How to use Twitter

If you ever meet me in person I can, sometimes, sound like a broken record. I am somewhat.. persistent.. in my efforts to get every single PhD student I meet on, and using, Twitter. Surprisingly, although my generation is labelled as being, 'social networkers' the vast majority of people I know and meet are not on Twitter. Facebook yes. Twitter no. Twitter is for weirdos and celebrity stalkers.

Oh my friends, how much you are missing out. Do you know that Professors are on Twitter? PIs are on Twitter? Post-docs are ADVERTISED and links made for post docs in the future are made through Twitter. (Sometimes I get a *gasp* at this stage, especially if the person I am talking to is a final year PhD student).

Next question, so how do you DO it? How do you USE it? What happens in Twitter world? My response.. Twitter is what ever you want to make it, and it is up to you how you use it. You could use it to talk to the other three people in your lab and your mum. If you wanted to. Or you could branch out and expand your network. Talk to people across the globe. Deliberately you could talk to people who are similar to you. Or you could seek out people who are different to the people you currently talk to.

Twitter is a conversation and you need to get involved in order to get the most of it. You can just watch, but it gets waaaay more fun if you join in.

My Twitter Tips:

- It's hard work when you first join, you need to find people, follow them, and join in conversations with people you do not know. I started using it anonymously at first in order to find my feet. I was a bit apprehensive about who was online, who could see me and what people were tweeting. Make sure you have a profile picture so people can tell you aren't a spam bot (try to have one with not so much bikini in it, Twitter has had a little problem with friendly 'sexbots' usually found wearing bikinis in profile pictures. I am NOT saying that everyone wearing a bikini is a sexbot. But it might be worthwhile distancing yourself from the sexbots if you were thinking of using a bikini snap as your picture). Fill out your profile description too, so people know who they are talking to.

- Conversations on twitter are happening on an open forum. If you have something to say. Join in. If people didn't want you to join in then they should take the conversation somewhere else. Join in with a debate about a current news story or event. People often link to their blog posts on twitter too, read them and comment (or tweet them) to let them know what you think and to say hello!

- You can search for terms and find people tweeting about things you are interested in. I searched for 'Aberdeen' so I could find the Aberdeen twittererers. I also then found out that there is a tweet up that you can go along to (no longer running in Aberdeen, unfortunately). It is a bit daunting to go on your own, but make yourself do it, it's lots of fun and great to put faces to Twitter accounts.

- If you are a PhD student there is a PhD hashtag - loads of PhD students all over the globe tweeting about issues that relate to PhD students. It's a fantastic forum. They also share blog posts, tips and just general grumbles. Is fantastic reassurance that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. #phd and #phdchat

- Always tweet imagining that your mum, dad, sister, PhD supervisor and head of school are following you (especially if you are not anon). They might not be on twitter.. or they might be.. personal attacks on twitter are not cool. By all means tweet if you are annoyed about something, but the phrase 'Don't say anything you wouldn't say to their face' is one to keep in mind.

- Be careful. You don't really know the people you are talking to. But don't be too scared of opening up, it's a balance between being yourself and not sharing everything! If you are interested in a certain group/Professor search for them on Twitter and say hello! Link your profile to a linkedin page or your blog so people can find out more about you (if you are on the job hunt). Be careful with your tweets though.. remember potential employers might be reading what you are up to so *skived off to go to the pub with my mates* might not be the best thing to share.

- Interested in science communication and public engagement? You NEED to be on Twitter. I do not think that Twitter is the best way of engaging and talking to the public (although you can use it for that) but it is a fantastic place to talk to other sci comms and public engagement ENTHUSIASTS from all over the globe. You can see what they are doing, share experiences of what works and what doesn't. Get help and advice and importantly get ideas! I often find that people who aren't on twitter get the heads up about new and exciting things on average 3 weeks later than the ones on Twitter. Keep up to date people. Keep up to date and don't repeat other peoples mistakes.

- Scientists are on Twitter. Scientists share their work and published papers on twitter. People also tweet from conferences. So if you weren't able to attend a session or conference you might be able to find out what went on right from your desk by following the hashtag, or someone at the conference, even ask a question from your desk. Some conferences have 'official bloggers'. Search for the conference name or scientists you are aware of to see if they are tweeting what is going on (ask them too if you are interested!). Conference organisers are usually on twitter too. I will be acting as one for, Experimental Biology Conference 2012 on behalf of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
- How much time should you spend on Twitter? Tough question. You could quite easily find yourself online 24/7 which isn't advisable. I tend to check twitter in the morning (bad habit probably) before I check the BBC news website! (I know *gasp*) . My PhD involves many experiments in the lab, with strange time points (like steps with 5, 10, 15 minute gaps - too short to do anything else, but long enough to tweet! So I use it then. Lunchtime is usually a busy spot, but I do always try and have lunch with the people in my lab if they are around. Then the other time I REALLY use it is when I am watching T.V. Greatest time to be on twitter? When watching The Apprentice..

