Social media for researcher developers: what’s in it for me? #vitae12

This week, Emma Gillaspy (Vitae NW Hub Manager) and I presented a workshop at the Vitae International Researcher Development Conference  [#vitae12] on the topic of using social media. This time it was aimed at folks, who like me, are employed to support the development of researchers.

The background to this is that researchers are changing the way they use digital tools in the context of their research. There is lots of work going on as part of the wider JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme including work being carried out by Vitae to better understand the development needs of researchers.

I’m interested in the digital literacy of folks like me for a couple of reasons:

1) It surely makes sense to better understand how researchers using digital tools in the context of research so that we are better able to support them

2) I believe that the very same digital tools can help staff supporting researchers to engage in their own professional development (something that we all want more of!)

The slides I used to support this workshop are below.

In this workshop we had a good number of conference attendees taking part, there was a mix of experience in the room which is what I had expected. One of the first things we asked people to do was to identify their hopes and fears about using digital tools. I predicted that the fears would fall into three broad categories:

  1. Information overload – the fear that engaging in social media would be too much information to keep track of
  2. Digital Identity – concern over what to share about oneself, privacy issues and the blurring of private versus professional
  3. Data/intellectual property concerns – what happens if I share something that someone else exploits/stealing of ideas

Here’s what they said…


During the presentation I showed a couple of youtube videos to illustrate some points, the first was about the revolutionary effect of social media in general – the changing attitudes perhaps

The key points from this are:

Social media is not about technology or tools, it’s about people sharing things

We don’t have a choice about whether we do social media only how well we do it

The second video I used was Zella King talking about how social networks are important – researchers already know this but this video talks about how we can better understand how to makes networks work for us.

The key thing from this video to take is that one needs to understand who is in our network, both close ties and weak links which can be used for different purposes.

Remember that the use of the tools only make interacting with our networks a lot easier.

We used a lot of examples throughout the workshop about how researchers and researcher developers use tools at their disposal to make things easier. I talked a bit about what tools I use to compartmentalise my private versus professional life. I also talked about why I blog – I started a blog for myself, it was to reflect on the skills development events that I have run so that I can get it out of my head. It also serves as a repository of what I have done so I can refer back to it. A pleasing side effect of this is that others have found that useful and have begun to interact, comment and feedback which is fantastic for informing how to do things better – to improve ones professional practice!

I think we touched on something important for the attendees, many expressed an interest in using more digital technologies to improve on what they do which can only be good for all concerned.

Emma and I would be interested in knowing what you think about it, what hopes and fears do you have?

Further resources

Handbook of social media for researchers and supervisors (2012). Open University/Vitae

Social Media: A guide for researchers (2011). Research Information Network

If you build it, will they come? How researchers perceive and use web 2.0 (2010). Research Information Network

A guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities (2011). LSE Impact of social sciences blog

4 thoughts on “Social media for researcher developers: what’s in it for me? #vitae12

  1. Thanks for doing this Paul. I just wanted to echo everything you have said here. I love encouraging people to get involved with social media to help us all improve our relationships and professional practice. I have already seen my social network grow as a result of the workshop and I really hope that we can carry on the wonderful collaborations/ideas that were sparked at this year’s Vitae conference. Let’s hope that next year we will be able to showcase a larger and more active online community for researcher developers.

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