I have a mild obsession (well, actually I have several, but only one is pertinent to this piece). Most of us have a thing we spend too much time on given its relative importance – computer games, knitting, running, animal species where the genus and the species are the same word (that last one might be quite specific). My obsession is Twitter. I love Twitter. I also hate Twitter. It’s one of those things. Like Marmite, except more socially acceptable to use on the train.
So, young student who I’m going to imagine for narrative convenience is reading this, should you use Twitter? I don’t know; the leisure decisions of hypothetical beings are not my particular area of expertise! But here are a few points, either way:
CON 1: Time
Twitter can be an endless sinkhole of time, if you’re not disciplined with your use of it. There is always another insightful blog, another breaking news story, another otter video. If there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day, you’d be amazed at how much less there is once you look up from Twitter.
PRO 1: Papers
In the last year (30th May 2016 – 30th May 2017 inclusive) 1,225,388 academic papers were published (according to PubMed). Some of those were good. Some were not. Assuming you care about 1% of those papers, that still leaves a good 20 papers every week that you want to know about. While there are excellent tools to find these papers (I particularly like PubCrawler), some of these papers don’t use those all-important key words in their titles or abstracts required to be captured in your searches. Twitter to the rescue! Interesting papers are often highlighted by bots and the Twitterati alike. What’s more, Twitter functions as post-publication public peer review (something I like immensely, and not just because of the alliteration) – strangely, academics seem very open to giving their frank opinions on the latest research…
CON 2: Appearance
Twitter is public engagement (that’s a sneaky extra pro there, and an important one at that). But the key word there is ‘public’. Every tweet you make is there in the world, searchable on Google. You remember that stupid thing you said while drunk? At least only 10 people know about that. On Twitter, the world knows. And don’t think you can just delete the tweet and the world forgets. Aside from the fact that deleted tweets can still be retrieved in some cases, the deleted tweet can be inferred to be a telling sign of your wrongdoing. You don’t have to perfect on Twitter – but you should always think before you tweet.
PRO 2: Jobs
If you are like me, I’m very sorry. But apart from that, if you’re like me you are probably either in the market for a job, vaguely feel like you should be in the market for a job, or are terrified you might soon be in the market for a job. Alternatively, you might be one of those mythic people that have funding and need to turn it into papers via a regularly employed human. Twitter is a human bazaar full of potential employers and employees, and allows the personal interaction that you just can’t get from an application form.
CON 3: People
Twitter is a human bazaar, and bizarre humans lurk within. These range from the mild to the scary. At the gentler end, there are those persistent people who misrepresent your work (this is a big issue in behaviour genetics. We haven’t found the gene for this behaviour. That’s not how behaviour genetics works.). Annoying, but not evil. However, one need not stray far from the light to encounter the trolls under the bridge, those particularly vile people who have little better to do with their lives than threaten (usually female) fellow users. Twitter is poor at dealing with these – thick skin or blocked ears are required, but not always sufficient.
PRO 3: People
Most people are good . I firmly believe this applies to Twitter as well. On the days you feel a bit rubbish, on the days you feel a bit lost, on the days when THAT script won’t run even though the other eight identical scripts ran and there’s no REASON and [Ed: yes, ok, enough…] Twitter people are there, with little awesome things about science and about the world. If you do decide to join me (@Joni_coleman) on Twitter, I can thoroughly recommend you check a few of them out. There far too many to list here, but I personally get a solid pick-me-up from the tweets of @PGCgenetics, @StuartJRitchie, @SilverVVulpes, @dgmacarthur, @garwboy and @marcusmunafo. Oh, and @edit_lab, obviously.