Some more tips for making twitter friends -

  • Be nice
  • Give credit if you RT someone or tweet someones blog/video
  • Act like you would if you were having an actual conversation with someone
  • Don't be spammy (don't keep tweeting the same thing over and over again)
  • Don't keep tweeting the same person over and over and over
  • Use it. The more you use Twitter the more you will get out of it (by 'use it' I mean talk to people)
  • A hashtag is a # followed by text. It can be used to categorise tweets e.g. #phd . You can click on the hashtag and a list of tweets with that hashtag will appear. Good for following conversations or topics.. like #bbcapprentice
  • You can create blog posts out of tweets using tools like Storify, this is good and useful for capturing debates/live tweets interesting convos that people can then read at a later date.
  • Twitter is instant. Conversations do move quickly, use it often. 

Some interesting folk to follow:

PhD Tweeters -

@hapsci - Me, obviously. PhD student, tweeter.
@NSRiazat - #phdchat moderator
@thesiswhisperer - Thesis whisperer blog
@misspond - PhD student manchester
@ajebsary - Twitterer extraordinaire
@gradnessmadness - Does what it says

Top sci comms/public engagement/blog people:

@darwins_cat - fantastic blog
For my Skeptics to follow list see here

There are many more people too, if you have anyone else to add, put it in the comments below.

This post got a mention in a few places -


  1. These are useful tips. And great list of people. Thanks!
    Here is my list I wrote few months ago ( It's in greek but you can easily get the links!

  2. Thanks for mentioning me in your list of top blog people! I have the same 'problem' of sounding like a broken record trying to get my officemates (and others) on twitter.

    1. I know, also people use it once then give up without trying it properly!

  3. Thanks for the post. I forwarded the link to my students. So far they've been slow to join Twitter.

  4. Thanks for the mention :) Awesome blog post! I should pay attention to this advice more often ;)

  5. Great advice and great list. I'm going to repost on

  6. What do you say about private vs. public twitter accounts? I don't really understand why anyone uses twitter in 'private' mode if they want to network.

  7. I agree with you. A private network could be useful for interacting with a select group of people in private.

  8. PhD student here (Entomology). I recently got my own PI hooked on social media...he's now got a great blog and two active Twitter accounts, just in the last 6 months: mission accomplished. :) I also recently wrote about why I use social media here:

  9. Thanks - usefult tips. I am just starting out on twitter and working on gaining value from it for professional use - Knowledge mobilization. @EvAllenON

  10. Great post! A couple additional notes on social media and the science community here (full disclosure, I wrote the second one):

    1. fantastic, thanks for sharing the links. I was hoping people would share more resources and advice :-)

    2. No problem. There is a large - and growing - body of work out there offering guidance for those interested in using social media to advance their work, through networking, citizen science, crowdfunding, etc. This just scratches the surface, but we've got to start somewhere! Thanks for contributing to the larger conversation on social media in the science community!

  11. I just wrote a post about social media (from a newbie perspective):

    So thanks - this post is great.

    I agree it is important to be polite. I think, however, one needs to be even more careful than one might be in a face-to-face conversation. On Twitter and blogs, with potentially so many people getting in on the conversation, in different time zones, etc, off-the-cuff statements can get taken out of context or misinterpreted very rapidly. In a face-to-face conversation, one can retract or clarify slip ups almost instantly. On Twitter and on blogs, the clarification might come later than one might like.


    Mick (

    1. yes, that is a good point, but there usually is the opportunity to explain.

  12. Twitter is awesome! I'd also include Bora Zivokiv (@boraz), Carl Zimmer (@carlzimmer) and Ed Yong (@edyong) on that list.

    Closer to home (i.e. in NZ), I can recommend @sciblogsnz, @nerdnitewelly and @teh_aimee (disclaimer, I'm involved in, or am, those, but they're great for sciencey stuff).

    I can also thoroughly recommend google+ - its longer format allows people not only to share a greater depth of information in some cases, but also to have some really great conversations about items that have been shared. I'm very happy to share my super science/science writers circles with anyone thereon :)

    aimee (,,,

    1. fantastic, thanks for sharing those links!

      I did leave off @boras, @carlzimmer and @edyong as I wanted to share some people that I thought were interesting that others might not have heard of/seen before.

  13. Thanks for this post. I am trying to get more co-workers on twitter and this is very helpful.

  14. Nice piece, thanks.I'm working on a collaborative project involving large research infrastructures. A number of my colleagues are very sceptical about the value of Twitter as a communication tool ( not serious enough, I don't understand it so it can't be any good.....)so your article is very timely.
    I will let you know if I convince them..

    1. I hope you are successful! I think it can be a really useful tool if used properly. If not it can just be good for procrastination and fun! :-P

  15. I'm a budding scientific journalist and this was very helpful, thank you. Any further articles would be gratefully received. :)


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