
Twitter can be a great way to meet potential collaborators, and thus it can be important to be mindful of how you represent yourself on the platform. This means that you may decide to only tweet about specific topics or follow/retweet specific accounts. For example, despite how informal Twitter seems, you may want to develop a personal policy about swearing.
Ultimately, it’s up to you. There is a wide spectrum of academics on Twitter with many different styles, and that’s a good thing! Some go about their account not posting anything, solely using it to keep track of papers from journal articles or current events. Find a style that works best for you based on your needs, which will likely exist by the example of other profiles.
Tweeting About Research:
When you share a factoid provide a link to a credible source. Not only is this standard academic practice, but it also helps connect viewers outside of your specialty (and outside academia) to your source AND gives credibility to what you’re tweeting. Linking to sources may also help keep trolls at bay. Sharing your opinions is also okay, of course, but be prepared to engage in a respectful discussion.
You could also consider sharing a picture that you took or a compelling visual as part of your tweet. This is a great way to enhance your tweet and broaden its reach but don't forget to credit the person who took the photo or designed the visual!
Since Twitter went live in March 2006, academics on Twitter, including both experienced professionals and ECPs, have since developed their own etiquette. How did they come about, and why use them? We share some examples below:
General Rules of Engagement:
Twitter is a public forum: Even deleted tweets can be recovered via internet archives like the WayBack Machine. It is important to be thoughtful about what content you choose to share on Twitter.
Use @ and # Deliberately:
According to Ernesto Priego, the ‘@’ symbol “indicat[es] location and response, invocation, evocation, address, acknowledgment, and recognition.” When replying to a tweet/thread (a series of consecutive tweets that may end with “6/n” to indicate where a given tweet is in the sequence), make sure you are only replying to those to whom your tweet is relevant. If you “reply all” when you don’t need to, you may end up spamming others’ Twitter notifications, which can be irritating and confusing.
Academia Obscura has collected this list of useful hashtags (#) for academics including #PhDchat, #ECRchat & #ICanHazPDF. When adding hashtags to your tweets, make sure you only use the most relevant/pertinent ones. Too many hashtags on Twitter can be perceived as juvenile, unprofessional, and spammy, unlike other platforms such as Instagram.
If someone you’re replying to doesn’t use the ‘@’ symbol or a particular ‘#’, follow their lead. They likely *do know* that they have the option to use the ‘@’ and ‘#’, but don’t want to loop certain people into the conversation for reasons you may not be aware of.
You may or may not want to feed the trolls: Given the content of your tweets, you may sometimes get replies that are irritating, obnoxious, inappropriate – some that may even qualify as harassment. Perpetrators of such tweets are considered “trolls” in internet jargon. How you engage with them is a personal choice. In some cases, you may choose to report abusive behavior.
Note: Just because an account has been Twitter-verified (has a blue and white check mark) or has a large number of followers, doesn’t necessarily mean that they adhere to Twitter norms. In general, there has been some confusion about what the verification badge is meant to convey. For example, Twitter stopped allowing users to submit verification requests in February 2018. So, regardless of the quality or veracity of an account, use your own judgement in determining if it’s a style you’d like to follow or build on. If it was not verified before that cut-off, it may never be.
Miscellaneous Useful Hacks:
Although a tweet is limited to 280 characters, there is a way for you to use threads to connect related tweets and share stories about your research and/or your experiences as an ECP. Use this tool with caution: it works great for stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end, but not so great if your story doesn't have a direction.
Since Twitter is like “trying to have a conversation in a pub”, it happens naturally that tweets in multiple languages are flying around (no pun intended) at blazing speed, which makes the discussion confusing and overwhelming at best in real time. Making good use of Twitter’s built-in “Translate Tweet” and “Search” function allows you to keep up with the conversation, tie loose ends, and engage with more folks!
Twitter can certainly serve as a news outlet – albeit a subjective and potentially inaccurate one – as well as a way to stay up to date on the hot gossip. These draws may not be the reason that you use Twitter as an academic.
It can be a great place to learn how current events are affecting your colleagues in real time. For example, during the United States Government shutdown in late 2018 and early 2019, #ShutdownStories was a window into how academics dependent on federal resources were being affected by the shutdown.
Keeping up with Science
There are a fair number of people who use Twitter to share their findings and new publications (more on that below). People also use Twitter to report their personal discoveries of cool new phenomena – oftentimes these are not at all relevant to their field!
In that vein, some Twitter users will use the “like” & “retweet” function on Twitter not only to upvote a specific tweet but also bookmark it for later exploration.
Additionally, Twitter is a great place to *generate* science! A lot of cool citizen science projects have taken off because of Twitter. For example, #KingTideNH2017 got people to go out and take photos of high tides and share them on twitter, #CougarOrNot empowered people to differentiate between cougars and bobcats.
Sharing Knowledge with the Public
Publications: Many people use Twitter to share newly published research that may or may not be registered by an h-index, but can still be academically impactful.
Conferences [part 1]: Hot-off-the-press findings are often shared in real time at conferences that are linked together through a common hashtag (e.g., #AAAS2019). Not only does this allow people who couldn’t attend the conference to participate, but live tweets can also serve as “notes”, because people tend to tweet the most salient points of a talk or poster presentation!
#AskAScientist: very self-explanatory!
Using Twitter to discuss recent research can facilitate engagement with science-interested parties beyond the Ivory Tower such as policymakers, government agencies, civic organizations and students. It is also a way to discuss the major implications of new research in a more informal manner.
