How I use tweet threads at conferences

I tweet 10-20 times per week on average. But I’m far more active on Twitter when I attend conferences. At conferences, I write as many as 300 tweets over two days. I use conference hashtags to share my thoughts, generate discussion, and disseminate others’ work. Conference tweeting is a way to electronically meet other attendees and have an online conversation with them. I try to use live-tweeting etiquette as much as possible.

Along with tweeting, I normally take notes on my laptop during conference presentations. Lately, along with my usual conference tweets, I have been writing what I call tweetnotes. These are tweet threads I write by tweeting my notes and threading together replies. The tweets become my notes, hence the term tweetnotes.

Before creating tweetnotes, I used to write a dozen or more discrete tweets during presentations. But I can thread tweetnotes together, meaning they can be saved as a narrative instead of a basketful of discrete tweets. In the past, I would scan through old tweets to find tweets from a specific presentation. Now, I just save or embed the tweetnote links and I can easily access the entire thread. Here are a few examples from the annual Qualitative Health Research conference I just attended.

Tweetnotes are useful for me and for others. For example, when I finish a tweetnote I will often retweet it with a summary of the presentation I attended. The presenter, conference organizers, and other audience members can now interact with either individual tweets or to the entire tweetnote. For example, CADTH retweeted my tweetnote on some presenters form their organization.

So far, I think the uptake of using tweetnotes has been well received by my network. What do you think of tweetnotes or other ways of using Twitter threads? Share your thoughts as a comment.

A word cloud of anti-diversity

Word

I created a simple word cloud based on the text of the recent anti-diversity manifesto published by a now-disgraced former Google engineer. The visual speaks for itself, but I wanted to share some thoughts on the sentence where I simply stopped reading:

“Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.”

There are many statements I disagree with throughout this diatribe–and if you haven’t read it you’re not missing out on much. But this sentence rubs me raw.

Where do facts come from? The author should note well that emotional engagement is central to what propels science, research, and the people who choose scientific careers.  We gain nothing by separating so-called “matters of fact” from the emotional human contexts in which those facts exist, profligate, and influence human action.

Not only do we observe this artificial separation of reason and emotion throughout this manifesto, we frequently observe this separation used to justify the mythos of innate male and female skills and virtues.  Here is the link to the Gizmodo article containing both the original anti-diversity memo as well as the corporate reply from Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, Danielle Brown.

What do you think? Let me know!

4 career planning tips for qualitative research graduate students

In debriefing with some colleagues about my recent trip to Montreal for Qualitative Health Research 2012, we agreed it would be a good idea for me to post my summary of a fantastic talk given by Prof. Mary Ellen Macdonald. She focused her talk on career planning for qualitative health research graduate students, and based the key points on an e-mail poll she sent to 26 qualitative health research professors across Canada.

I was particularly excited by Dr. Macdonald’s talk because I’ve been writing about professional development for years – starting with posts about my own professional development, and moving on to posting about career advice for Arts grads, resume writing, and, more recently, academic PR (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).

What I found particularly salient about Dr. MacDonald’s talk was her outline of the ‘unofficial curriculum’ for qualitative health research graduate students. I’ve taken her advice and structured it into 4 career planning tips for qualitative researchers: graduate student’s need to foster mentorship, develop communication skills, be good citizens, and stay on the radar.

Career tip #1: Fostering mentorship

A graduate students’ success is directly related to the mentorship structure they receive from their supervisor. I have seen students suffer in highly dysfunctional research supervision relationships. To avoid this, before beginning any graduate program a graduate student should select their mentor first and their topic second. mentoring

Your research topic will not matter if your supervisor is not working with you to develop other crucial professional skills. Don’t expect every supervisor to be a strong mentor; mentorship is a mutual process, with formalities that should be respected by graduate student mentees.

Dr. Macdonald recommends students take a proactive role by establishing a supervision contract with your mentor. This contract could state that a discussion has taken place identifying the frequency of individual and committee meetings, the nature of verbal/written feedback, the funding that is available for conference travel, research assistantships and stipends, and the appropriate timeframes allotted for feedback and letter writing.

Career Tip #2: Developing communication SkillsCommunication

The ability to communicate your ideas is as important as the ideas themselves. For example, writing well is an overlooked skill for graduate students, and most programs provide no formal writing instruction. Are you struggling with your writing? Hire a tutor, join a writing group, or research online. In a career where written communication in the form of peer-reviewed articles is crucial to career success, graduate students must write well.

Strong public speaking skills are also an important skill for graduate students who want to make a mark. Spend time learning to design effective slides. Practice your talk before you get up in front of an audience. Learn to be a good public speaker (consult with toastmasters if need be).

Further, your CV can be a powerful communication strategy. Dr. Macdonald recommends that you keep your CV up to date. She also recommends you maintain two versions of your CV, official and unofficial. Your unofficial CV is sometimes called a dossier. Researchers keep sanctioned, conventional achievements in their CV: employment history, publications, and conference presentations. But why not keep everything you do in your unofficial CV? Dr. Macdonald recommends recording ALL contributions to your research community: important meetings, rejected research papers, and even unsuccessful grants. You worked on those tasks, so why not record them?

