My Fellow Tweeps-To-Be

Last week, I was honored to be a part of the Franklin Women event, “Making social media work for your career.” I had a really great evening; it was wonderful to be surrounded by such supportive, motivated and intelligent women. Thank you to everyone who came, and to the inspirational Dr Melina Georgousakis for inviting me to be a part of it.

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Though we did address a number of platforms on the night, Twitter was more or less the headlining act. A number of attendees either signed up for an account or sent their first tweet that very night, as a result of being inspired by the discussions (Shout out to @mrsxandra @magda_ellis @Brigid_Og @bhonah025 and @kamilla_marzec to name a few!).

While I’m excited to be spreading the good word, I’m also aware that merely joining Twitter does not a tweep make (tweep (n) regular user and enjoyer of Twitter). A billion users who tried Twitter have never come back. This is due in part to (what I believe to be) some shortcomings of the platform, as well as people not really knowing HOW to make the most out of their account.

I’m a natural problem solver (see: PhD student), as well as a bit of a bossy pants, so I’m here to provide you with a solution. A short(ish) primer on how to make the most of your brand spanking new (or plain neglected) Twitter account.

Twitter Terminology

#            The hashtag is a way to label your tweet. If you are tweeting about a TV show, conference, hobby etc and include a relevant #hashtag, it means that someone searching for relevant tweets can find yours easily. It’s also how a topic can start to “Trend”: if millions of people are talking about marriage equality (Hooray!), then the relevant #hashtag, #LoveWins may well start to Trend. Oh look!

lovewins

Follow         If you follow someone, their tweets will appear in your feed (feed = flow of tweets as seen on your home page).

@          @ represents the start of someone’s Twitter handle (I’m @cfawarren), and it’s also a way to send a tweet to someone (“Hey @cfawarren, I found this picture of a guinea-pig in a sombrero, thought you might enjoy!”). They will receive a notification of your tweet. Using @handle means that only the person you are tweeting and their followers will be able to see the tweet.

.@         Using .@ instead of @ means that your tweet can be seen by anyone (but only the person you are tweeting will get a notification). Using @ or .@ is often referred to in digital and non-digital conversation as “pinging” (“Did you see @cfawarren was pinging me pictures of guinea pigs all day AGAIN today?!”).

Retweet              (square arrows) If you retweet a tweet, it means it will appear in all of your follower’s newsfeeds.

Favourite            (star) If you favourite a tweet, the tweeter will get a notification. It’s the Twitter equivalent of a Facebook “like”. It basically says, “I approve!”, but with minimal actual effort. Favourited tweets will also get put in your Favourites List (on your profile page). It can be useful for marking things to read later.

favRT

Lists       You can compile your followers into lists, then look at the feed for each list separately. One of the reasons some people don’t like Twitter is that it moves too fast. If you follow a few actual friends as well as a couple of hundred scientists, science news sources and guinea pig breeders, chances are you will never actually see any of your friends’ tweets unless they are pinging you specifically. By putting your friends IRL (in real life) into a list, you can make sure you see everything they have to say. Unfortunetely, building lists in Twitter is a pain in the balls (very fiddly, not streamlined at all) so it’s best to add people into the relevant list as you follow them. This is best practise…but I don’t do it because I’m impatient. If you already have a load of tweeps you’d like to organise into lists, I’d recommend doing it in Hootsuite (though still not perfect).

DM        Sending a DM (direct message) to someone means that only they can see it. It’s a private conversation.

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Building Your Twitter Experience

Twitter is a way to personalise the internet. Millions of articles are posted online every day: with Twitter, you can increase the chances that you’ll see the ones which are relevant to you. And it will facilitate discussions with others about topics YOU care about. From experience, you are way less likely to get trolled on Twitter than you are on a message board (but the risk is definitely still there!). Twitter is a way to connect with people with similar interests to you, and to access information about your interests. But you have to establish your follows and followers first. Here’s some tips on getting started and speeding up the process:

-Use lists             You can build your own lists (as mentioned previously) in order to organise your tweeps. You can also subscribe to other people’s lists. Once you subscribe to someone’s list, all of the tweets from tweeps on that list will appear in your feed. You can still unfollow an individual from a list you are subscribed to, don’t worry, it’s not an all or nothing system. This is a quick way to make your news feed interesting. I have several science-y lists you are welcome to subscribe to.

-Write a bio       You can’t expect people to follow you if they don’t know who you are. Use the bio feature to write a few words about yourself. Think about the kind of people you want to connect with and why: if they read your bio, do you think they’d find YOU of interest? I generally don’t follow back people without a bio because I don’t know who they are: I generally assume it’s a spammer.

-Have a display pic         Fair enough if you don’t want your face attached to your profile. Pick a picture of your pet guinea pig, a plant, a test tube, whatever. Just make sure it’s not the sodding egg. That egg screams, “I never use this account so don’t bother following me” and also “SPAM SPAM SPAM”.

No.

No.

-Have a personality        Try not to be too sterile when it comes to tweeting. I like to obide by “The Grandma Rule” (if you wouldn’t say it in front of your Grandma, don’t say it on the internet), and also “The Cocktail Party Rule” (if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face in front of a room full of people, don’t say it on the internet – thanks @StartupShelley). But that doesn’t mean you have to be a robot. Express your opinions, your loves, your hates, yourself! The connections you make will be way more valuable, you’ll enjoy it more and you’ll help make scientists look like actual humans.

All set? Got the lingo down and a couple of interesting followers? Great! Let’s go! Tweet away! Oh wait…

What to Tweet

A few suggestions…

-Be inspired by some trending hashtags               You might notice that your newsfeed will become inundated with recurring hashtags or themes from time to time. Remember #GirlsWithToys and #distractinglysexy ? These were great hashtags because they were accessible, fun and they were promoting an important message about women in science. Keep your eyes peeled for another opportunity like this, I’m sure it won’t be long before another one comes along.

