Having taught a few seminars on how to use social media to advance academic research, I know the kinds of objections that academics pose to the use of social media. “I don’t have the time”. “I have nothing to say”. “I’m already overworked – why would I want to add something to my list of To-Do’s”, are amongst the phrases I have heard most commonly when teaching these workshops.
Admittedly, I’m what some scholars would call an “early career/young scholar”. But I have also seen senior faculty members and academics of all walks of life adopt and embrace social media. Here are 4 ways in which I have enhanced my own research agenda using social media.
- Build a network of like-minded scholars: When I was a graduate student, during my PhD, I e-mailed just about every Canadian environmental policy scholar. I dropped by their offices to introduce myself, chat about our scholarly research, etc. That is how I built a network of academics who work in the environmental policy field, worldwide. Mostly, through list-serves, one-on-one meetings and e-mails. With social media, building a network doesn’t necessitate you dropping by someone’s office. All you need to do is follow each other on Twitter, share tips, ideas, have a conversation, etc. On Twitter, I have met some of the nicest (and brightest) scholars, both at the graduate-student level and graduated PhDs (and non-PhDs) who are working in specific policy fields where I have scholarly interests.
- Follow specific research themes and topics: I have built a social media monitoring dashboard (much like my friend Alexandra Samuel has proposed on her site – Alexandra is also a political scientist and a social media expert, whose opinion I do trust). Through that monitoring dashboard I make sure that I keep my fingers on specific research themes (water governance being one of the major ones).
- Provide service to the scholarly community: As a graduate student, my former PhD advisor’s mentorship meant the world to me. He shepherded my PhD process and helped me succeed by ultimately getting my doctorate. But I owe mentorship not only to him. I was advised and helped by many senior scholars who took the time to read my drafts, critique my thoughts, share their expertise. So I do the same, through a specific community: the #PhDChat network. While #PhDChat in itself is just a hashtag created by graduate students to have discussions on the PhD process (and support each other while doing it). I participate on the #PhDChat discussions providing mentorship and helpful suggestions on how students can make the best of the process. I do this because I believe in contributing to the scholarly community, particularly the young, up-and-coming scholars.
- Share my scholarly expertise and build credibility online: I learned (the hard way) about how important it is to build a brand (YOUR brand) online. Many people who read my personal blog would forget that I am first and foremost an academic. So I began writing a research blog (this one) where I share small snippets of my research. I also cross-post a link to my research blog entries to my professional Twitter account and my professional Facebook page. A number of scholars have contacted me in the past couple of years because I blog about my research interests and activities. Having a blog also enables me to discuss scholarship that I am interested in digesting, by sharing my preliminary results and/or research questions that come to my mind.