Social Media and the Science Communication Unit #digitalresearcher

Social media on electronic displayA few weeks back I gave a lunchtime presentation in a forum for those using/running social media channels at UWE. I was presenting the point of view of someone who supports the development of researchers and how social media is both part of my professional practice and something I think researchers should think about utilising to support their own career development.

Fast forward to today, when one of the research centres at UWE, the Science Communication Unit, invited me to attend one of their lunchtime meetings to discuss some of the opportunities and challenges for researchers.

In some ways, I thought it a bit daunting as I’d imagined that I wouldn’t be able to add a great deal to the existing knowledge base in the SCU. So I focussed discussion on what I think are the challenges and opportunities more widely. The slides I used to frame the discussion are embedded below.


Main points then from me:

  1. Some folks get bamboozled by the enormous number of tools available and often ask which one they should use. I reframed this by saying one has to remember the underlying process in all of this is people sharing things in a community so the question should be what do I want to share and with which community – then the right tool is the one that does that.
  2. I think there is a difference in the willingness to ‘have a go’ depending on experience, and as some evidence suggests, what age range you are in. Confidence in digital literacy I think is the best way to sum this up. I believe that some early career researchers are risk averse when it comes to using digital tools for a number of reasons.
  3. I can usually categorise these into three themes– concerns about information overload (or time to engage), concerns over digital identity (the blurring of professional vs private) and concerns of the misappropriation of ideas. Most of these can be mitigated against by making a point of using social media for the right purpose and perhaps displacing other activities.
  4. I don’t think everything to do with social media is wonderful, there are downsides. I read with some trepidation, Cal Newport‘s recent book on Deep Work where he argues that we have become addicted to distraction lowering our boredom thresholds to a point that it becomes very difficult to focus on cognitively difficult things for any length of time. Indeed, one of the chapters is entitled “Quit Social Media” although he is really advocating a proper consideration of the Return on Investment (ROI) of some digital tools– interesting stuff!
  5. I offered a few tips on making life easier by using short cuts to getting things done – aggregator tools, compartmentalisation and blogging to name a few.
  6. The main point is that researchers often associate social media with the dissemination of work but increasingly social media is playing its part in all of the research cycle.

Further Resources

Social Media – A Guide for Researchers

Vitae/Open University Handbook of Social Media

Vitae Digital Literacies survey report (2012)

The Ed Techie – Martin Weller blog on digital scholarship/open ed

Mark Carrigan – Social Media for Academics (2016)

The Thesis Whisperer blog

Patter – Prof. Pat Thomson’s blog

Becoming a Digital Researcher – #druwe

Social media is booming. You can now find user generated content in just about all spheres of life; politics, music, history, you name it and it can be found. What about the field of academic research? Are the critics right to sneer at social media as being trivial time-wasting activities or could there be a real benefit to the researchers who do engage using more of the tools at their disposal? As with most things it would appear that there are pros and cons but with the right tools in the right context, it can be an effective way for researchers to raise their profile, swap ideas, get feedback and, possibly, find that all important next job.

This is why that next week, I’m glad that we are running a workshop at UWE entitled “Becoming a Digital Researcher”. This is going to be a hands on demonstration of some of the social media tools that are being used in academic research. I’m especially pleased that Tristram Hooley will be leading the day, he was one of the authors of a Research Information Network publication on this topic: Social Media: A Guide for Researchers who also has his own (very good) blog called Adventures in Career Development.

I’m also interested in how these social media tools have evolved and become part of the toolkit that researchers can access, I can recall clearly how the web based tools moved on at pace throughout my own research degree journey and I like to think that I keep up with some of them!

In thinking about this post, I came across the infographic below from Fred Cavazza which shows the current landscape with respect to social media, an attempt to classify what is out there. Just by looking back at his similar diagrams over the past four years demonstrates how quickly things progress!


The social media landscape 2011, a mapping of the types of social media tools in use


If you are interested in following the goings on via twitter we will be using the hashtag #druwe 

If you are interested in coming along in person, drop me an e-mail