Early Career Psychologist Column

Using social media to advance your career

Can you actually use social media to advance your career? And how do you use it most effectively?
By Elizabeth Holly, PhD

Up until a couple weeks ago, I never saw the draw of professional use of social media. To me, it seemed overwhelming, trivial and non-productive. Then, I was talking to another postdoc about the prospect of going on the job market, and the first question he asked was, "Are you on Twitter?" He then proceeded to bombard me with all the career benefits of social media. I was convinced enough to join Twitter, so now I am sharing those benefits with you, in case you were in the dark, like I was. I'm sure most of us are familiar with LinkedIn and probably ResearchGate, basically LinkedIn for academics, so this column is primarily about Twitter.

Why should I use social media professionally?

  • Promote your research. Social media is a great way to promote your work and your accomplishments. Good research that gets pushed through social media can actually lead to higher citations 1,2.
  • Stay current on the latest research. By following other researchers, institutions and journals publishing interesting and relevant work, you will stay current on the latest research that others are doing or at least find interesting enough to share. In my approximately two-week experience on Twitter, I've been exposed to so many just published or preprinted articles that I would not see otherwise for weeks or possibly ever.
  • Use the hive mind to improve/advance your research. One clear advantage of both ResearchGate and Twitter is the ability to ask a wide range of people questions with a single post. Are you looking to troubleshoot an essay? Do you want to crowdsource ideas for best vendors for a piece of equipment? Do you want feedback on a puzzling finding you have? Are you new to social media and need to write a newsletter columns for tips? Send a tweet or ask a question on the RG forums!
  • Intellectual engagement. Following and participating in conversations between academics is a great way to stay intellectually engaged in a larger, more diverse social circle than what might be provided in your lab or institution.
  • Networking. Let your entire social network know you'll be at a conference, so you can meet up, or they can come by your poster/talk (see "Promote your research" above). Having a professional social media account is also a good way to maintain your new connections.
  • Find new job and/or funding opportunities. Of course, most of us are familiar enough with LinkedIn to know that jobs are routinely posted there, so if you are interested in (typically non-academic) positions, that's a great place to stay connected. For academic jobs, institutional accounts on Twitter as well as individuals routinely post job opportunities for postdoctoral and faculty positions. There are even dedicated Twitter accounts that just post academic jobs. See @neurorumbler, @psychjobs, etc.

Okay, I'm sold. How do I get started, and what are some tips to use social media most effectively?

  • Pick one person with similar interests and raid their followers/following lists to find more people to follow.
  • Post. While there are definite career advantages to social media without ever posting anything (hello, points two and six above), the greatest benefits are going to come from being engaged in conversation.
  • Be sure to use relevant hashtags in posts, especially for an upcoming conference. Hashtags help to link posts together so use them wisely and not so creatively that you will be the only person to ever use it.
  • Make sure you update your profile regularly to reflect your accomplishments/current research directions.
  • Be mindful about mixing personal and professional. This is not to say you should not be tweeting cat photos, but just be aware that many of these forums are completely public, so make sure everything you post you would be totally okay with sending as an attachment to your job or tenure/promotion applications.
  • Social media can not only be time consuming (no, it is not possible to read every tweet of the people you follow), but it also can become addictive, so be mindful of how much time you spend on social media.
  • Follow @APADiv28ECP. We will tweet/retweet relevant opportunities for our ECP members.

1 Peoples, B.K., Midway, S.R., Sackett, D., Lynch, A., Cooney, P.B. (2016). Twitter predicts citatiuon rates of ecological research. PLoS One, 11 :e0166570.

2 Lamb, C.T., Gilbert, S.L, Ford, A.T. (2018). Tweet succss? Scientific communication correlates with increased citations in Ecology and Conservation. PeerJ, 2018; 6:e4564.