Social media: A guide for researchers (Alexander Davenport case study)

Added by Catherine Gray on 07 February 2011 17:50

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Alexander Davenport

I currently work as a research assistant in the Hemato-oncology department in Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. I originally applied for medicine but I didn’t get in and I was offered a change of course which I took. I then applied for a Master’s in Immunology at Imperial College London and got on. Currently, I am applying for PhD posts.

I access information mainly by using social media. I use Twitter and I read a lot of blogs. I like to keep up to date directly with the people involved in the research. I use blogging, microblogging, online writing tools, social/ professional networking tools and iGoogle quite extensively. I remember the first thing I started using was Facebook in 2005. I first started using social media because I believe in science communication, I think it is important that as a scientist you engage with the public so as to not seem arrogant when discussing controversial issues. Also, through social media I have found other people and causes such as the Science is Vital campaign, where I got to know the people helping to organise it.

I believe the use of social media has made me a better researcher because I think a good researcher not only needs to be able to do the research but needs to be able to communicate, formulate ideas and arguments with other people they know. For example, a lot of my work uses clinical trial samples and if I hadn’t read and agreed with the importance of blinding my results I would have analysed un-blinded which could have skewed my results.

If I couldn’t use social media anymore I think it would change my life back to where it was, but it would change it for the worse. I’m sure some of the social media tools currently used will go out of fashion and I may move onto the next craze, but at the moment I use them quite extensively both in my professional and personal life. Social media though has negatively impacted on my work-life balance. I occasionally spend a bit too much time on Twitter and I am really glad they’ve blocked Facebook from work otherwise I would probably keep using it here too.

I feel that the major problems in the adoption of social media tools are the perception of the need for them, prejudice of the potential user and occasionally the type of people already using social media. It can be difficult to sieve through the rubbish that gets put out there. Self publishing such as blogs can be useful but at the same time they aren’t peer reviewed so you have to take what they say with a pinch of salt. I am not sure everyone is ready to switch over to social media.

Alex Davenport’s blog: Starting out in Science http://begsci.wordpress.com

The main project page for Social media: A guide for researchers is here.


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