I’ve found the use of Twitter to be an immensely powerful tool for professional advancement and my own personal edification. My Twitter presence has resulted in multiple job offers, offers to sit on journal editorial boards and new research collaborations. I have also had the opportunity to interact with researchers and practitioners from a multitude of disciplines across the world. While LinkedIn is a great repository to showcase your professional background and skills, Twitter is where real conversations take place about what is happening in your field.
Become part of the conversation
A ton of great resources are already out there with tips on how to use Twitter for professional advancement (links at the bottom of the blog post to my favorites). This post on the ACSM blog will focus on using Twitter for exercise scientists who are students (undergraduate/graduate) and early career professionals. The best part about using Twitter as a student or early career professional is that most of life is hierarchical (your teacher is above you, your advisor is above you, your boss is above you, etc.), but Twitter has a flat structure which enables you to join any conversation as an equal voice (more on this later). Of course, there is a lot that goes into using Twitter successfully, but I hope you’ll find that most of my tips are just modifications how you behave in real life.
1. Be yourself, warts and all. You’re a person (unless you build a “Twitter Bot”), so show your personality on Twitter. There are certainly those researchers on Twitter who only use it to say, “My lab published this new paper in MSSE…” but most of those accounts have little impact (few followers, low interaction with tweets, etc.) Going that route is low risk, but also low reward. I keep my Twitter activity professional (staying away from politics, religion, etc.), but I won’t shy away from openly questioning the status quo (e.g. “No scientific journals should allow bar charts because they hide problems in data and are uninformative to the reader.”) or asking if our field is moving in the right direction (e.g. “Why are we re-labeling everything that is simply statistics as machine learning?”). People want to see what you’re passionate about and also disagree with your opinions. This is a dialogue—you don’t need to “win” the discussion.
2. Join contentious conversations or make controversial statements…intelligently. My philosophy is to have Twitter be part of my internal monologue. I’m okay with being wrong, and I’m also okay with saying publically that others are wrong when I can make a valid point. Emphasis on valid point. When there was a discussion about the validity of Magnitude Based Inference (MBI) statistical procedures arising from a paper published in MSSE by Kristin Sainani (@KristinSainani), I jumped in head-first because it combines my two passions: exercise science and analytics. I’ve also long had a queasy feeling about many of the assertions made about MBI and the fact that it is not an accepted statistical practice outside sport science. On the flipside, I’m not an expert in nutrition or supplements, but I’ve always been interested in this area. I love following and interacting with colleague experts in this area such as @NutritionNerd, @EricRawsonPhD and @DylanMacKayPhD, among others. Who doesn’t enjoy a wise crack about Himalayan sea salt among friends?
3. Acknowledge and promote great ideas of others, especially if they’re better than yours. No one wants to be in a conversation where the other person only talks about themselves or how great they are. Recognize when others (other grad students, post-docs, professors, random people on the street) have an idea that is better than one you’ve previously espoused. Some people like to engage in the #FridayFollow tradition where you list people you think are worthy of being followed. I don’t personally tweet #FridayFollow lists, but I love to “like” and retweet others when they make a good point or announce something where recognition is warranted. This builds goodwill and shows how you engage with others on your personal Twitter timeline.
4. Make media and create threads. Twitter has done a really good job in recent years of making it easy to add GIFs and images as well as threading your tweets to turn a series of tweets into a “storyline.” The images and GIFs add action to what may be an otherwise contentious or dry topic. Everyone has their own style. I use GIFs and images in maybe 20% of my tweets; others seem to use them in up to 75%. Remember, it should be professional but still fun. Telling an interesting story with threaded tweets is what gets the most attention once you have at least 500 followers. Psychologist Dan Quintana (@dsquintana) is a master of telling a story through threaded tweets (and GIFs). I was actually asked to write this blog post for ACSM because of one of my threaded tweets about using Twitter professionally!
In summary (TL;DR)
Have fun, be yourself, make intelligent but bold statements you don’t mind defending, promote others when you share a common cause and tell your story through Twitter’s many avenues. Did I miss anything? Do you disagree with my tips? I’m on Twitter (@TenanATC,) so you know where to find me!
Twitter Etiquette: The Rules
How to Use Twitter as a Professional
5 Ways Twitter Can Help You Reach Your Career Goals