Twitter – your first ten follows

Posted by on Mar 21, 2016 in Academic, PhD | No Comments

Today is Twitter’s tenth birthday so it feels timely to write a post that’s been brewing for a while. Increasingly people I meet in researcher development workshops have come around to the idea of using twitter to support their activities as a researcher, so the discussions are less “what’s the point?” and more “where do I start?”. This post will suggest ten categories of people and organisations to follow if you are struggling to find your first handholds. Clearly this is the tip of the iceberg and within a few hours of posting this I was back on adding in new names and ideas. Please continue to prompt me to put your favourites in.

  1. funders – pretty much every funder now has a twitter feed. The UK Research Councils, Leverhulme, Wellcome, Royal Society of Edinburgh, European Research Council – they are all there filling their streams with news of funding calls, opportunties to engage with them through committees and events, sharing success stories. Start with… the funder who is already supporting your research and the ones you are most likely to apply to in future.
  2. research support professionals – if you are based in a University in the UK the chances are you have access to a range of professionals to help you. Many of them kindly share their gems of wisdom openly on twitter. So even if your local office is “less than helpful”, you can still benefit from the best of the support that is out there. Start with … Phil Ward, Deputy Director of Research Services at the University of Kent (in the interests of efficiency he can also count towards category 10); Elizabeth Adams, Researcher Development lead at the University of Glasgow; Manchester PG Careers, Pat Thomson (Professor rather than researcher support, but writes often and generously on academic writing), Research Whisperer  and Sarah Blackford (Bioscience research careers specialist)
  3. academic context – as a researcher (especially if you are on a fixed-term contract) you may feel a stronger sense of connection with your research network than the institution that employs you. However, if you’re going to manage a career in academia in the longer-term it’s important to build a broader view of the academic system (if for no other reason than to be reassured that it ISN’T just you and it DOESN’T make sense). Start with… your institution (which is likely to have a number of twitter feeds – general, faculty level, department and support services), Times Higher Education, WonkHE, and the LSE Impact feed.
  4. decision makers and influencers – it’s useful and interesting (if you are an HE geek) to get an insight in the decisions, experiences and reactions of senior academics and university management to the challenges and opportunities they experience. With time you will find the academics in your field or institution, often when they tweet or are mentioned at conferences. Start with… the experts and leaders in your field. Until you work out who they are try Athene Donald, Cait MacPhee and Dorothy Bishop (I was also going to suggest Philip Moriarty, but he’s decided to quit twitter. A loss.)
  5. communities – although not strictly speaking individuals accounts, there are a number of communities that are easy to find and connect with on twitter. These are associated with “hashtags” which are basically labels that are tied to tweets so that people can find them. Start with… #AcWri (academic writing),  #PhDChat and #ECRChat.
  6. experts and specialists – on a similar theme to the research support professionals, there are also people with expertise in a range of subjects which relate to academia. Some are, like me, consultants who provide services to institutions, others are experts in related fields. Start with…  Fast Track Impact, James Hayton, Daniel Soule, Andrew Scott and Andrew Derrington. (Other researcher developer accounts are available… Ahem.)
  7. the latest thing – in the same way that a topic or event becomes the talk of the department from time to time, you also get academic trends on twitter. As your account becomes active and the twitterbots start to read your mind you’ll see these appear in a bar on the LHS of your feed, but there are also sites and accounts that tend to retweet these. Be aware that during conferences in your field people have a tendency to tweet the highlights. This can be a great way to spot people with similar research interests, but can get annoying – there’s a “mute” feature on twitter which allows you to temporarily silence someone (without them knowing). Might also be useful during other events people like to tweet about. Start with … The Conversation – a blog written largely by academics and researchers which picks up on current events, research breakthroughs and pop culture and presents an academic view of them.
  8. interests and values – if used well, twitter can be a place of great reassurance and a source of “like-mindedness”. Look for people who have interesting things to say about things that are important to you. My feed reflects my professional interests and personal values. Start with… Nadine Muller (surviving as an academic, mental wellbeing), Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow Athena Swan (equality and wellbeing) and Glasgow University Knitting (you know you want to…).
  9. peers – another key group of people to connect with (and support) on twitter are your peers. They are likely to be interested in what you’re doing and should retweet information about your work if you develop a positive reciprocal relationship with them. My peers are in researcher development, research support and research. Start with… Clare Taylor, Janet Wilkinson, Tracey Stead and Andrew Derrington
  10. … and relax! Shit Academics Say, Very British Problems, Associate Deans and Lego Academics lighten the load of my feed on bad days. And if the Orkney Library feed doesn’t make you want to go to Kirkwall NOW then you’ve died inside.

As always, interested in any suggestions to add via twitter.