What value for me?
If you are itching to Tweet and Post and B/Vlog and Snap and Tik and… you might want to go straight on to the next section.
However, we think that, before you do, it’s a good idea to pause and consider how Social Media can benefit you and your career. That’s because, although Social Media can support you at all stages of the research cycle, it requires an investment of time (although not as much as you may fear). So, it’s important to minimise confusion and wasted time by working out why you might engage with it, so that you can engage most effectively.
A useful analogy for many of the sites we’ll consider is to view them as an empty room into which you will invite people or a room full of people with a shared interest. You have control over who to invite into your empty room and control over which rooms you enter, but little control over what people say in them – just as in physical environments.
What do you need?
With this in mind let’s start by thinking about what you need to hear and see in those rooms to help you.
- Do you need to find out how to be a researcher, meet others who will support you to move to research independence, or address an audience of people eager to hear from you as a leader in the field?
- Are you looking to discover and join academic and other professional networks? Share knowledge with them? Or recruit people to help set up new networks from scratch?
- Are you trying to explain your ideas to a new audience? Challenge existing ideas?
- Do you need to be recognised for what you share? Or are you just ‘giving things away’?
Where you’re up to in your career, and where you want to go next will shape what you do… for example:
Doctoral researchers need to manage the demands of their PhD, keep on top of literature and developments in their field, disseminate their work, maintain their momentum, develop their employability, write a thesis, prepare to defend their work in the viva and prepare for the transition into whatever will follow.
- Who could help you find ways to tackle these demands?
- What information would help you understand academia and research?
Postdoctoral and contract based research staff need to develop a research profile, develop their independence, disseminate their work and ensure it has maximum impact, understand the funding landscape, develop links to future collaborators, be aware of opportunities and again, be ready for the end of their contracts and what will follow.
- Who needs to be aware of you and your work?
- What information or opportunities would help you be more successful?
Established researchers need to develop new research ideas, publish work which is important and influences their field, attract new students and staff, build relationships with partners to enhance impact, manage their time and prioritise effectively, add value to their institution and research community, find partners for projects and proposals and demonstrate their esteem in their field and community.
- What individuals or communities do you want to connect with?
- What kind of influence and impact would you like to have?
Deepening your knowledge of academic careers
Given that you will be building your profile and contributing material potentially for many years, you also need to look ahead in your career and think about future challenges and demands.
Many online resources are available to help you think about these demands and broaden your thinking about your current situation. Note that these aren’t solely focused on social media although we discovered them through social media – either through the individuals or organisations that produced them or seeing them recommended and discussed by others.
The University of Manchester’s “An Academic Career” site includes advice and insights into the demands and opportunities ahead.
Jobs.ac.uk includes a substantial careers advice section with many different articles and a series of e-books on different aspects of academic careers
Oxford University’s Apprise site brings together resources from a range of projects aimed at those in the early stages of an academic pathway and includes prompts for personal reflection.
The Wellcome Trust offers a guide detailing the kinds of things to think about for those returning to academic careers after a break, or other time away.
Vitae, a national organization for researcher development, has published a series of reports on the destinations and subsequent career paths of doctoral graduates.
There are also offline sources, like Liz Elvidge, Emma Williams and Carol Spencely’s “What every postdoc needs to know” (summary here) – a book that breaks down the whole postdoctoral career journey, and asks challenging questions that you might want to consider.
What are the challenges that you’re facing now? At the next stage? In 5 years? In 10 years?
With these challenges in mind, if you now feel ready to explore the role of social media in your career, the next section will provide an overview of social media and the platforms available.
If you aren’t ready to move on yet, you can work through the more detailed questions in the worksheet and arrange to discuss your thoughts about your career challenges with a colleague or mentor.