SOCIAL SKILLS

by Andrew Thompson Landerghini, social media manager

Despite the threat of bots, trolls and Russian subterfuge, Twitter has become a useful tool for faculty and researchers in the world of academia. It allows them to connect with peers across the globe on ideas and developments pertinent to their work. In some cases, it helps them stay connected with students and share course-related material. And no conference is complete without a conference hashtag, which is a great way to network in both the virtual world and the real one.

Scores of U faculty, not to mention President-designate Ruth Watkins and Dean of Students Lori McDonald, have embraced Twitter over the years, using it for both personal and professional purposes. Here are some of our favorite faculty follows with insight as to why they’re on the platform and what they use it for.

Jim Steenburgh

Steenburgh is a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Utah. An avid backcountry and resort skier and creator of the popular blog Wasatch Weather Weenies, he is a leading authority on mountain weather and winter storms.

“I’ve had a twitter account for over three years. I began using social media around 2010 when I created the Wasatch Weather Weenies blog, but was looking for an avenue for sharing small bits of information, photographs, and insights about weather and climate. I’ve also found it valuable for promoting my book, ‘Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth.’

Twitter is great for sharing information during winter storms and other high-impact weather events.  What surprised me is how great it is for following science broadly. I often hear about science advances in areas that are related or even outside of my research area through twitter. Follow the right people and you can greatly broaden your horizons.

I tweet about snow, skiing, meteorology, weather, climate, air pollution and forecasting; I also share items of interest on campus or from other U faculty, graduate students and researchers. I try hard not to share politically charged tweets, but confess moments of weakness from time to time. For example, I will comment on weather or climate policy where I believe it is needed.

I follow fellow weather and climate tweeters, programs like the National Science Foundation and the Fulbright Program, ski areas around the world for great snow photos, reporters who cover my work or are especially good at covering weather and climate, university groups and a few sites aligned with personal sports interests (ski and bike racing, etc.). I also follow some people with differing scientific and political viewpoints. I don’t think it is healthy to live in an echo chamber.”

Çağan Şekercioğlu

Şekercioğlu is a conservation ecologist, ornithologist, tropical biologist and nature photographer (check out his photos on Instagram). He was also named a National Geographic Explorer. His doctoral research focused on the causes and consequences of bird extinctions around the world.

“I started on Twitter in 2009, mainly to archive and share interesting articles on ecology, conservation and biodiversity that I was already emailing some friends and colleagues anyway. As a conservation ecologist, my motivation was professional and Twitter has increasingly become a part of the citizen science component of my research.

I’m still on Twitter for the education, outreach and sharing the beauty of the world’s biodiversity and wild places. As a National Geographic photographer, I also share my wildlife photography on Twitter, but I now mainly use Instagram for that. Social media is a critical part of my educational mission as a professor and conservationist. I rarely use social media personally but as an educational tool that can reach millions. Including my lab and my environmental organization KuzeyDoga, we have over 72,000 followers, which means as a scientist, educator and environmentalist I can reach millions of people to change hearts and minds. In the past 28 days, I had 101,000 Twitter impressions, so that’s a daily reach of 3600 people on my Twitter alone. Citizen science is a major component of my research, education and conservation work. For example, after seeing my Facebook video of greater sage-grouse mating display in Utah, previous dean of science Pierre Sokolsky was inspired to create the University of Utah Citizen Science Award. Twitter and other social media expands my reach greatly.

I tweet about scientific and popular articles on environment, ornithology, ecology, conservation and biodiversity; wildlife photos I have taken on my expeditions and travels; interesting world news, some humor and occasional photos of my avocado toast.

I follow scientific journals and organizations, especially in ornithology, ecology, conservation, as well as world news and some colleagues and intellectuals whose work I enjoy.”

Nicole Detling

Detling received her doctorate in sport psychology at the University of Utah. She currently provides sport psychology services for the Utah Athletics Department, and is the Mental Performance Coach for Real Salt Lake, the US Ski and Snowboard Association and the USA Nordic teams. She has been consulting with athletes and performers since 1998.

