Advice to Junior Academics on How to Get Involved With Twitter

tweet imagesI’m not a good role model for junior academics whom I encourage to get involved with Twitter. I have been experimenting turning exchanges on Twitter or my Facebook wall into blog posts, which I increasingly turn into articles. When my articles are newly published, I promote them with the full range of social media. All this takes considerable commitment of time.

It is too early to evaluate whether this is really worth it, but so far I find it quite satisfying. Yet, most novices would consider it an unacceptable investment of their time to try to follow what I do. Many are concerned about social media consuming too much time with uncertain payoffs.

So, I turned to a more junior colleague to offer them advice. She has been quite successful getting involved in Twitter, obtaining its rewards, and not letting it consume the rest of her life. I gave her a series of questions to answer, and then invited her to provide some brief tips and tricks for junior people. Looking over her responses, I’m impressed how solid and useful the advice is.

gozdeGozde Ozakinci, PhD, is a lecturer in health psychology at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. She obtained her BA in Psychology at Bogazici University, Istanbul, her M.Sc in Health Psychology at the University College London, and her PhD at Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey, USA. Her main research interests are in emotional regulation and health behaviour change. She works with diverse group of clinical and non-clinical populations from cancer patients to medical students. She also teaches behavioural sciences to undergraduate medical students and health psychology topics to M.Sc health psychology students. When not on Twitter, she can be found doing DIY around the house, consuming coffee (preferably Turkish) and enjoying walks in Scotland (preferably not in rain). More information about her research can be found here. Twitter: @gozde786

So, how did you get past the idea that Twitter is a waste of time?

I was reluctant to get involved with Twitter, thinking it was the same as Facebook which I use mostly to keep in touch with family and friends. I thought I didn’t need another potential time-sucker social media outlet. But I quickly realized Twitter is very different – something I can get much out of professionally. I dip in and out during the day and each time I have a nugget of information that I find useful. I feel that with Twitter, my academic world expanded to include many colleagues I wouldn’t otherwise meet. I am now able to keep my finger on the academic pulse better. The information shared on Twitter is so much more current than you would find on journals or conferences.

thinker-twitterFor instance, academics I follow post their latest articles on Twitter that would otherwise probably take me months to learn about . I can then ask questions of the authors themselves and chat with them. I think we all love to talk about our work! The blog posts I find through Twitter make me feel connected to my colleagues, current issues that face us, and take part in conversations that matter to me from evaluating evidence to more general issues in higher education.

How did you take the plunge and get started on Twitter?

I got hooked on Twitter right away, when I realised that I could get access to information that I would have heard either too late or sometimes never. It was like suddenly my academic daily life became a lot bigger. I could interact with many more colleagues from all over the world on a daily basis, rather than just the people in the office or collaborators over email/meetings.

Importantly, I didn’t get discouraged when people didn’t follow me back. If I really wanted people who didn’t follow me back to comment or pay attention to something I wanted to have a conversation on, then I just added them to my tweet. The day that Clare Gerada, the past president of Royal College of General Practitioners followed me back and commented me that we had common research interests was a good day!

The other thing that helped me is that I have broad academic interests so I follow people from different backgrounds and tweet about various topics: cancer to politics. So, I’m not restricted to my own area at all. That means that many people can find something of interest in what I put out there. I think this is important.

Did you start with a clear goal?

I guess in the beginning, I didn’t have clear goals but they developed over time in a natural way:

  1. Wanting to be a part of a conversation on academic topics rather than watching people I admire from sidelines.
  2. Being a source of rigorous evidence on a variety of topics and encouraging discussion (not sure how much I manage the discussion part).
  3. Being a source of encouragement/support for early career scientists (I even got invited to a talk at another university on my health psychology career because of colleagues I met on Twitter!).

How did you get your initial selection of people to follow? 

I started checking out who followed who. Like I checked out your list! I was surprised to see how many people that I wanted to get to know academically were on Twitter. Some of them were leaders in their field. I also started following editors of journals, journals themselves, bloggers in science communication in general (Dean Burnett, Suzi Gage, etc..). I also found a wonderful group of women scientists who blogged and tweeted: Athene Donald, Dorothy Bishop and Uta Frith for instance. They became somewhat role models to me. They were good scientists who cared about women in science, not because we were women but because we did what we did well. That was very empowering to me. They also found the time to tweet and write blog posts, showing me what an important tool we have through the modern communication tools.

I also follow major source of news such as NY Times, National Public Radio and Slate that I feel many of my followers don’t follow. So if I tweet something from there, it attracts their attention as that’s a source they wouldn’t normally hear from.

Was there some trial and error for you? Moments of doubt whether it was worth it?

