How Early Career Life Scientists Can Use Social Media Effectively
By Dr Emma Yhnell
Let’s face it, in the world today we can barely get away from social media. The next time you’re on a train, a bus, or just walking down the street, look out for how many people are scrolling through news feeds on their mobile phones.
It’s fair to assume that social media probably isn’t going to go away any time soon. Which means whether you love it or hate it, it’s a good idea to start thinking about how you can use it to support your work and raise your profile – especially if you’re an early career researcher.
This blog post doesn’t focus on any social media platform in particular, and I should caveat that I’m old enough to remember the time of dial up internet and searching through encyclopaedias to find out information. In this increasingly digital world however, I see social media as a valuable tool for expanding our knowledge in a quick and accessible way. It makes it easy to reach out to hundreds, if not thousands of people, all at once.
A fountain of knowledge?
Looking at the social media accounts of scientific organisations is great for keeping up to date with new publications, grant funding deadlines, and new opportunities. But, be warned! Whilst corporate and verified accounts can provide a fountain of knowledge, social media also contains an abundance of opinion-based posts which are… let’s say less than objective.
While it’s always good to appreciate different viewpoints in an argument, be careful about what you take from social media because not all posts are based on fact. Whilst social media can be an incredibly helpful way of increasing your knowledge, it’s important to have in our minds that not everything we read or watch will be true.
A sense of community
On the whole, I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience of using social media in a professional capacity. Social media can provide a tremendous sense of community and belonging.
For example, I’ve been involved in the #WhyWeDoResearch campaign (more information here) which allows people to discuss research and opportunities on an accessible public platform. The campaign enables staff, patients, and the public to have discussions about research on a level playing field where everyone’s contribution is valued. People are keen to get involved to learn from one another.
If you know me, you’ll know I love a face to face chat. Personally, I think that it’s preferable to talking to people on social media. But on some occasions, you might not be able to arrange a face to face meet up, so social media provides way to get in touch with and introduce yourself to other people in your research field.
Before and during conferences you can reach out to presenters and ask them questions about their talk or poster presentation. I also feel a personal sense of satisfaction if I stumble across the person who actually controls an organisation’s social media feed!
Comparisons, comparisons, comparisons
If you use social media regularly, it can be all too easy to catch yourself comparing yourself to others. Early career researchers can be particularly susceptible to this. In a cut throat and competitive academic environment, seeing someone regularly posting about their successful grant application, accepted publication, or promotion can make you feel downright rubbish about yourself. If there’s one key thing you take away from reading this blog post, it’s please don’t compare yourself to others!
Remember: you only see what people want you to see on social media. The chances are that behind every post about success, there are tens (if not hundreds) of things that didn’t go so well that people choose not to post about. Always remember that social media doesn’t necessarily reflect the whole truth.
At the moment there are some really interesting discussions going on around normalising academic failure because, let’s face it, science rarely works the first time. Although I see the occasional social media post about rejected manuscripts, failed Western blots, and people not getting the job that they had applied for, they are far from the norm. I mean, would you choose to follow someone who only posts about the things that are going wrong in their life?
All in moderation
So, I’ve taken you through my thoughts on using social media as an early career researcher. As I mentioned, my experiences so far have been incredibly positive, so perhaps I’m a little biased… But I hope that I’ve inspired you to embrace social media and use it to help you in your academic career.
That being said, all things should be used in moderation. Constant notifications and pings can be really annoying, especially if they continually distract you. So, if you have been using social media mostly for work purposes, try to keep it to your working hours. And remember to turn it off if you go on holiday – it is still work! You are certainly worth more than your number of followers, likes or shares, and your notifications will still be waiting for you when you come back. If you’ve allowed yourself a complete break from work, you’ll come back refreshed and ready to dive back into the social media world in a positive and productive way.
Thank you to Dr Emma Yhnell for this contribution to the Hello Bio blog! You can get in touch with Emma on Twitter at @EmmaYhnell.
Emma’s current fellowship is funded by The Welsh Government, through Health and Care Research Wales. She has also received funding from the Jacque and Gloria Gossweiler Foundation and the Medical Research Council (MRC).
Want to meet Emma in person? She will also be giving the Charles Darwin Award Lecture at the British Science Festival in Hull, UK, on September 12, 2018. If you want to go along, free tickets for the event are available from the British Science Festival website.