Vicki is a third year PhD student in the School of Social Work at the University of East Anglia. Her research investigates older adolescents’ views and experiences of violence in teenage intimate relationships. You can follow Vicki via her Twitter account @VickiMcDermott
‘Twitter and me: Using Twitter as a PhD Researcher’
I want to use this blog post to talk about my experience of using Twitter as a postgraduate research student. I started using Twitter ‘full time’ about a year ago when I began collecting data for my PhD (an online survey about young people’s experiences of violence in their intimate relationships). I’d tried to use Twitter before but found it utterly bewildering – what does the ‘@’ do? Why are people putting hashtags in front of everything? And what on earth do ‘RT’ ‘MT’ and ‘#ff’ MEAN? Once I’d got the hang of that I was faced with the next challenge – What can I say? Who can I talk to? Will anyone be interested?
When I started using Twitter I set up multiple accounts – one specifically for my research (branded as such) and one ‘professional’ account (I say that loosely as I do occasionally tweet pictures of my cat…). My research account was really set up to promote my research, share a link to my online survey and provide links to support services. My use of that account has been fairly intermittent, depending on where I have been with my data collection. I mainly use my professional account and try to tweet from it at least once a day to maintain some sort of ‘presence’.
What can I say?
When I first started dipping my toe in I really didn’t have a clue what to say or how or who to. So instead of tweeting I lurked for a while – I looked at other people’s tweets and asked myself ‘what did I like about them? What didn’t I like?’ I also considered how often people tweeted – what felt like too much and what felt like not enough? What seemed to engage others? This really helped me to think about my posts – the content, the frequency with which I posted and when (and when not) to engage. I still do this now as it helps me to evaluate, both through my own tweets and observing others, how I use Twitter.
I think I know what I’m doing…what now?
Searching hashtags helped me to find other people who were interested in similar things to me and this can help to build followers and to find out about what discussions and debates are going on. The discovery of several Twitter accounts relating to the PhD such as @PhDforum and more recently @socphd helped me to start having conversations with others in the same boat (hurrah!). Talking to other people, no matter the discipline, who are also experiencing similar things really helped me to start to have conversations and to engage in discussions. Hashtags like #phd #phdchat and #phdforum let other researchers find each other and have conversations about the ups and downs of PhD research (after all we should celebrate when things go right as well as support each other when things don’t go quite to plan!). There are also organised Twitter chats that occur regularly, I have taken part in several #NSMNSS chats and I always try to engage in the #eswphd chats (which are great as you get to vote on the topic!).
Can I say that? Or…SHOULD I say that?
I very much support the use of Twitter as a site for engaging in debate and discussion of the many aspects of research and beyond. I think being challenged about particular aspects of your work can be a positive thing. For example I have been asked many times on Twitter why I’m using the term domestic violence rather than domestic abuse. Whilst there may not be space to go into a detailed discussion of this on Twitter I’d much rather engage in discussions like this now when I have time to think about and consider these points than be asked them for the first time (potentially) in an upgrade or viva. Of course you also have the option to take the conversation off Twitter which can also result in meaningful exchanges. However, I have witnessed many discussions rapidly turn into arguments and personal attacks because people have strong views about what they are talking about. I am very passionate about my topic and I do have my own experiences of and opinions about it. However, I made conscious choices when setting up my account about what I would use my account for – when and what I would participate in and what I would be willing to disclose about myself.
Some final thoughts
Writing this post has reaffirmed that for me Twitter has become very much a part of the PhD process. It has helped me to build my confidence through asking and being asked questions and participating in discussions and debates. I have met some interesting people, both on and offline and I have had many opportunities that I can honestly say I wouldn’t have had without having an online presence.