Academic Twitter

Using Twitter as an (Aspiring) Academic

by Krystina Osborne


Recently, there have been many articles debating whether academics should or should not use social media (see ‘I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer’ and ‘I’m a non-serious academic. I make no apologies for this’ for opposing views on this issue). The use of social media – and Twitter in particular – by academics attracts strong views from both sides of the argument. As a (too) prolific tweeter, I offer my Tuesday Top Tweeting Tips(!) below.

Start early. I joined Twitter in 2009, when I was still an undergraduate, and chose a ridiculous username. I mainly used the account to tweet my friends and follow celebrities (I still do this, but now it’s academic celebrities!). It wasn’t until midway through my Masters programme that I saw the benefits of using Twitter in an academic capacity. I changed my username to my actual name (original, I know) and the rest is history… My department now offers an undergraduate module on Social Media Skills, led by Dr Nadine Muller (@Nadine_Muller), and I wish that this had been available to me. Even if you’re now at PhD level or beyond, it’s not too late! I’ve seen several PhD students actually sign up to Twitter at conferences because they wanted to join in the live-tweeting fun.

Don’t ‘protect’ your account. If you have a protected account, only your approved followers can view your tweets. This may appeal to private people but this also severely limits your ability to get the most out of Twitter for academic purposes. If you have a protected account, no one can retweet you – not even your followers – and you cannot tweet anyone who does not follow you. This is not ideal if you’re hoping to use Twitter to disseminate a CFP. I have seen many people with protected accounts attempt to tweet someone (an academic, celebrity, or otherwise!) who doesn’t follow them back… They’ll never get a reply, because the other person will never receive their tweet! Similarly, your tweets cannot be viewed on hashtags. If you’re uncomfortable with your tweets being visible to all, I would suggest setting up two separate accounts: a protected account one for your personal reflections and an open account for academic purposes. Even if you only use this second account while you’re at conferences, it’s still worth it!

Be sensible about what you share. Yes, I’ve just extolled the benefits of allowing your tweets to be visible to all. Of course, that means that your tweets really are visible to anyone who makes the effort to find them (even those who do not have a Twitter account themselves). This highlights the risks of online visibility for young female academics in particular, as exemplified by an excellent (and terrifying) blog post from Dr Anna McFarlane, entitled ‘Academic Stalking’. Whilst Anna’s awful experience is hopefully a rare one, it may make you think twice about tweeting specific information about your location, for example.

Ignore the negative attitudes of others. I’m not referring to negativity within Twitter here (don’t feed the trolls). Academics who do not use social media often pour scorn upon those who do, whilst simultaneously bemoaning what they perceive to be the tweeters’ unfair advantage(!). As Dr Charlotte Riley (@lottelydia) tweeted, ‘Professors who tell me Twitter is useless and mindless and pointless all ask me to tweet their conference CFP at some point’. Remember, just as no one is forcing you to use social media, no one is forcing you not to either.

Make the most out of your new Twitter community. I really believe that Twitter is an invaluable tool for academics, particularly PhD students and ECRs. I remember being at a meeting where a PhD student from another department suggested that it was the responsibility of our university to alert us to relevant conferences because ‘how else are we supposed to find out about them?’ Aside from this being a ridiculous statement (should the university write our theses for us too?), it reminded me that I have found so many CFPs on Twitter. Also, it is much easier to approach people via a friendly tweet than an email. If your university does not have a large postgraduate community, you will be able to connect with those in your field on Twitter.

Be nice! Follow back (even though ‘I ain’t no follow back girl’ remains the best Twitter bio I have ever seen). Retweet others’ CFPs if they ask (and even if they don’t). Live tweet academic events and follow the hashtag for those you cannot attend. Above all, follow us @pgcwwn…!