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Tackling Twitter as a Graduate Student

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I grew up during the rise of social media. Born in 1995, I have watched social media transform from inconsequential platforms for storing your random thoughts to a multi-billion-dollar industry in which influence serves as a form of currency. I have had to learn how to navigate these changes on my own, and I have suffered through more than a few pitfalls along the way. Tackling academic Twitter has been my latest social media challenge, so for those graduate students who have yet to venture into the Twittersphere, let me introduce you to #SciTwitter.

#SciTwitter, #AcademicTwitter and other, related tags are largely used by academics to communicate findings, ask questions, collaborate on projects, and discuss the latest conferences and papers. Science Twitter presents a unique intersection between a professional and social media network. There is an abundance of posts on why join Twitter as an academic and how. Here, however, I want to offer some tips from one young graduate student to another.

1. Determine your purpose.

#SciTwitter offers a wealth of resources, networking opportunities, information on the latest papers and science communication practice for established academics as well as trainees. You can partake in all of these and more, but it helps to have a few goals — especially in the beginning — so the constant information flow doesn’t overwhelm you. Once you know why you are participating in academic Twitter, you can brand your online presence accordingly.

2. Choose your brand.

Twitter is a powerful resource for graduate students not only because of what they can get out of it, but also because of what they can put into it. Engaging with Science Twitter is an opportunity for you to present yourself as a budding professional. What are you passionate about? What do you want to be known for? Branding your Twitter is a great way for people to find you and keep you in relevant loops. For example, my Twitter activity revolves around brain alterations in psychiatric disease. When new papers come out or new conferences are announced, both my timeline and my direct messages are filled with the latest information. A solid network can help you keep up with the rapid pace of scientific discovery. To amass a steady group of followers, though, you must have consistent, on-brand posts. Use appropriate hashtags, and tweet about things pertinent to your brand. Follow people in your field, and feel free to reach out directly to them (via direct message or mentions) to initiate a relationship.

3. Determine what and how much you want to share.

The internet is a big place. Friends and strangers, as well as current and future employers, are all on the internet, and they are likely on Twitter. When sharing information, ask yourself if it is safe to share it, and then check to see if it is aligned with your brand. Importantly, you’ll have to decide how personal to make your Twitter presence. This concept is tied to your brand. Do you want to focus only on academic topics, or do you want to branch out into topics that are more general? Some people have separate personal and professional Twitter accounts. I know my generation is very keen on discussing heated issues online. I would advise you to keep your #SciTwitter account more neutral. At this stage in your career, you do not want to burn bridges or risk offending a potential employer or collaborator. Plus, having a Twitter account dedicated to a few academic subjects helps keep you on brand, allowing your followers to truly serve as your professional network.

This list of tips is certainly not comprehensive, but I hope it provides a few more issues for new academics to consider when joining Twitter. My final piece of advice is to be your best authentic self. You are your most unique brand, but remember that #SciTwitter is a professional setting, so put your best foot forward and engage only with those who uplift you.

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