|Image credit: Pete Simon, Flickr
The following article first appeared in Funding Insight on December 3, 2013 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this visit www.researchprofessional.com.
I’m always slightly incredulous when I run career workshops for researchers and discover that only 5 per cent of the participants are using social media. Having been around when email came into common use in the early 1990s, it would have been hard to find a single PhD student or postdoc, five years on, avoiding this new communication revolution in favour of posting letters and phoning.
Access to a global network of information, opinion and jobs relevant to a huge range of disciplines, personal interests and careers is just one of the reasons to sign up to social media. More significantly for researchers, I recently heard a professor say in a practice interview session that he wouldn’t consider researchers seriously if they weren’t on ResearchGate or a similar social network such as Mendeley.
So you can see how potentially detrimental it could be to your career if you continue to avoid getting on with social media.
The Society for Experimental Biology’s recent career master class series included a one-day workshop entitled Social media – communicating your way to a successful career. Well known for her social-media expertise, tutor Anne Osterrieder delivered a highly interactive and engaging workshop aimed at showing researchers the value of social media.
During her workshop, Anne described the wide variety of social-media platforms available, reassuring participants that they need not engage in everything, since this would be overwhelming and too time-consuming. Instead, she walked us through the social media ‘building blocks’, demonstrating which types might suit particular interests and purposes.
This is where I discovered social media sites for specific purposes such as Soundcloudfor audio, Vimeofor video and Imgurfor photos. The nature of your research will determine the social media that you choose to engage with. For example, does it generate lots of interesting images? Does the discipline lend itself well to public interest?
Equally, factors such as how confident you are to write about your research or express an opinion to a global audience, how often you will realistically be able to update your site, and whether you are looking to promote yourself to potential new employers will all (and more) determine how best to take part in social media to your advantage.
There are four things to take into consideration before you decide what to do.
· Breadth vs depth: Do you want to write about your discipline, your research area or a specific project?
· Focus: Will you present concepts or actual data?
· Access: Will you present published or unpublished research?
· Issues: Intellectual property, copyright, collaborative research, peer review.
After the morning’s introductory session on the range of social media out there – while acknowledging that within a few years some of them may have disappeared, supplanted by as yet unimagined new ones – Anne moved on to blogging. This social medium has been around since the late 1990s and is usually a commentary on a particular topic by a single author, or sometimes multi-authored. Anne’s own blog, Plant Cell Biology, is a great example of a bright and informative site, and there are many more covering all sorts of topics from policy and careers to personal diaries.
Commitment is required if you decide to set up a blog. Questions to ask yourself include
· Do I have enough to say over a sustained period of time?
· Do I feel confident to talk about this subject?
· Do I have enough time to write 700-1,000 words every few weeks?
· Who is my audience?
However, if you don’t feel ready to devote the time and effort required, you may prefer to try your hand at micro-blogging.
Blog “light”Micro-blogging will take up much less of your time and in many cases, you can be relatively passive and still benefit from an online presence. This is when I discovered that Tweeting could be considered to be ‘micro-blogging’. Anne believes Twitter is the best example of micro-blogging, allowing you to blog in just 140 characters, amplifying your message with links to other sites or images.
Tweeting also allows you to hear what others have to say on subjects that are of interest to you, as well as linking you to people with whom you would never normally be able to communicate. You can use Twitter and other people’s Facebook sites to make sure as many people as possible see your messages, especially if you have spent time writing a great blog.
Another micro-blog, LinkedIn,connects you with professionals and employers in readiness for your next career transition. These networks are highly diplomatic enabling you to access organisations and personalities that previously would have been outside of your sphere of influence.
As you engage with social media you will find yourself building an online identity. This needs to be consistent and portray you professionally. Whichever platform you are using, make sure that you have completed the majority of the ‘profile requirements’. For example, always use a picture of yourself which shows you at your best (especially on the professional LinkedIn site) and always add an informative profile— you can look around at others to get ideas.
Social media is a great way for you to communicate your way to a successful career. Just bear in mind Anne’s parting warning: Whatever you put on social media can be seen by your boss, your family and your competitors.
Anne Osterrieder is a research and science communication fellow at Oxford Brookes University and tweets on @AnneOsterrieder.