Social Media for Researcher Developers: What’s in it for me? #vitaewiifm14

Social media on electronic displayThis week I delivered a session on behalf of the Vitae London Hub aimed at staff supporting researchers (colloqially researcher developers) on the topic of using social media. I have talked about this topic before, at the national Vitae conference and at a South West and Wales regional good practice event.

Both of those events have been face to face workshops but this session was delivered as a webinar which means I have had to think quite hard about how to keep the content and discussion moving in this format. This was the first time I had used a webinar application in this way so was new for me. There was a minor glitch at the beginning but I think we managed to circumvent the problem and deliver the material pretty much as intended!

Here is the link to the information about the webinar:-

Webinar: Social Media What is in it for me?

The slides I used to support this session are included below.

I started out by providing a bit of context around social media use and wanted to emphasise that although there are a myriad of different tools out there, the process is still about people sharing things with others. I also posited that we have little choice about engaging with social media which I summed up with a quote from Erik Qualman

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

In setting the context around social media use in academia, I talked a little about the Vitae project on Digital Literacy that was undertaken as part of the larger Jisc Developing Digital Literacies Programme. This survey was undertaken to establish a baseline of understanding about how researchers and that staff who support them are using social media tools in their social and professional lives.

We then moved onto what concerns or fears people have when it comes to engaging with social media tools – here’s a selection of comments.

  • It comes down to a personal cost-benefit analysis (of my time and overall reach)…and the little I have delved into social media, hasn’t really produced enough interaction to make the time it takes to spread the message online worthwhile
  • Using team twitter accounts – how do you make sure it is the right message when several people are using it?
  • Finding time to do it during the day
  • Finding the target audience
  • I think it’s best to keep personal (e.g. Twitter) separate from professional. what do others think?

Whenever I ask this question, the answers can usually be put into three 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

Managing information overload

We had a look at portals and aggregators to help manage information streams. For example I use Tweetdeck to manage 3 twitter accounts -This makes it easier to separate out different elements of twitter, to send scheduled tweets, to monitor hashtags etc. For me, it also provides a much easier way to track news items or professional activities of interest in one place which is a time saving rather than investment.

In response to the question raised about several contributors to a single twitter account, Anna Price from the Vitae London Hub offered up this advice from Tseen Khoo

Digital Identity

We spent some time discussing online identity, how to balance the “personal me” vs the “professional me”, how different tools lend themselves to different purposes and how actively managing information about yourself is a good thing to do.


I wanted to focus a little bit of time on the use of blogs by researcher developers. We, collectively, are in the business of training and development and, in my experience at least, there are few of us who don’t re-purpose, borrow, adapt materials from other sources. There is no point reinventing the wheel as the saying goes. Networks like Vitae give us the opportunity to share practice although most of this is face to face.

I covered a couple of themes with this; partly about dealing with the finding the time question; when I write a blog post I write primarily for me – it is a way of reflecting on the workshops that I deliver, thinking about how they went, thinking about how they can be adapted in the future. This has a secondary function – it provides context and resources for the participants. So I do this instead of writing handouts as supplementary material.

A further outcome is that it is not just participants of my workshops who can read and access the materials – other researcher developers can and do. This helps continue the sharing of practice beyond the infrequent face to face networking meetings.

And speaking of networking, part of the reason why I engage with twitter is that (by and large) the people I follow are chosen because they share things that are interesting and useful. There is a theory about all this works but we didn’t have time to get into it in an hour long session but here is a short video from Dr. Zella King that summarises that.


I talked a little about this and I try to live by a simple rule when posting on twitter; “If I wouldn’t say it to your face, I won’t post it online”. This is especially good to remember if you’ve had a drink (or three) and engaging on twitter.

Further Resources

Digital Professionalism – what not to share

Social Media – A Guide for Researchers

Vitae/Open University Handbook of Social Media

Vitae Digital Literacies survey report (2012)

The Thesis Whisperer blog

Patter – Prof. Pat Thomson’s blog

Researcher Development at UWE, Bristol

The outdoor classroom in the Brecon Beacons

The outdoor classroom in the Brecon Beacons

The UWE Graduate School are currently advertising a vacancy for a Researcher Development Manager with a closing date of Monday 17th February 2014; this blog entry is to explain why it is available and to give a bit of context around the role.

The current role holder (that’s me!) is covering the maternity leave of a colleague – the Graduate School Manager – so am having to step out of researcher development. I believe it is a fantastic opportunity for a researcher who wants to break into the sphere of researcher development or it could be just the change of perspective required for a current researcher developer as a secondment opportunity.

So, a bit more about the job and why it’s a great opportunity. At UWE, we recently (in January 2012) consolidated support for doctoral studies into a single institution-wide graduate school. This  provides all the necessary support for doctoral researchers from admission through to completion.

Skills development sits within the graduate school structure and provides a programme of events for all doctoral researchers across all disciplines. We have a population of just under 500 doctoral researchers spread across four faculties (Health and Applied Sciences, Business and Law, Environment and Technology, and Arts, Creative industries and Education). This presents both a challenge and an opportunity to understand more about the differences between disciplines. I’m a microbiologist by training but I have come to appreciate the range of approaches of colleagues across the institution.

As well as catering for doctoral researchers, the role extends to providing skills development events for research staff at UWE, there are approximately 200 staff on research only contracts and many more academic staff who cold be described as “early career researchers”. This is achieved by extending the offering of the skills development programme but also by running the UWE Researchers’ Forum. This is an important route of engagement with research staff not just in terms of their development but also of how UWE as an institution supports researchers through the policies and procedures it adopts.

As well as providing a programme of events for researchers this job also involves contributing to policy development with respect to researcher development e.g. the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the associated HR Excellence in Research award that recognises progress in implementing the concordat.

The other feature about this job is the collaborative nature of researcher development in the South West region. UWE has a long tradition of working with others to deliver skills development events for example:-

A growing area of this role is finding new ways to engage with researchers who cannot attend the university in a physical sense. We have been using a videoconferencing system called Visimeet to enhance our skills development delivery especially in a module entitled Research in Contemporary Context. There are opportunities here to think more creatively about how the future might be shaped by the use of these tools.

This blog has helped extend the reach of what we do (and is a really easy blogging platform to use even if you aren’t technically savvy) so a willingness to embrace some social media tools is a pretty good thing to have as a researcher developer.

Hopefully you can see that this job has a lot of scope to get involved in a variety of events, projects and policy discussions which would give the role holder a lot of experience in researcher development. If that wasn’t enough, the job is in Bristol – which is a great place to live and work.

Are you interested?

Apply here

Still have questions?