Career Tip #3: Being a good citizen

Citizenship is behavior based on the duties and functions of a citizen. So what does it take to be a good citizen of your graduate program or research centre? One way to be a good citizen of your graduate program is by being a strong representative at conferences. Good conferencing means more than presenting research talks/workshops/posters. Effective networking is a must! Attend others’ talks, meet new people, greet colleagues, and ask GOOD questions (these are questions that make the speaker look good; citizennot, as some folks would have it, questions that make the speaker look good.) Further, do as much as you can to show off your work and the community from which you come. You will look even better if you are current in your research area when chatting with your peers.

Career Tip #4: Staying on the radar

Stay on the radar with your supervisor. While your research project is, or at least should be, your most important occupation, the same is not true for your supervisor. Keep copious notes when you meet with your supervisor; it is your job to remind your supervisor about things you established during past meetings. radar

Stay on the radar with important people you meet as well. Along with being you supervisor’s keeper of memories, work with your supervisor to develop an “elevator pitch” – this is the 20-second description of your research project when you find yourself in an elevator next to the Dean. But you might need different pitches for different audience: nurses, physicians, policy-makers, etc.

Academic PR Part 2: Academia.edu

This is my second post about Academic PR, the practice of PR by academic professionals seeking to network, disseminate research, and discover funding opportunities. Today’s post is about Academia.edu, a social networking website for academics. I love the site because it leverages powerful techniques from the social networking web in a way that is easy and accessible for academics. But I hate the site because it overlooks some the most fundamental social networking techniques as well. Before I get into the details, first let me begin with the caveat that I’ve been in touch with the developers of Academia.edu about my concerns, and I was told that they are working them out. So by the time you’re reading this, things might be all better, in which case I’ll edit this post or write a new one. But for now, it’s a love-hate relationship.

Why I love Academia.edu

The reasons I love this website far outnumber the reasons I hate it. Most importantly, Academia.edu has an obvious understanding of their audience: academics. When you want to communicate with academics, you really need to cut the flack. Academics want simplicity and efficiency, not flash and complexity. So I love academia.edu because they’ve succeeded in appealing to their audience. And they’ve done so in three primary ways: the functionality, the database, and the interface.

Functionality

Academia.edu is a free and easy way for academics to publish their bios, publications, contact information, and Twitter-like status updates for the entire world to see. Further to that, users can use specialized search terms like research interests and departmental affiliations to find like-minded individuals and forge potential connections. I briefly mentioned that users can post publications, but I want to emphasize what an easy way this is for academics to highlight the work they feel best represents what they’re currently interested in. Furthermore, the Academia.edu site allows users to easily write blog posts that become part of their online profile.

Database

The information about thousands of post-secondary institutions has been populated into the Academia.edu database. So when a new academic user first registers, the site intuitively auto-populates the information about their academic institution and department. A simple example of this is the fact a PhD candidate from, say, the University of Waterloo’s English department (my alma mater), can choose the appropriate departmental title, the “Department of English Language and Literature,” instead of simply a generic title like the “Department of English.” Academia.edu achieves this by allowing users to populate the database as they register. So the first registrant of a given department paves the way for subsequent registrants to easily select their department from a list of options.

Interface

In terms of user interface, Academia.edu has done everything right. The layout is clean and clear with solid web architecture. And one of the most noticeable aspects of the site is the visual layout of academic departments. Once a user has chosen their institution and department, they can see the other faculty members, graduate students, and staff who are also Academia.edu users (see my screen shot).

Academia.edu screen shot

I think this is a neat way to visualize the hierarchy of a given academic department, although I have to admit it’s rather unremarkable if a department only has four Academia.edu users. The site uses a similar visual approach for laying out users according to their research interests.

The is also comprised of four primary feeds: News, Papers, People, and Status Updates. Which leads me to the next part of my post . . .

What I hate about Academia.edu

In its current iteration, I despise Academia.edu because users can’t filter the site’s feeds. The feeds are scrolling updates about users posting papers, status updates, profile changes, etc. You’ll be most familiar with this user interface from Facebook (and I can only assume you’re familiar with Facebook if you’ve read this far.) Academia.edu claims . . . CLAIMS that the site uses your reported research interests to populate your feed with information you’ll find relevant. Well this is just not true.

Like many others, I’m an interdisciplinary researcher with interests reaching from Linguistics to Medical Education. Perhaps this diversity is the reason my feed is constantly clogged with information about academics who I am not interested in and papers that I don’t want to read. Although the site allows you to “Follow” the work of some academics, this doesn’t occlude the work of academics you’ve never heard of from appearing in your newsfeed.

Everytime I log into Academia.edu I find myself having to sort through a wealth of unnecessary information. While I can perhaps see the logic insofar as the site’s organizers hoped to foster previously unknown research connections, it’s completely unacceptable that I my Papers feed contains a graduate student research paper about Islamic poetry when the closest Research Interest that may link me to this topic is “Illness in Literature.” This site desperately needs filters for their feeds and right now they don’t.

So maybe I was a little off when I said the site’s designers fully understood their audience. After all, while academics are particularly good at cutting the chaff from the wheat, we need to be in control of WHO’S work we want to follow, and WHICH papers we want to read. Anyone who understands academics knows that while we appreciate recommendations, we don’t want them forced on us.