Life as a researcher, particularly as a part-time PhD student, can be a very lonely one. Even if you’re with people every day, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to talk to them at length about the intricacies of your research without their eyes glazing over.
Conferences provide the ideal opportunity to chew the fat with those who are equally as nerdy, erm, I mean passionate about similar subjects.
So networking tools really provide the opportunity to connect with like-minded people across the world, in a way which has not been accessible to earlier ‘generations’ of early career researchers. Admittedly they’re not without their disadvantages; both twitter and Facebook are excellent distraction and procrastination tools. But I guess if used productively they can also help you to raise your own profile whilst seeing who else is out there to talk to about your research.
As I’ve suggested before, different platforms for networking may lead to very different adventures and modes of interaction. I’ve settled into a pattern now of using Twitter as my platform of choice for (mostly) research-related stuff, but I’m still learning. So far I’ve found it really helpful for asking research related questions and sharing experiences (for example, about the process and experience of gaining ethical approval for my research project). #phdchat is a really useful hashtag for reaching fellow phd-ers and a useful support network too.
Undoubtedly, twitter has lots of potential and I wonder whether I will be able to take advantage of what it has to offer in the months/years to come I’m currently using the guidance from the Digital Tools for Research programme at Warwick University, and a useful short guide prepared by the LSE Public Policy Group ‘Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities’ which is really more of a beginners’ guide.
‘Lanyrd’ is another social networking platform, which is designed to bring together ‘virtual’ and ‘face-to-face’ forms of networking. As I understand it it’s a way of registering your attendance at particular conferences (mainly academic I think, but not exclusively). I’m a lanyrd novice, and I’d be interested to hear of others’ experiences. I’ve managed to get as far as signing up for this service via twitter although the link with twitter seems to be a bit temperamental. Lanyrd and twitter seems to reinforce each other, so the more followers (or followees) you have on twitter who share similar interests, the more you’re likely to have relevant events ‘pop-up’ when you go into lanyrd.
I think this is another platform which I’ll get to know over time. It will be interesting to see whether it becomes more popular for academic or non-academic events (from my perspective it would certainly be useful for any type of gathering, be it academic, policy or practitioner).
For now though, it’s back to the solitary world of research….