A round-up of 12 great Twitter discussions in 2019

A round-up of 12 great Twitter discussions in 2019

Have you been on Twitter lately? If you have, I’m sure you have seen some of the great conversations researchers are having on that platform. Academics are no longer sitting in tall, inaccessible ivory towers, talking mostly and infrequently only to each other. Thanks to platforms like Twitter, there is now a constant exchange among academics across disciplines, cultures, languages, etc. They seem to have embraced Twitter to "follow discussions on research-related issues, comment on research that is relevant to their field, share links to authored content and post work content” as well as to share their views on topics that are close to their heart and connect with others in the virtual space. In fact, today, almost anyone can initiate a discussion on anything!

So what kind of discussions were academics having on Twitter in 2019? To know more, I dug deeper and found several interesting and thought-provoking discussions that ranged from humorous and quirky to serious and personal. I decided to put together a round-up of some of these conversations by picking one for each month of the year gone by. I hope you enjoy catching up with these.


January

2019 started on a high note with many great discussions. Among those, I noticed a Twitter thread that covers one of the first and most important steps of the PhD journey— choosing the right advisor.

PhD candidate Jorge J Rodríguez V (@JJRodV) shared his views on what constitutes a good advisor and how kindness is an essential quality in a potential academic advisor.

If you have had an advisor at any point, you would know how much difference empathy and kindness can make. Imagine going through some of the hardest personal struggles of your life while doing your PhD— would you not want to feel supported in those moments, especially when it comes to work?  Jorge’s tweet sparked a conversation on the topic, with researchers sharing personal stories about how their choice of supervisors became a deciding factor for them successfully completing their PhDs. The advice to take forward from this thread is to choose an advisor who can encourage you when the going gets tough, who understands that life gets in the way of work sometimes, and who sees you as a person and not just as a researcher.


February

Not all who finish their PhD, stay on in academia. But what are the available alternative career options and do academics even think about that when they are pursuing their PhD? In February, Sannia Farooque (@SanniaF) tweeted her thoughts on how PhD students need to focus on the larger picture, think about their overall development, and remember that "there has to be more to a PhD than a desire or need to publish."

A lot of researchers echoed this sentiment and shared that getting a PhD does not mean that you have only one path in front of you. It is perfectly alright to enjoy research but not want to stay on in academia. You could have many options and if you can remember this, you can find it a little easier to fight the “publish or perish” culture.


March

In March, Katie Wedemeyer-Strombel (@krwedemeyer) started a conversation that highlighted a very important but less-discussed facet of academic life: the effect that challenges from other parts of life have on researchers' work-life. Be it navigating administrative procedures or dealing with economic or familial problems, researchers have to stay afloat enough to focus and do their work as a bare minimum. With this kind of pressure, the desire to seek help would seem natural.

This thread sought to normalize seeking help for mental-health related problems in academia.


April

Taking care of one’s mental health is not easy when you’re in a competitive field. It can get even more challenging when you are battling a disorder. In April 2019, Stephanie Hamilton (@SpaceSciSteph) started a celebratory thread where she shared her struggle with Major Depressive Disorder and Imposter Syndrome. I chose this conversation because it highlighted the power of open conversations when tackling mental health issues.

Academics often experience isolation because of the demands of their profession, the specificity of their subject area and the time they have to spend on their work. This can lead to depression. On the other hand, low self-worth and stressful elements of their work can lead academics to feel as if they do not deserve to be where they are, and have made it because nobody has figured out that they are frauds. This imposter syndrome is a constant presence in many academics’ lives. The thread is a celebration of overcoming such struggles and completing the research journey.


May

Conversations in academic circles mostly revolve around success. But that does not mean that everyone who is pursuing research is publishing, keeping up with their work, and doing well consistently. Many researchers struggle in silence and succumb to depression. In that grim landscape, it was a welcome change for me to come across the tweet that Richmond Lyfe shared in May.

He announced that he was not graduating this year, had not received a fellowship award, had not published or gotten a promotion, but was happy because he had prioritized his mental health. The conversation that followed this ranged between those who were happy to hear about a researcher going through hardship and not giving up, to those who felt that academia was meant for those who could succeed despite the hardships.