Learning from the public
Twitter can also be an excellent venue to learn by following people you may never get to interact with in real life. For example, many marginalized scientists share the unique challenges they face as they navigate science and academia:
There are also “rocur” (rotating curator) accounts that allow new people to tweet from them on a regular basis and share their unique stories/ expertise. Some of them are:
Networking and Professional Opportunities
Conferences [part 2]: Using Twitter when conference hashtags are active plugs you in to an incredibly powerful networking tool. Not only do some conferences have their own Twitter handles, but conversations about the conference will also happen in real time on Twitter in a way that they can’t necessarily happen in person. You can often track a conference via a year-specific hashtag. For example, the Ecological Society of America’s annual conference can be identified by #ESA20YY (e.g., #ESA2018, #ESA2019)
You can also use Twitter to follow, find, and stay up to date with people in your field and prospective collaborators. Exploring other people’s Twitter feeds and who they follow can help you to identify new people to follow or connect with beyond Twitter. Following topic-specific hashtags (e.g., #scicomm, #DiversifySTEM, #MeTooSTEM) is a productive way to expand your network, identify leading voices in social and academic discourse, and learn about important aspects of academia and science beyond academia which may not be commonly discussed in-person where you work.
It is understandable that you might feel a little shy or nervous to make the initial contact, but there are so many great reasons to reach out to people and start conversations. One way to do this is to tweet/direct message people whose work you like and compliment them, mentioning specific aspects of their work that you found interesting. People always love to hear that you read their journal article and found it valuable. Another way to connect with people is to help them out if they are soliciting help. Some people might appreciate an RT, while others might be seeking a specific resource. Helping someone out is a great way to make valuable connections that could last a lifetime.
Besides, Twitter is a great place to both advertise and find opportunities for funding and research, including jobs as well as graduate, post-doctoral and tenure-track positions. If you follow academics whose work is related to or has inspired yours, you may see them advertise for jobs on Twitter!
Our Lead Contributor Priya (@priyology) recently used Twitter to suss out potential internships. Her tweet demonstrates how Twitter can be an informal medium through which professional opportunities can be solicited and connections can be made.
Finding and Building a Community
Belonging to a great Twitter community at all stages of your career can be a source of emotional support and help in finding solutions to problems. Check out hashtags like #SciComm, #AcademicTwitter, #ScienceTwitter, and #PhDlife. This community can be especially valuable for underrepresented minorities (#marginsci) who may be the only individuals like themselves in their programs/institutions.
Ultimately, how you use Twitter will depend on what services you feel like you’re getting out of the platform. Whether you want to use Twitter to occasionally peruse job opportunities or use the platform to develop your own professional “brand”, there is a community on Twitter ready to support you. Just as what Jonathan Zittrain (@Zittrain), Professor at Harvard Law School has said, “The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful.”
Amplifying the Voice
Being visible and well-networked online can lead to public speaking jobs and invitations to conferences that you may not have been considered for before. Researchers may also be looking for someone with your expertise, and Twitter can be a casual way of gauging your interest in collaborating. Dr. Auriel Fournier (@RallidaeRule) has a great post about how Twitter interactions have amplified her CV.
Not only is Twitter a platform to share your research, website, and/or blog, but you can also use it share or aggregate knowledge/information. You can do so by creating Twitter threads, building Twitter moments, and curating a rocur account (see examples in section on Learning, above):
It’s also kosher to pat yourself on the back – Twitter is a great place to share your hard work!
And, there are always people looking to amplify others’ voices, by curating lists that they make publicly available.
If you’re still skeptical of Twitter or think that this may be a huge time sink, you can take 1-2 hours to create a passive Twitter presence by setting up an account and tweeting about a few choice things relevant to your interests, and pinning a tweet that links to a recent publication or your personal website. You can also choose to get updates when you follow specific Twitter accounts.
"Scientists, Meet Twitter!" originated from a discussion between Priya Shukla, Ph.D. Student at UC Davis and Forbes Contributor, Sabah Ul-Hasan, Postdoctoral Scholar-Lecturer at The Scripps Research Institute and Executive Director of The Biota Project, and Alex Ip, Founder & Editor of The Xylom.
They are joined by (in alphabetical order) Vidya Balasubramanyam, Wendy Bohon, Roisin Conneely, David Coyle, Rutuja Dhamale, Leni Krsova, Bethann Garramon Merkle, Michelle Neil, Meredith Schmehl, and Matt Wilkins, who provided content and assisted with the editing process.
The writers would like to thank Roman Modlinger, a Forest Entomologist working for the Forest Protection Service of the Czech Republic for providing relevant scholarly resources during the writing of this resource.
Additional References and Resources
Bik & Goldstein 2013. An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists. PLoS Biology.
Fournier 2018. My CV without Twitter. Dr. Auriel Fournier’s personal website.
Parsons 2018. To tweet to whom – a tweeting guide for marine scientists. Southern Fried Science.
Shiffman 2012. How to live-tweet a conference: A guide for conference organizers and twitter users. Southern Fried Science.
Ul-Hasan et al. 2018. Academic Twitter v3.0 Etiquette 101. FigShare.
Montgomery 2018. Building and Sustaining Diverse Functioning Networks Using Social Media and Digital Platforms to Improve Diversity and Inclusivity. Frontiers in Digital Humanities.
Tull et al. 2017. Hashtag #ThinkBigDiversity: Social Media Hacking Activities as Hybridized Mentoring Mechanisms for Underrepresented Minorities in STEM. ASME.
Simard 2009. Creating Change for Underrepresented Minorities in Technology: Latinas in Computing. Fast Company.
A slide deck derived from this article is created by Meredith Schmehl and is available for free download here.