As somewhat of a Luddite who still carries a flip phone, I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve been enjoying my experience on Twitter (which yes, hilariously I can only use from my desktop computer since I don’t have a smart phone). There are lots of blog posts about how scientists “should” use Twitter and get the “most” out of their time and energy on social media. But I want to focus on how graduate students and early career scholars who, like me, feel isolated and unsupported in a toxic lab situation can use Twitter* to their advantage. (Check out some of our previous posts on toxic labs and lab culture here, here, and here.)
Connect with peers across the country
Actually, I should amend that to across the world. While you may be trapped at your desk analyzing data or writing your thesis, you can have real time conversations with fellow researchers all over. This seems like a cliché claim, but it’s true. It all depends on how you choose to reach out – just like networking in person. It’s been fun to have a small but eclectic group of people I converse with everyday, mostly other early career women scientists, even though we study wildly different things and live very far apart. We commiserate and celebrate milestones together – and if, like me, you don’t feel like you have a cheerleader for your accomplishments in your advisor or lab group, expanding your support network is a great feeling.
Connect with potential future mentors and employers
There’s no reason to only tweet at and with people at your same career stage. Twitter has put me in touch with faculty, both mid-career and senior, across the country. I have no idea if this will matter when I start putting job applications out, but I can’t help but think it will help when I approach some of these people to potentially advise the external postdoctoral applications I am starting to put together. Again, if you feel isolated and potentially unsupported in your lab group, this is great way to bypass your toxic situation altogether and make connections directly. For example, my advisor has a reputation among recent graduates of our lab group for never introducing any of his students to his collaborators and colleagues at conferences or other get-togethers. Helping mentees expand their network should be one job of a good mentor, but in the absence of that, you can work on it without them. Something about tweeting feels less awkward than cold-emailing a person.
Access to external resources
Perhaps what I’ve been most pleasantly surprised by is that I’ve come across announcements for CFPs, grants, early career meetings, and application-only workshops that I would have never otherwise seen. Expanding my network, even if only by “passively” keeping tabs on other scientists by following their Twitter feeds, has keyed me into resources. If you, like me, feel like your toxic lab situation is blocking your access to resources you need to advance your career (like travel funding, as I wrote about in my previous post), I encourage you to try out Twitter. In the past year, I’ve successfully applied to a workshop and early career meeting through links I only found on Twitter. Both were fully funded opportunities (!), which meant independence from my advisor and lab group situation in terms of being able to accept those offers to attend while being a graduate student on a limited income. I should also add that these opportunities did not require letters of recommendation from an advisor, a model which I would encourage more small workshops and early career opportunities to follow. (We should treat graduate students and other early career scholars like the adults that they are, which includes letting them decide if pursuing a workshop or gathering is right for them, as opposed to letting toxic PIs deny those opportunities for students they don’t like/support.)
Chat with @TenureSheWrote contributors and supporters
Obviously the best reason to be on Twitter**. You can always tweet us, @TenureSheWrote, and some of our contributors tweet under their own handles. Send us questions, suggestions for future posts, DM or email us if you’re interested in writing a guest post, commiserate, and celebrate. We’re all in this together! And that feeling is perhaps the best thing that’s come out of using Twitter. I feel less alone, despite some of the lab drama I have to put up with day to day.
So those of some of what I consider the pros. The cons? It takes time. But let’s be frank – none of us can work with full attention on one project all day long. Why not add a 5 min Twitter break after a 5 min stretching or walking break a few times a day? And there is some tweaking as you add people to follow and decide which feeds you don’t want to keep following. All in all, I’ve been on Twitter for just under a year but am happy with the experience thus far. Are you on Twitter? We’d love to hear about your experience below (and/or on Twitter).
* There are lots of social media options. I’ll just focus on Twitter for this post. But if you have used other platforms to combat isolation and connect with others in your field, tell us about it in the comments.
** Just kidding. Maybe.