June

Motherhood is demanding, and so is the process of getting a PhD. Imagine the challenges faced by those who do both of these together! In June, I found Dr. Elizabeth Thomas’ (@lizzie_thomasAU) tweet about balancing parenthood and PhD.

Her accomplishments mirror those of other parents who pursue their passion for research alongside parenting. Juggling taking care of another human being and yourself and your work is something worth taking notice of! This tweet and the thread that follows, shine a light on the hard work and accomplishment of those who contribute not just as researchers but also as parents.


July

Do you think that we have achieved gender equality when it comes to higher education? Some think that we have not, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics which still remain male-dominated disciplines.

In July, I found a thread by Semarhy Q (@semarhyquinones) that presented a collage of illustrations of women in various sub-fields of STEM.

What got the conversation going was her asking for suggestions about what other professions she could include in her cartoons representing women in STEM. Needless to say, this too was a conversation that saw support and disagreement on the idea of bringing gender into science. What are your thoughts on the matter?  


August

If you are on the PhD journey, you can possibly think of quite a few things that are responsible for causing stress, things that contribute toward the deterioration of a researcher’s mental health.

Imagine how helpful it would be if you had a map at hand— something that broke down the stressful elements so that you could have a clearer picture of what you have to tackle?

In August, I found Dr. Zoë Ayres’ (@ZJAyres) tweet: an infographic of a “summary of stressors”.

This “summary” lists factors that contribute to PhD students’ poor mental health.

Starting from toxic relationships to financial challenges to the demands of a competitive landscape, the infographic considered various aspects of a researcher’s life. But academics had more to contribute to the list and so this Twitter thread saw quite an engaging conversation on stressors for PhD students and how to reduce them.


September

So, if you are an assistant professor at a university and have just entered your first class, how would you be feeling? I have heard accounts from my friends about their initial days as an assistant professor and the uncertainty they felt about how to handle themselves. What if the students don’t listen? What if the students get bored? What if as a professor, they don’t know enough?

As you know, there is no training for assistant professors except the kind feedback of considerate colleagues and students. So wouldn’t it be helpful if that community reached out and gave inputs on how an assistant professor can be better prepared? I found a really useful thread where Dr. V (@AshleyJoEtta) asked the academic twitter community to come forward with tips for first-year assistant professors.

The advice she received ranged from being protective of one’s “writing time” to finding the right therapist, mechanic, or hair-dresser before it is too late! Sounds a little confusing? Simply put, the insistence was on making time for oneself and keeping work and personal life separate.


October

None of us knows anyone who has made no mistakes. Yet, so many of us feel afraid of owning up to the mistakes that we make. The reasons for this may vary but the fact remains that mistakes are not openly discussed. In October, Ivan J. Santiago (@gradschoolpapi) posted a tweet, breaking that trend by stating how normal it is to make mistakes from time to time, even when conducting experiments. Scientists are humans too and thus, fallible.

 

Humanizing research is a great way to ease off some of the pressure that academics constantly experience. If you go through the thread that Ivan’s tweet started, you’ll come across some amusing stories of failure. It can be heartening to read the accounts of researchers who have learnt from their mistakes and know how to laugh at them in retrospect.


November

In November, PhD Diaries (@thoughtsofaphd) posted a shout-out to those who had moved away from home and family to pursue their PhDs, acknowledging their hard decision and their perseverance.

The conversation that followed on the thread revealed that this aspect of higher education is seldom discussed. An intersection of biases and prejudice might get in the way of researchers who travel to a foreign country for higher education, from ever feeling welcome. This thread focuses on this and similar aspects in academia.


December

Sleep is so important that it has found its way into fairytales, folktales, even graphic novels (I'm thinking Sleeping Beauty, Rip Van Winkle, or Sandman)! But then, why are so many people so lackadaisical about it? One can temporarily escape the stresses of life when sleeping, but still sleep is not given enough priority, even by PhD students.  So, the thread I focused on for December was a tweet started by Dr. Héloïse Stevance (@Sydonahi’s).

It asked how some researchers managed to go about their days without eight hours’ worth shut-eye. You would either be on the side of the night owls or the early risers, and look at sleep accordingly. So, how important is your sleep for you? 


I hope you enjoyed catching up with these conversations among academics on Twitter in 2019. If you think I have missed a thread here, do leave a comment below! Maybe we can discuss it— an academic and a layperson, talking it out in the wild.

 

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