Using social media as a [newbie] academic – Part 1: the benefits

Tomorrow, Åsa Cajander and I will be holding a seminar on “Social Media to Promote Research and Impact Society” for some of the researchers within NORDWIT – the Nordic Centre of Excellence (NCoE) on Women in Technology-Driven Careers. I volunteered to join Åsa on this seminar not because I see myself as an expert in how to use social media, but rather because I felt it would be a good opportunity for me to dig some more into the best practice related to the topic. Preparing for the seminar brought me to reflect on how I have been handling social media since I started my PhD studies – considering both what using social media has brought me so far as well as the difficulties and dilemmas it has confronted me with. In this post, I will focus on the former, while the latter will be the object of a next post.

Some facts about my use of social media

For a long time, my job-related use of social media was limited to Facebook and an obsolete LinkedIn profile. Shortly after starting my PhD however, I decided to turn my personal webpage into a blog, a development that was quickly followed by the creation of a personal Twitter account. Those steps were inspired by seeing how some of my colleagues, like for example Åsa Cajander (@AsaC), Christiane Grünloh (@c_gruenloh) and Jonas Moll (@Jonas_Moll), used social media to promote their research, engage in discussions with researchers and practitioners from all around the world as well as stay updated about what was happening in their respective community.

What I enjoy about social media

  • I have been writing (despite not having been publishing)
  • One of my main motivations for starting a blog was the conviction that it would help me become a better and faster writer by giving me a constant reason for practicing writing. (In fact, this specific benefit of writing a blog seems to be one of the most frequently mentioned in the articles I have read on the topic – Pat Thomon’s post being maybe the most extensive example I can think of.) Despite it being a bit too early to judge whether I have become a better writer since starting my blog – which, after all, is really not that old – and although I regretfully have to say that my writing speed has not improved so far (more on that later), I have definitely been enjoying using my blog as a writing platform. Had I not had it, I would probably have written only a tenth of what I have produced so far – simply because I have not yet come to the point where I can start publishing on my research.

  • Blogging gives me a feeling of achievement
  • Now, you might be wondering what simply “writing” has brought me in itself – would it really be for the worse had I not done it? Well… yes, I certainly think so. I think that the main benefit has been that I have been “forced” to think through the different topics I have written about. Instead of being content with vague and unchallenged ideas and arguments, I have had to reflect thoroughly on my thoughts and assumptions, structure them into a coherent whole and formulate them in a (hopefully) agreeable style. This is a time-consuming, challenging and often frustrating process, but the outcome – a “Aha experience” of some kind, with the feeling that you have, in some way, taken a step forward, is extremely rewarding. There is definitely, on my part, a sense of achievement that comes with each of my post, the feeling that I have challenged myself – and the satisfaction of being able to sharing the result with others.

  • I have received support… and food for thought
  • Of course, sharing one’s thoughts with others is at the core of social media. After all, if I just wanted to practice writing, I could do it privately – but I chose to do it publicly, on a blog everybody has access to (and for which I actively “advertise” on other social media!). For me, this public sharing of my posts have had the two main following benefits:

    I have received support and advice from my community. Colleagues and fellow researchers have reacted to some of my posts (interestingly, those exchanges have mostly taken place on Twitter rather than on the blog itself), and provided me with advice and support.

    Such a nice compliment from my supervisor Åsa Cajander in response to my struggle with delegating project work

    A good piece of advice from my colleague Christiane Grünloh in response to my difficulties in documenting my daily progress, accompanied by a humorous touch.

    I have initiated discussions / debates. Some of my posts have led to other people sharing their nuanced opinion on the addressed topic (either through Twitter, their own blog, or via private communication), pushing me to think beyond my own perspective, and making me aware of aspects I had not considered.

    Jelle van Dijk, an Assistant Professor at the University of Twente, reacted to my post about why users should not be blamed for struggling with computerized systems with a post of his own, addressing aspects I had not considered.