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BEYOND THE PROFESSORIATE

Guest post: Grad students need social media

By JENNIFER POLK | NOV 22 2013

Leah DeVellis is the coordinator of graduate services & professional development in Carleton University’s faculty of graduate and postdoctoral affairs. She tweets about professional development, social media marketing, entrepreneurship, and alternative academic careers. Follow her on Twitter @LeahDeVellis.

Graduate students conduct cutting edge research, invent new technologies, write books, and start companies – and so much else, besides. Still, many of them shy away from using social media to promote themselves and their research. I work with graduate students in the area of professional development. When I ask them why they don’t use social media to promote their research, I often get responses along the lines of “I don’t have enough to say” or “I’m not an expert.” This is untrue and absurd. Grad students produce innovative research, giving them the experience and credibility to speak about what they do. Social media is a tool students can use to share knowledge and establish themselves in their fields.

Here are 5 reasons why graduate students need social media:

  1. Connect with others – Grad school can be an isolating experience. Grad students are often in labs and offices conducting research followed by writing and more writing. Social media is an excellent means to connect to others in your field, share ideas, and get feedback on your work. You are not alone; there are people out there discussing interesting topics right now. Tip: follow #ScholarSunday on Twitter to get recommendations on top academic tweeters who use Twitter to discuss their research. Also follow #phdchat on Twitter to connect with other grad students completing their doctorates.
  2. Make research accessible –  While publishing in academic journals is prestigious, readership is limited and it takes too long to get published. The beauty of social media is that you don’t have to wait 12 months to have your work published and available. Communicating your research through social media outlets makes it accessible to millions of people instantly. Tip: Create a 1 minute video about your research and post it on YouTube, then post the link on your LinkedIn page.
  3. Mobilize your research  – Too many Masters and PhD theses collect dust and go unread. While few people will read your 200 (or more!) page thesis, thousands of people use social media to gain up to date information and news. Social media allows graduate students to share their research with an ever-expanding audience. Social media allows you to communicate your ideas and research immediately and have it read by a much larger audience. Someone could be reading about your research right now. Tips: Search Google+ communities with key words related to your research and discover groups and people working in your field. Check out #KMb and #KMbChat on Twitter to learn from experts in knowledge mobilization.
  4. Make yourself the expert – You know more than you think. Social media gives you the ability to establish yourself as an expert in your field. By sharing knowledge and resources you will gain credibility and become an authority on your topic. Tip: Be consistent. Focus your social media engagement in one or two general areas.
  5. Alternative- or post-academic careers – The number of PhD graduates drastically outstrips the number of available faculty positions. Grad students can use social media to build #altac or #postac careers. Twitter is extremely effective for students to identify key players, organizations, and opportunities outside academia. Tip: Job ads are often posted on social media sites. Follow the organizations and companies you are interested in working for and keep your eyes open for opportunities.

Want some examples of grad students using social media? Check out Carleton biology PhD student Thomas Hossie who tweets and blogs about his research on evolutionary ecology of caterpillar eyespots. Thomas had this to say about using social media as a grad student: “Blogs, personal websites, and other social media outlets are important tools when students are trying to define themselves as researchers in their own right. I feel that you can use social media to move towards being perceived as your own entity, and not just a subsidiary of the lab in which you are currently a member.” (Follow Thomas @hossiet and find him online at Caterpillar Eyespots.)

Lauren Markewicz, MA student in public history at Carleton, uses Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to publicize her history blog and research on representations of First Nations people on early Western Canadian postcards. She also uses live tweeting at conferences to connect with other participants. “A whole other layer of conversation can be happening as the speakers present, and can even create conversations between those in different rooms attending different panels, drawing links between the two as they occur, and even with folks who could not make it into town for the conference,” Lauren says. (Follow Lauren @HistoryBoots and find her online at History Research Shenanigans.)

If you are a grad student conducting research, consider the benefits of using social media such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, and other sites for professional purposes. Final tip: use the social media platforms that work best for you.

ABOUT JENNIFER POLK
Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website: FromPhDtoLife.com.
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  1. Red Rico / November 25, 2013 at 13:12

    Social Media is a tool that has become a disease. Those graduate students who do not use it do so because they are fully aware of its negative impact on society. I’d rather die of poverty than utilize a tool which is contributing towards society’s demise. Now that you have used your social media to “network”, you can go back to stalking your past partners and looking at meaningless pictures of other people’s meaningless lives. For those of you who do not use social media, keep up the good work.

  2. Jen / December 2, 2013 at 11:37

    Thanks for this post and the many smart ideas for getting and staying connected. Our office works with a lot of grad students and we see SM as important for both ac and alt-ac track students.

  3. Dimbi / January 27, 2014 at 16:58

    I stopped tweeting and facebooking when I started my 3rd year PhD. I just wish I stopped earlier. I think I just spent a crazy amount of time on social media that on other more important things and it really distracts. Also in SM, not all your friends are grad students or academic people or people related to ur dream career (unless you choose them to be only those but I don’t think many people will do that) so I really don’t think it’s a good place to share your research or anything related to you being a grad stud. Grad students need concentration not distraction, really!!! if you are not disciplined enough (let’s say I was), just don’t start using SM. Something like LinkedIn is ok career-wise, but certainly not fb, or even tweeter, so I do not agree with the author of this article.

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