Making Healthy, Positive Use of Social Media in Academia
The pull and push of social media in research/academia
There has been an exponential increase in the use of social media in recent years. Social media platforms have gained additional popularity in academic circles for research outreach, networking with other researchers and even sharing real-life experiences. Social media in these digital times is a tool with enormous potential – for both good and bad.
Indeed, while there is often a positive sense of community to be had, it can be equally toxic and destructive. It can be rife with highly edited versions of the truth and make you feel inadequate or pressurise you to emulate what could very possibly be a fabricated academic journey.
This article outlines some practical steps you can take to ensure healthy, positive use of social media as a researcher/academic.
a. Not getting affected by the negativity
Know that PhD and postdoctoral journeys are hugely personal and experiences vary wildly. This means that social media can sometimes be used for some to blow off steam. It isn’t uncommon to find tweets about the general toxicity of academic workplaces, and widespread mental health concerns and struggles among early-career researchers.
These are important issues no doubt, but tweets written in the heat of the moment can be catalysts for negativity on these platforms, and don’t necessarily contribute to healthy discourse. And the worst thing you can do is respond to a tweet combatively, causing an all-out argument (a tweetstorm).
How you can deal with it: If you come across a post that has an overtly negative tone to it, take a moment to consider that this post comes from one person with a subjective experience of their career and does not reflect academia as a whole. Allow this to sink in before you consider getting too worked up over the negativity you encounter on social media.
b. Choosing to use social media positively
In fact, you could choose to do the reverse of the practise described above: be positive. This doesn’t, for instance, mean that you become a mental health champion or advocate (though you very well could if that’s what you wish to do). You could exhibit positivity through smaller actions such as:
- Sharing what makes you happy about your research (literature review, field work, writing…)
- Congratulating people for their academic achievements, such as defending their thesis, winning a grant or setting up their lab (or simply liking these posts)
- Talking about your pets/animal companions (who have been a source of solace for many during the pandemic and whom many researchers/academics have informally credited as co-authors and collaborators) or other support systems
For more on human co-authors and collaborators, read the following articles:
- Understanding Co-authorship and managing it successfully
- Collaborating in research: Purpose and best practices
c. Using social media as a form of outreach
Short-form social media platforms such as Twitter are the platform of choice for academics. A quick search using hashtags such as #AcademicTwitter or #PhDchat yields an enormous range of voices from the academic sphere. Using these hashtags can be a great tool for you to communicate your science in bite-sized pieces (a tweetorial).
You could use a hashtag relevant to a disease area you are working on (e.g. #fibromyalgia, #HaematologicalDiseases).
You could tag a charity relevant to your work (e.g. @RedCross, @UNHCRInnovation).
d. Staying up do date
The best way to use social media is to engage with researchers in healthy ways by keeping in touch and staying up to date with groups and science communicators that interest you. LinkedIn and Twitter are particularly useful platforms that are regularly used by many groups to keep the community up to date on publications and opportunities for studentship and jobs. If you are looking for new opportunities, don’t be shy to reach out to people posting about interesting opportunities. You never know when you might find your (new) calling!
Try to pick out the positive aspects of social media – such as the thriving community of academics and an effective, engaging means for sharing knowledge and research – and engage with those. Pay no attention to overly negative posts and use social media to help you advance your career in ways that feel uplifting, encouraging and healthy for you.
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