After a four year hiatus, returning to college was an exciting venture. I was ready to learn—my mind was porous and ready to sponge up the liquid gold which I knew my professors would spew from their educated mouths. “Bring it on,” I thought to myself. I was ready.
Eager and anxious, I peered through the doors of Columbia hall, scanning the ridiculous sea of chairs for just the right spot. Professor Bill Ryan walked down the isles with a calm confidence and inquisitive brow, stopping only to say hello to familiar students, making his way to the front of the room. Though his back was turned to the class, I could just make out the side of his face, and that is when I saw it. The look.
The corners of his mouth crawled up slowly, as if in a Bane v. Batman battle against the muscles in his cheeks. They stopped in a wry smirk—he knew something I didn’t. Liquid gold. I was ready.
“How many of you are on Twitter?” he asked.
Twitter? I was ready for mind-blowing, earth-shattering brain food and this guy was talking about Twitter? My heart sank and I rolled my eyes the way adolescents do when they know they could never be wrong. Twitter was a waste of time, a wannabe Facebook that only allowed enough characters to say, well, nothing important—I knew that.
“If you are serious about journalism, you need to be on twitter, you need to be part of the conversation, find your community,” he explained.
Conversation, shmonversation. How could 140 characters help me become a science writer? The next day, I set out on a new venture—to prove Professor Ryan wrong. My science mind knew that I couldn’t disprove his claim without any data. I needed working knowledge of the tweet-world—I needed research. I set up my account, ready to taste victory.
Well, Professor Ryan, to my enjoyment, I was wrong—horribly wrong.
Sure, Twitter is another social media platform, and just like Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and many others can be a forum for pointless life play-by-plays. But what I didn’t realize, is just how useful a tool it is to connect to people who share your interests—people who can debate, brainstorm, advise, and share their experiences with you. In this way, social media can facilitate educational and professional growth.
“Today, social media go beyond personal connections to permeate professional interactions, including scientific ones,” Emily S. Darling, David Shiffman, Isabelle M. Côté, and Joshua A. Drew explain in their paper The role of Twitter in the life cycle of a scientific publication.
“Twitter provides a large virtual department of colleagues that can help to rapidly generate, share and refine new ideas.”
Within my first few weeks on twitter, I connected with Bora “The Blogfather,” Zivkovic, blog editor at Scientific American. He urged me to to register for ScienceOnline2013, an “un-conference” dedicated to connecting people interested in the intersection of science and online media—many of whom met on Twitter. I was unsure if I could hold my own at the event, as I was “just a student,” but I decided to register anyway.
At ScienceOnline I learned an immense amount about online media, writing, science, and networking—but I learned the most about myself. I am not just a student. You are not just a student. We are students with passions, interests, opinions, and unique perspectives. We each have something to say, and it is that something that connects us. We have something to say, and people want to hear it.
From the moment I walked into the conference center, I felt at home. I was surrounded by my Twitter community—my “Tweeps,” (twitter peeps) people who shared my love for science, and who wanted to connect, collaborate, and learn from others regardless of position. My Tweeps have become, in essence, a family—a network of support, knowledge, and life-long friendships that would never have been had I not reached out to the online science community.
Perhaps you have never tweeted, or you have never thought to use Twitter to network with people in your field of study, perhaps you are uninterested. But if curiosity is calling here are some tips to getting started from a former nonbeliever:
#1 Find your conversation: hashtags are more than a fad.
With over 550 million active users on twitter, there is a conversation for everyone. Searching for hashtags (noted with a pound symbol) is a great way to find people with similar interests. For example, initially, I searched for tweets which had been tagged “#sciencewriters” and “#studentjournalism” in hopes of finding other science writers and student journalists who I could talk to about their experience.
#2 Find your voice: forget titles and don’t be shy.
Reaching out to professionals can be a bit daunting. Leave your fear at the door—er, homepage. The first step in successful networking is saying hello.
My search for “#sciencewriters” brought me to aviation and space journalist Miles O’Brien. I had recently seen one of his films, and had some questions about his experience working on it. He had 31,745 followers, so I assumed he wouldn’t respond, but I reached out anyway. To my surprise, he responded right away, and was happy to talk shop. Remember that most people are active on social media because they want to talk and share.
#3 Find your “tweeps”
Once you find people who interest you, start looking at who they follow. What are those people saying? Who do they follow? By taking the time to see what your tweeps are saying, and who they are saying it to, you can quickly expand your network.
#4 Find each other elsewhere: “tweetup,” and “Hangout”
Yes, “tweetup!” Just like ScienceOnline brought together 450 people from an online community, small-scale Tweetups (in person meetings with twitter friends and colleagues) are a great way to stay connected, and make new connections. Find people in your area who share you interests, and suggest a meeting to bounce ideas around, or talk about your work.
At ScienceOnline I was able to connect with the four other undergraduate students attending by sending out the following tweet using the conference’s designated hashtag “#SciO13:”
“Hey #scio13 undergrads, meet in the Marriott [hotel] lobby?”
Now that we are back in our home-states, we are able to stay connected with Google+ “Hangouts” (multi-person video-chats). Every two weeks we meet on Google+ to talk about internships, school, blogging, and science writing in general. We share our questions, and comments by posting them on twitter using our hashtag “#sciyoung.”
@scifleur, @sarahkeartes and @shanpalus discuss the best way to handle rude comments on blog posts at the last #sciyoung Hangout.
You can see how my twitter community is helping me achieve my goals. Get out there, get creative, and get connected.
Has social media helped your career? Let me know by commenting below!
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Infographic by Katie Ph.D.