Elevator pitching          Here’s one I’d like to think most academics are capable of. Tweet about your research! Try and make it as accessible as possible without being patronising. Get your “science sound bites” (another thanks to @StartupShelley !) out there. It’s a rhetoric I’ve heard several times at sci-comm events, but it’s true: the internet is a vacuum. If you don’t get in there and put actual science into the arena, there’s an endless supply of pseudoscientists waiting to make their contribution instead. Tweeting about your research also builds your personal “brand”. Wanky, I know. But if you put yourself out there as the expert that you are, people will recognise it. Importantly, journalists will recognise it. Future employers will notice it. Potential collaborators will recognise it.

-Share what you’re reading                      What interesting news or topical pieces have you read recently? What was your take on it? Did it remind you of anyone who might appreciate it? Ping, hashtag and retweet away! A lot of articles will have a “Twitter share” button already on the page.

-What are you doing this weekend?       Easy as.

-Join in with a conversation        Talk to your friends. Talk to strangers. Talk to (potential) mentors. If you can see people are having a conversation about something that interests you, jump in!

-Conferences     Find out the official hashtag for a conference or event, and use it to tweet your ideas and interpretations of presentations. Use it to find new tweep friends IRL! Use it to engage with people who aren’t at the conference but who want to know more. Use it to ask presenters questions if you’re feeling shy.

Twitter has helped me to build my confidence and my networks. It’s helped with my research and training. It’s helped me to connect with mentors. It’s helped me build my reputation. It’s helped me secure a number of invaluable opportunities (some of which I actually got paid for!).

Last but not least: it’s fun! Give it a go and let me know how you get on.

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Dependence Tightrope

I recently overheard a research horror story, so terrifying it may even be worthy of campfires and marshmallows. For now, I guess, we will have to make do without. Feel free to use your imagination though. *hiss, crackle, etc.*

A friend of mine has been working with some clinical samples for about a year now, along with a few others who have been involved for two to three years. One of their main hypotheses regards a group of proteins which should be present in a particular cell type within said sample. After a lot of struggling with nailing down gene expression, let alone protein quantification, they went back to square one to check their collection and storage methods. Lo and behold; the methods the group had been using had rendered their cells of interest inaccessible. The clinical samples they had been gathering over a period of years were worthless for testing their hypothesis.

Now, whose fault all of this is, is debatable. Shouldn’t the supervisor have known better? Shouldn’t the students have double checked? Either way, the horror story demonstrates the extreme skinniness of the line between trusting and questioning your supervisor.

While a good student does as their told, doesn’t a good scientist “question everything”? While this probably shouldn’t be taken too literally (have you ever tried talking while brushing your teeth?!), a PhD student who never ventures beyond the face value of their supervisor’s advice probably isn’t destined for a highly successful career in science. Whether the advice is sound or not, assessing its value is all part and process of doing a PhD (…and, probably: life).

As a naturally inquisitive but also dubious and pessimistic individual, I have literally given myself nightmares about what would happen if my supervisor turned out to be wrong. I am ALWAYS asking questions (most of which start with, “What if…?”), and I can assure you that it’s not good for your well-being. I am constantly left wondering which circumstances are appropriate for me to doubt my supervisor’s advice.

I suppose all I can hope for is that: learning when to ask questions and when to Shut Up  And Get On With It is just one of the many skills that I will develop in the process of obtaining my PhD.

Learn How To Do a PhD, In Just One Easy Step!

Earlier on in my PhD, I developed a bad habit, though I didn’t know it at the time. As well as habitually googling, ‘reasons not to do a PhD’ (although I knew that was a bad idea from the outset), I also tried ‘advice for a PhD student’. Though seemingly harmless, asking the internet this question actually had pretty terrible consequences for a worrier like me.

Every blog post or web page I stumbled upon described, in minute detail, all of the trappings and pitfalls a supervisor, department head, administrative team, piece of lab equipment, software component or even partner could conceivably lay out for you to stumble upon throughout the duration of your studies. Reading these posts was, understandably, a terrifying experience. How on Earth could I insure myself against ALL of these perfectly feasible ordeals? Maybe I should try and delay my enrolment and take time out to ‘prepare’… maybe, if these things intimidated me so much, doing a PhD was not the right choice for me…

It wasn’t long (thank goodness), before I found a blog which wasn’t quite so intimidating, but was still realistic about all the challenges which lay ahead of me. The blog offered up this sobering “advice”:

The only way to learn how to do a PhD is to do one. All advice is therefore useless.

Back then, I took some comfort in these words, and have since stopped trolling the internet for vague PhD “wisdom”.

I hadn’t thought about the quote for a while, but after last week with its repeated mysterious experiment failures, I retreated back into the depths of my brain for some explanation as to why I couldn’t shake this feeling of PERSONAL failure every time an experiment failed.

The past few weeks have felt pretty slow and pointless because I am just not getting any results. I have been trouble-shooting and reading a lot, and trying to figure this all out on my own. Every time I cave and ask someone for advice, it makes me feel stupid. Why can’t I just be as smart as these people, and have as much insight and expertise?

Then I remembered that sodding “advice”. I can have the smarts, and I can have the insight, and I can have the expertise. I just have to learn how to do a PhD: and we all know there is only one way to do that.

In other words:

  1. Asking for advice is OK (the good, specific kind, not the vague, horror inducing, tell-me-all –the-ways-I-could-fail kind)
  2. Sometimes things don’t work, and that’s the only way you’re ever going to figure out how they do work.

In other, other words:

  1. Shut up and get on with it.