“Oh, I know you from Twitter”: Social media for PGRs
I really love social media- both as a hobby and in a professional capacity. My daily screen time is probably higher than the average, although in my defence, my role as the PGR intern takes up a fair chunk of that! However, since starting my PhD, I’ve seen first-hand how beneficial social media can be for your visibility as a PGR. In this post, I will explain how you can make use of the most popular social media platforms to network, find support and benefit your professional development.
Twitter is possibly the most popular social media app for academics (hence #AcademicTwitter) and it is a great place to network with individuals both inside and outside your field of research. Talking about your research on Twitter can increase your visibility, as can interacting with posts and retweets from others. Making use of hashtags (including conference hashtags) can help you expand your academic sphere and connect with likeminded researchers, including other PGRs. Start with people or institutions you know- including supervisors, colleagues, other PGRs, learned societies, journals, graduate schools and universities (and @UofGPGRs!) and expand from there based on suggestions. Twitter is also a great place to shout about your achievements such as publications, conference presentations and successes in your research, because for the most part it’s highly supportive, especially of PGRs and ECRs. It isn’t uncommon to find opportunities on Twitter too- especially postdoc roles, small grants, and awards. Equally, if you are keen on public engagement, interacting with news stories can lead on to opportunities with the media. When it comes to Twitter, showing your personality and aspects of your life outside of work are actively encouraged (and can help you find researchers with similar interests) whilst adding an extra dimension to your profile. For more suggestions and help with Twitter, check out the PGR@Home resources.
Instagram is really on the rise, particularly in the #SciComm sphere. It’s great for connecting with other PGRs and ECRs and creating a support network, but there’s definitely place to share some of your research too. The platform has some great advantages, so you can see why it is becoming more and more attractive to researchers; 1. There is more space to share your thoughts (the character limit for captions is 2,200 characters) 2. It is a fantastic way to express creativity 3. There are a huge range of formats you can use, including grid posts, IGTV, stories and reels Like Twitter, growing your account relies on consistency, use of hashtags and jumping on trends (particularly music and video trends). But beware of how time intensive Instagram can be, especially if you get into reels and IGTVs (I learnt this the hard way!).
Facebook certainly doesn’t pack as much power as it used to (is anyone else’s feed just full of engagement and wedding photos right now?) but there are some useful ways to use it as a PGR. Like Instagram, this can be a great place to connect with others by joining groups (especially related to research topics) and following upcoming events. In a post-pandemic world, it is likely that Facebook will be a fantastic place to find social get-togethers (the PhD Society is particularly great with these). Equally, some institutions and graduate schools will post regularly on their Facebook, so it’s worth following for updates. If, like me, you want to keep your Facebook as a social tool, rather than part of your professional profile, make sure you have the appropriate privacy settings in place, and avoid anything controversial or embarrassing!
LinkedIn is a social networking website designed specifically for professional purposes, so expect this to have a much more formal feel than the others. For PGRs searching for jobs, it can be a really useful tool- and whilst it isn’t particularly common in academia (and it is very field dependent who uses it), both academic and non-academic roles are usually posted on here. It remains the most widely used app in professional settings, like industry and policy, so a strong, up to date profile will help you to get your name out there in these fields. Recruiters are particularly active on LinkedIn, so your chances of being head-hunted will increase if you are engaging frequently with content on the site. Viewing similar profiles to your own will help you to articulate your professional brand and the transferrable skills which make you attractive to non-academic employers. Equally, it can be a useful place to stay up to date on what archives, museums and other research institutions are working on- you can join discussion groups and receive news updates from these types of professional bodies. Whichever College you belong to, sign up to the CoSS College Employability Programme LinkedIn course to get some detailed guidance and 1-1 feedback on your LinkedIn profile. You can also check out the PGR@Home resources all about LinkedIn.
Whilst Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn are the main social media apps used by PGRs, there are some other useful ones too: YouTube- if you’re keen on making videos, YouTube is a great platform for sharing this type of media. Even if you aren’t a budding film maker, there are plenty of PhD YouTubers to follow for advice and entertainment! TikTok- TikTok is short-form video platform which can be amazing for communicating snippets of research or aspects of PGR life. It’s similar to Instagram Reels, so you can easily use both. ResearchGate- a great site for discovering what projects and ideas other academics are working on. You can sometimes find useful articles and texts here and request them directly from the authors. University webpages- all PGRs at UofG have their own PGR profile, which you can edit and update with details about your research, teaching, grants, conferences and publications. I really recommend getting your profile set up- you just need to register. Personal website- you can also go one step further and set up your own personal website- which can act as an interactive CV/blog (I use mine as a portfolio too- view it at charlierexphd.co.uk). There are plenty of free site builders available- and the design is completely up to you!
There are so many amazing social media options for PGRs, each with their own benefits for building your professional brand, communicating your research to a variety of audiences, and connecting with diverse groups of people. Whichever you choose to use, here are some things to keep in mind;
Schedule your social media time to help avoid disappearing down rabbit holes or using social media to procrastinate those tasks which you dislike (we’re all guilty of this, but be mindful!).
Be clear how all the platforms use your data, and who can view your information (privacy settings). Avoid posting identifying information such as phone numbers and addresses.
Unfollow or avoid unsupportive people, or accounts which impact negatively on your self-esteem. Remember that social media is often a “highlights reel” and whilst there’s a growing trend of sharing the real side of academia (e.g. paper rejections as well as paper acceptances), people are much more likely to present an overly positive outlook online.
Along similar lines- do not be afraid to block or report inappropriate behaviour and online harassment.
Be aware of nuances and misinterpretation in everything you post.
Don’t focus on numbers- when it comes to followers, quality is definitely more important than quantity.
Be strategic with which platforms you use, and don’t spread yourself too thinly- focus on posting regularly on one or two platforms which best suit your needs. Don’t force yourself to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.
Remember that potential employers can check out your online profile and should not come across anything that detracts from your professional identity (including mistruths).
This blog post is an updated version of “Social Media for PGRs: boosting your academic visibility”, published on the PGR blog. Many thanks to Dr Dickon Copsey, Áine O’Brien (@aineclareob, @aineonmars) and Ellen MacDonald (@ellenmaccydee) for their helpful comments and advice in the writing of this new version for 2021.
This blog post was originally published on the UofG PGR Blog. You can read the original here.