“I first joined Twitter because an Olympic medalist I was working with several years ago told me I needed one. She sat down with me and helped me start it, then became my first follower.

Twitter has given me the opportunity to check in with what’s going on with the people and topics I am most interested in. I have enjoyed learning from others and also having a platform to spread my message and hopefully, teach others a few things here and there.

Ninety-nine percent of what I tweet about is what I do as a mental performance coach.  I tweet ideas, articles, concepts, videos, etc. that will help others enhance their performances.

I follow most of the athletes I work with as well as their organizations. I also follow other mental performance coaches so I can learn from them and also share their messages with my followers.”

Shannon McGregor

McGregor is a professor in the Department of Communication. Her research interests are political communication, social media, public opinion, journalism studies and gender.

“I joined in 2009, and I mostly tweeted about food. My first tweet was pretty lame — something like ‘… is eating lunch.’ I think I just wanted to see what the site was all about.

As an academic, I find Twitter to be super important In interacting with other scholars as well as folks who work in politics and journalism, I can keep abreast of current issues and research.

I tweet a lot about politics and news — especially as it relates to social media. But my feed isn’t totally professional — I also tweet about food (mostly tacos), TV, music and how I’m coping with my first-ever real winter. I really like using GIFs in my tweets — and I have a huge Dropbox folder of reaction GIFs that I share with a professor friend. I also think a healthy dose of snark is good on Twitter, so you’ll find that in my feed as well. As a scholar, I see Twitter as a powerful tool for engaging the public with my research — it can open the curtain behind our processes, allow scholars to engage in public discussions around their areas of expertise and puts us in greater proximity to journalists, who can also transmit our work to wider public audiences.

I follow a lot of journalists and news organizations — this is how I stay on top of the news, which moves SO fast these days. I also follow loads of other academics from lots of disciplines — there is a wonderfully supportive and thriving community of scholars on Twitter. For example, @womenalsoknow promotes women political scientists.”

Avery Holton

Holton is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication where he serves as the Undergraduate Journalism Sequence Coordinator. He additionally serves as the university’s Student Media Advisor and was recently named the first College of Humanities Vice-Presidential Clinical and Translational Research Scholar.

“I joined Twitter because I used to work as a communications director in the Houston Astros organization, so I signed up pretty early on to engage with our fan base and share information there.

I have about 340 million reasons to be on Twitter. Sure, I don’t want or need to see what every active user is posting, but there’s a lot of FOMO when I’m not on. And Twitter remains an information-oriented platform that hasn’t seen the same infectious misinformation as Facebook. A study out just this week showed that nearly all of the misinformation on Twitter can be traced back to less than 1 percent of its users, and many of those are bots. So I still have faith in Twitter as an engaging, ambient news and information source.

Much like other social media platforms, Twitter is centered around your personal brand. People get to know you based on what you share. So I tend to engage in a lot of tweets about academics, research, health communication and other nerdy stuff. I’m also a big GIF responder. I don’t know how or why that started, but I’m always in search of the perfect, non-cat GIF.

I tend to follow fellow academic and news geeks, and I’m really drawn to people who have something to say. Not just opinions or hot takes, but who are really putting themselves out there and taking risks with their social media voices. That usually means I follow topics that are tough to talk about but that need our attention, like racial inequalities, health disparities, mental health issues, gender pay gaps and so on. There’s a real platform for learning, listening and connecting across such issues on Twitter.

Twitter is a space where, despite the infiltration of some bots and rogue accounts, honesty and transparency are really appreciated. We’re increasingly surrounded by misinformation and disinformation and this loss of the genuine. Twitter, as well as other spaces, gives us a platform to be real and to be okay with that. Where Instagram or Snapchat might be representations of who we are at our best or who we want people to think we are, Twitter is a safer space too really be, well, who we really are.”