It was VERY slow the first 6 months to get followers and at times for no apparent reason that I could fathom, there would be periods of losing 4-5 followers in a row and stagnation. I still get that and I can’t figure out why.

I found that daily engagement with Twitter is necessary. It’s not difficult for me as it makes me feel connected to the wider academic world. But you can’t take a holiday from Twitter for a month and hope that people will still be interested in following you or you’ll find new followers upon your return.

You might ask ‘why should I care about having followers? Isn’t it all a bit vain?’. Well, I see it as having something to say and sharing it with others. I tried not to get obsessed about number of followers in the beginning (although it was hard!) as I soon realized that with daily tweets/conversations and retweets, people started to follow me anyway. But I guess, the message would be ‘don’t give up and keep tweeting and following people you’re interested in’.

Can you provide junior persons some tips and tricks for getting involved with Twitter?

Don’t just get a twitter account. USE IT! You have to engage with it before it starts to pay off. Don’t worry about how many people follow you. It takes time to establish a critical mass of followers and also a certain level of engagement with other people. Don’t give up. And don’t be shy. Think about Twitter as another dissemination tool. We are in science because we do something valuable and we need to share that knowledge.

You don’t know who to follow? Everybody knows someone on Twitter, so search for them. Once you found them start looking at their followers.

Start following those who interest you. And don’t be afraid of unfollowing them if you don’t find their tweets interesting. And don’t be discouraged if they don’t follow you back. I follow almost double the number of people I have as followers. This doesn’t bother me as I get fed by their tweets.

Initiate a conversation. If you think you have something interesting to say to the person you follow but they don’t follow you back, just tag their handle and you may get them engage in a conversation with you.

Keep in mind that social media has been rightfully called a great equalizer. So it doesn’t matter at what stage of your career you’re at. You can have a conversation with people you admire and also with people at the other end of the world whom you’ve never met.

TweetHashtagYou find something interesting that you want to share, make sure you use the hashtag associated with it. Add your own comment to the retweets.  I used to be shy to do that but it adds another dimension to the communication you want to initiate rather than just a simple retweet.

Tweet at conferences using the conference hashtag. It’s a great way of meeting people as they will pick up your tweets and you theirs. It brings an engagement with the conference that I found very refreshing.

Start reading the blogs of people who advertise theirs on Twitter. This is as good strategy for you to get to a researcher’s thinking at the time.

Personal versus professional use. I use Twitter mainly for keeping on top of my field but I also tweet about my personal interests (about 20% of the time). It’s a balance you have to find. But people usually don’t want to hear all your inane thoughts.twitter-follow-me-icon

Follow Gozde @gozde786 and Jim @CoyneoftheRealm on Twitter. Think about our differences in strategy. Check out differences in whom we follow and who follow us. Freely take suggestions for whom you should follow from our lists. Compare our tweets. What differences  are apparent in what we are trying to accomplish? What is best for you? Join in favoring or replying to our tweets. Feel free to leave comments about this blog and your experience with tweeter below.

17 thoughts on “Advice to Junior Academics on How to Get Involved With Twitter”

  1. I am the president and CEO of a biomedical company with 300 staff and divisions both in the US and in Europe. When it comes to Twitter, I really don’t have time for this s#*t. At least, that’s what I thought in the beginning. But just like Gozde, I find myself being exposed to viewpoints that I would not encounter in my normal routine – I’ve found people ( “Tweeps”) that are genuine intellectual colleagues. I see photos, listen in on discussions, and god forgive me – sometimes join in. It’s liberating, risky, humiliating, stimulating, exhilarating…better stop with the superlatives because they’re getting close to good sex. 🙂 see? I really don’t have time for this s#*t…


    1. I find the whole immediacy of the Twitter experience very rewarding. I wouldn’t knock on a colleague’s door every day for a chat as I know everyone is busy but on Twitter I can start a conversation and usually someone joins in. Like I said, I always learn something and that is a huge encouragement for me to use Twitter.


  2. Great piece, and a very important one as we move further and further into the information age. I can’t stress how important and useful conference hashtags are – it’s a great way to network and meet people, and I’ve had people stop by my poster/presentation because of my online presence, which is awesome. We discussed the benefits of social media as a science education and outreach tool in a three part series over at PLOS Sci-Ed:

    Twitter for Sci-Ed Part 1: Teaching in 140 characters or less

    Twitter for Sci-Ed Part 2: Networking and connecting

    Twitter for Sci-Ed Part 3: To boldly go where no lecturer has gone before


      1. Thanks v much! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I will definitely check out those resources. I do also find that in conferences, people who know me from Twitter approach me more and more.


  3. Great post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed!

    Extremely useful info specially the last part 🙂 I care for such info
    much. I was looking for this particular information for a very long
    time. Thank you and best of luck.


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