Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Social Media and the Doctoral Researcher

We (Noeline & Dianne) were recently asked to present a few ideas about social media to a group of doctoral students in our faculty. In such busy, wildly variable territory as social media and academia, this is a fairly big ask as it can be difficult to know where to start. There are a range of commentators already picking out the pathways for researchers and doctoral students to traverse. Here are a few messages we shared, to provide a starting point:

Firstly, it makes sense for each student/researcher to take stock of the social media tools they already use for personal and any research-related purposes. Perhaps a familiar tool could be turned to research purposes? Or it might be time to branch out to explore a new tool or selection of tools. We really are spoiled for choice!

But choose we must, if we are to avoid paralysis, so a purposeful choice is a wise start. 

Why might a doctoral student/researcher use social media? 

Various purposes might come into play at different stages of a research project or doctoral journey. For example, different tools can be used for organising and curating research materials and the range of literatures in the project.  Social media can enable us to connect and converse with people who are exploring similar methodologies, or who are experts in specialist areas. Professional contacts can be made and sustained. Help with writing, time management and productivity, and other practical assistance can be accessed via social media. Advice can be sought on relational challenges around working with supervisors. Social media can be used to access support and to boost morale.

While social media cannot solve all problems, there are a range of possibilities and purposes it can serve.

As a first port of call, we suggest: Blogs and blogging.
Reading blogs provides a gentle starter for those who are new to social media, and there is no shortage of relevant content. Our number one favourite for doctoral students is The Thesis Whisperer which really is a one-stop shop for anything you could want to know about completing a doctorate. Edited by Dr Inger Mewburn, Director of research training at the Australian National University, The Thesis Whisperer is a portal to a wide range of sites and topics of interest to doctoral students and incorporates new perspectives and experiences of doing a thesis with every post. With six years of archives, an ebook, and a comprehensive "more like us" list, there is no better starting point.

As well as reading blogs, the next logical step is to write one. Many doctoral students/researchers find this a good way to write regularly, test out ideas, elicit feedback and build up a bigger picture.

If writing a blog seems like a big step, doctoral students/researchers might try micro-blogging with the likes of Twitter. The close relationship between blogging and Twitter means that bloggers often tweet links to new posts in any case. A good start in Twitter is to find some relevant researchers and fellow students to follow. From here, a snowball effect ensues whereby it is possible to mine the followers/following lists of everyone you follow in order to select other relevant tweeps.

Twitter can be particularly powerful in conjunction with conferences in your discipline or research area. While it is expensive and time consuming to attend many conferences, there is the next best thing. It is possible to follow along some of the thinking of contributors in real time, and get a sense of key themes and reactions via a conference Twitter hashtag. For us, #DEANZ2016 is a recent and rich example, enabling vicarious participation.

Another use for Twitter is to promote any of your published articles to generate a readership. 

Scoop-it - curate and connect
Scoop-it can be a great curation tool for topics. You can follow others' topics or create your own. Susan Bainbridge curates one on Connectivism for example, and Noeline curates one on pedagogy in schools, particularly focusing on New Zealand contexts. You can annotate the items you curate as well, so you can make notes that identify your reason for curation.

Google tools - store, share, collaborate
If you are collaborating with anyone (for example, co-writing an article) Google Docs is a great tool. You never need worry about which version is the current one, you can always check the revision history and return to a previous draft, and you don't need to worry about saving. If you also make it available to work on it offline, you don't even need an internet connection. When you are back online, it updates to the latest version again. You could also use Docs to share drafts with supervisors if you give them comment rights. You then have an opportunity to have an online conversation with your supervisors  - useful if it's difficult to meet at particular times.

Similarly, Slides allows you collaborate for co-presentations, or develop diagrams for your work. If you want a simple survey tool, Forms can be very useful. It saves all responses in a spreadsheet, and it will generate summaries of responses by question, creating pie graphs for percentages for example. For a first view of data, this could be very helpful. The spreadsheet can be exported as a csv sheet too.

Another valuable affordance is the ability to upload all kinds of files to Drive. Folders can help you keep track of files by topic, and the search tool makes it easy to find things again. You can also share items with others.

ResearchGate - find, read, critique, connect
ResearchGate or are two services which allow academics to upload and share their own work with other academics. it can be a great way to publicise your own work too. These are also good ways to connect with other academics and build a network.

Up for a challenge?!
From here, if you are new to social media as a doctoral student/researcher, why not try one or more of the following:
  • Set up a Twitter account 
  • Check out #DEANZ2016
  • Find researchers to follow
  • Tweet about your research topic, interests and needs, using hashtags
  • Find and read research blogs
  • Comment on a blog
  • Plan a blog, starting with the purpose and title
  • Establish a blog, draft a first post on your research and goals
Finally, bear in mind that social media is a complement to your research work and not a substitute for actually doing the research and writing! Build up a personal learning network that can help you at various stages of your doctoral journey.

Dianne & Noeline

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