Pros and Cons of Academic Twitter

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Many talks in academia now finish with the speaker’s Twitter handle on the final slide. There are plenty of good reasons for the rise in popularity of so-called ‘academic twitter’ – from boosting citations to helping you find your PhD placement or the next job, or getting you more involved with science communication. However, for those unfamiliar with Twitter, the academic side of this social network can often seem confusing or pointless.

I have been on academic Twitter (@anjacitiranja) for about two years now. It is impossible to have an image of the entire academic twitter community but after some time I noticed reasons why I like and dislike being a part of it. I want to share what I consider the pros and the cons of academic Twitter as well as some of my suggestions of who to follow if you are looking for inspiration.

The pros: community and network

I love seeing brief excerpts from the lives of PhD students and researchers and their daily experiences. Some hare relatable thoughts on time spent waiting for a centrifuge to finish or a tube to thaw. Others share the less glamorous side of science such as impostor syndromes and unpaid work. I was also diving into unfamiliar topics, from academics in cultural studies to ecology. Being ‘the public’ and not the ‘expert’ is engaging on the level of personal curiosity and in getting scicomm inspiration. Natalie already mentioned Twitter on this blog before as a way to engage with science communication

Besides the community aspect of academic Twitter, a major part is networking. Connecting with labs in your field, seeing the papers posted by the researchers as soon as they are published, and having a feed of the latest news keeps you in the loop. The network also gives back. You can often get answers to problems with your protocol, recommendations for the journal club, or insider experiences from others working with potential collaborators. Not to mention the lively discussions on favorite programming languages and citation tools.

The cons: bias and negativity

Despite my Twitter feed being rather international, I still find most academic twitter to be heavily USA-biased. I am unsure if this is because other scientists are less active or if I just have a harder time finding them. Still, I know more about how medical students in the US find residency spots than I know about grant allocation in Sweden. Countries like the UK, USA or Australia have different systems, work cultures, struggles, and resources. This biased perspective can make academic Twitter seem too far-removed from daily experiences as an academic in other parts of the world. 

Academic Twitter can also be a highly negative space (like the rest of Twitter, actually). If you were to just follow the most discussed topics you would only see PhD students on the verge of burnout, sexist hiring practices, unpaid labor, and poor work-life balance. These issues are important to discuss, and their visibility can be especially uplifting for those with similar struggles and finding the courage to act. However, with such a one-sided image of academic work, it can be discouraging for young scientists who might not know that it does not have to be this way.

My suggestions

For me the pros of academic Twitter still outweigh the cons. I tried to curate who I follow to suit my preferences more. I follow fewer people working in the US and more inspiring researchers. Here are some of my suggestions if you are looking for accounts to engage with:

  1. Follow labs and researchers that you know (many have Twitter accounts!). For Karolinska, I follow: SciLifeLab (@scilifelab), Kristina Tammimmies – neurodevelopment (@KTammimies), Karin Modig – epidemiology (@karin_modig), Zhichao Zhou – cardiology (@ZhichaoZhou4), Abishek Arora – neuroscience (@AroraNeuro) and many others who gave their Twitter handle at the end of talks!  
  1. Look at suggested people based on previous follows. The Twitter algorithm is not always helpful but it is great at linking you to people of interest. It led me to accounts like: @VanBuul_lab, @KrottLab, and @Gretakcomt 
  1. Follow science communicators, they are great at bridging the gap between you and other fields. My personal favourites are: @Jewel_Crush_Axe for environmental sciences, @HaPhDsupervisor for research in feedback and supervision, @SusannaLHarris for biotech and life sciences 
  1. Follow general academic-themed accounts who often gather smaller accounts to share their experiences and thoughts. The ones I found were: @AcademicChatter, @PhD_Balance, @PhDVoice, or @GrumpyReviewer2. But there are many more out there that might suit your taste better! 

Finally, the staple of Twitter is using the hashtag (#) and this rings true for the academic side as well. Using these tags and searching them is a great starting point. From generic tags like #AcademicTwitter, #phdlife, and #scicomm to some specific ones like #momademia (for parents in academia) or #womeninSTEM. Of course, many events and conferences nowadays have their own hashtags as well!

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