Academic Twitter is abuzz about this article from The Guardian, clearly designed to provoke with its suggestions that ‘serious academics’ don’t do social media, that live-tweeting conferences is wrong, and that there’s pressure to emulate lifestyle Instagrammers by taking pictures of our lunch (not that there’s anything wrong with that, if that’s what you want to do). A few people have already blogged about this, but I do love a bandwagon, and I have been wanting to write about how much I love Twitter for some time, so here we go. I want to make it clear at the start that nobody HAS to do social media - and not everyone does - it’s just the pompous tone of this article that’s got our backs up!
I didn’t deliberately join Twitter for academic stuff - I created my account before I even did my Master’s, started off by following authors and bands, then followed lot of funny people and a few historians (I was thinking ahead), and now my feed is a mixture of funny people, historians, funny historians, people from other disciplines, local interest accounts, mental health accounts, brands, job accounts, random people who have nothing to do with anything, cats, and authors and bands. My account evolved from me saying random stuff of no interest to anyone about my life and the news, to that plus talking about my work as more and more fellow academics found me, and I found them. It is funny how one account’s feed can be completely different from another’s - it does create confirmation bias, but when I go on the Glass of Bubbly account, it is like stepping into another world!
Having Twitter has benefitted me as a PhD student in a few ways. For one thing, it’s really helped me with conferences. It helps me find out they’re going on in the first place, which is always good! It also really helped us disseminate the ‘Myth and Popular Memory’ conference Call For Papers and information.
Furthermore, I’m an introvert and majorly socially awkward to boot, so being able to approach someone and go ‘I’m Alice from Twitter’ has been a really useful ‘in’ for me. I’ve also followed people after meeting/seeing them talk at conferences, so Twitter has been a great way to maintain acquaintances without the burden of increasingly awkward emails. I find conference hashtags a fun way to communicate with other attendees (eg I might retweet a picture or good tweet from someone at the same conference), or follow what’s going on at a conference or panel I can’t get to. Contrary to what the article-writer says, I find that I can still concentrate on what the speaker’s saying if I’m live-tweeting - it’s just like taking notes, except for an audience. Live-tweeting is a great service to people who can’t be at the conference due to cost, illness/disability, distance, or caring responsibilities. And I love it when people live-tweet my papers as it gets my name out there - I always put my Twitter handle on my presentations in case!
Twitter has also given me loads of opportunities. I’ve made so many connections, and I’ve loved talking about my work, PhD/academic life, getting help and advice, and just making jokes and shooting the breeze with the people I have on there, but the awesomeness doesn’t stop there. All of the blogs I’ve written for other people have happened because of Twitter. The article I wrote for The Psychologist came about purely because I happened to retweet the editor, and he looked at my bio and asked if my research touched on psychology at all! I’m also pretty sure that if it weren’t for Twitter (perhaps a tad ironically) I wouldn’t have been aware that the Guardian Higher Education Network was looking for articles on Why I Love My PhD (and wouldn’t have been aware of any responses to it - I never dared look at the comments on the article itself, but I’ve had some nice feedback on Twitter). And we mustn’t forget that #storypast started on Twitter, which led to me being involved in the first ‘real life’ discussion.
Even now I’ve finished my PhD, and am leaving academia, Twitter keeps on giving. I’ve been sharing my experiences of finishing the PhD and talking to other people in the same position on there, and ever since I started my PhD, the platform has also really increased my awareness that not all PhDs go into academia. The blog post I wrote last week did really well thanks to people retweeting it. I want to keep in touch with people I’ve met, and see how their careers and research pan out, and keep abreast with what’s happening in the field of history of childhood. I found out about the informal internship I’m currently doing through Twitter, and use it as part of the role.
Of course, like any social media platform, Twitter has its issues, and I’m aware that I’m very lucky never to have encountered direct negativity on there. I do hope that they’re going to become more effective at helping people who do get abuse. I still prefer ‘favourites’ to ‘likes’, and have never used the ‘Moments’ tag. There are some extremes represented - it can seem like people either hate their PhDs, and regret doing them, or work on them every waking moment. But I get so much from it - entertainment, interesting things to read (including the news - I often have to work out from the jokes what the story is!), meaningful interaction - that it’s been a force for good in my life.