In the digital age, how are people supposed to know what you’re doing if you don’t share it with them?
We are moving into a research age that is all about breaking down barriers, by embracing the reason why the Web was created - for sharing knowledge. We are recognising as a collective that collaboration and communities are more powerful than individuals and isolation. The parallels are everywhere, in the open source and open education movements, for example. For me as a researcher, open science has always been a complex beast to comprehend as a process. But as a vision, it was easy, based on the underlying principles of freedom and sharing. Social media was one way of helping to push forward towards that vision, by reshaping how I both think and operate as a researcher. And you know what? It’s liberating. Knowing there is a world beyond your desk or lab bench, where people are genuinely interested in your work, and want to interact with you and help build you up as a researcher and a person. You feel connected to like-minded spirits, and are empowered by the presence of others also trying to break down ivory towers and walls and make research something for everyone.
I would not be where I am now without social media. There is an enormous, welcoming, and energetic community of researchers out there who every single day are a support mechanism for unleashing your potential as a researcher. For example, the OpenCon community is something I would not be part of without dabbling in social media, and through it learning about the open access trade. OpenCon was the first time as an academic I felt truly passionate about, well, anything - it was like an inferno was lit inside me, and I felt this burning desire to commit to this vision for an ’Open World’ as much as possible, and to help others see it too. Two years down the line, I spend every day now supporting the principles of open through various aspects of the scholarly communication process. Social media plays a huge role in this, as part of a massive scale structural re-think towards how we treat and regard knowledge as a society. Social platforms help us to re-shape cultural attitudes towards knowledge generation, and the sharing of that knowledge for the betterment of everyone.
Being open about my own research and sharing my work on social media as it was still ongoing has led to many successful collaborations. I have been fortunate to be included now on three research publications, which I would not otherwise have been involved in if other researchers involved hadn’t seen that I was working on similar things by sharing them on social media. In an academic climate where papers are still the trading currency, this collaboration has been invaluable in improving my profile as a researcher, but also in opening up a whole new channel of learning that otherwise would have been closed to me. Often with social media, it’s not obvious what opportunities will present themselves, but you sure as hell won’t find out unless you actually give it a shot and make a commitment.
As well as for academic networking, social media can be a powerful platform for public engagement. It is imperative that scientists bond more with wider society to help foster a greater understanding of the world around us. Indeed, what’s the point in doing research after all if no-one is going to learn from it? In spite of this, using social platforms in this manner is still often viewed as superlative to the ‘real work’ of researchers. So, research. Often when people ask me about Twitter or blogging, they say ”Oh, that must be good for your CV”, or something similar. Which kind of misses the point entirely - we do these things because of a deep belief that science belongs to everyone, not to parade ourselves around in public. It needs to be seen that research and broader dissemination of research are not disparate, opposite, or disconnected. Research has not been complete until it has been communicated in the best possible way to the maximal audience possible. Realisation of this is the first major step towards embedding a wider sense of ‘science for society’ in our research culture, and being part of reaching a collective vision that science belongs to everyone and not just the priveleged few.