Jason Shepherd

Shepherd is a professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the School of Medicine, with adjunct positions in the departments of Biochemistry and Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences. He joined the U in 2013 after obtaining postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his doctorate at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He is also an avid hobby photographer, where his work can be found on Instagram.

“I initially started using Twitter out of curiosity, but thought it was just another social media time sink. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to be more active on there, mostly due to the growing science community. It’s become a very good resource, both to keep up with current ideas/literature and to engage in real time with other scientists. It’s fast becoming an alternative platform for networking in academia.

I mostly tweet about science and research. This includes our own research, but also like to highlight cool papers, local labs and career-orientated resources.

I mostly follow other scientists but also political commentators, funding agencies, journals and science-related accounts.”

Alexis Christensen

Christensen is a member of the classics faculty in the Department of World Languages and Cultures. She spends her summers working on an archaeological field school in Italy called the Sangro Valley Project. Her research is focused on the social dynamic between people and architecture, especially their homes.

“I first joined twitter because I was reading a lot of different archaeology blogs and saw that a lot of those authors were on Twitter too. It was an opportunity to engage with people doing things that interest me.

I’m still on Twitter because it offers a sense of community and a chance to engage with people working on things similar to what I do. There aren’t many archaeologists here at the U and no one doing Roman archaeology, but there are lots of archaeologists, historians, and classicists on Twitter.

I mainly tweet about ancient Greek and Roman cultures, classical reception, and my dog (see my pinned tweet). I use a hashtag for every class I teach so that I can share tweets relevant to courses I teach such as classical mythology (#clcv1550) or Roman civilization (#clcv1570). I embed a Twitter feed into my course pages in Canvas, so that all my students can see what I retweet, not just those on Twitter. I can’t count the times I’ve seen something on Twitter that ties into what we are working on in class.

I follow a lot of archaeologists and classicists, but I also follow people and departments here at the U so I can keep up with the opportunities available to me and my students. And I follow some accounts like @SUEtheTrex, @ussoccer_wnt and @UtahRoyalsFC, just because dinosaurs and soccer are awesome!”

HARRIET HOPPF

Hopf is a professor and vice chair in the Department of Anesthesiology, adjunct professor of bioengineering and senior special assistant in the Office of Faculty at the U. She knows all the words to Utah Fan/Man and could wear a different red blazer every day of the week.

“I joined Twitter in June 2009, because I could see that social media (#SoMe) provided a far-reaching opportunity to learn, to disseminate ideas and work, to engage with people (#tweeps) with shared interest, and to identify potential collaborators. It was all theoretical and I didn’t actually tweet until several years later (Figure 1). I began to learn how to capitalize on the opportunities when I attended a session at the 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges annual conference (@AAMCMeetings) by @LeeAase, Director of the @MayoClinic Social Media Network. I began to engage more effectively after he visited the University of Utah for a workshop “Social Media and Your Career.” Initially, I largely tweeted at conferences, and almost no one noticed. By 2014, I was starting to get the hang of both conference and non-conference tweeting, and to notice what made tweets valuable contributions instead of just noise. In 2017, I co-led a workshop entitled “Engaging 21st Century Faculty Using Social Media” at the AAMC Group on Faculty Affairs conference and co-created a resource for novice twitter users (https://www.slideshare.net/secret/pa4WQ6O3Rq1iSy).

I’m still on Twitter because it keeps me up to date on topics, people, and institutions I care about, and because I have developed a network of friends, colleagues and collaborators, many of whom I’ve never met in person.

I tweet in three main categories: science, health and sustainability; diversity and gender equity; and sports, primarily the University of Utah, Utah Jazz and Yale University. Twitter is a great way to amplify important publications, conferences and accomplishments, and to engage in wide-ranging conversations across time zones and continents.

My favorite people / organizations to follow on Twitter are:

  • In science, health and sustainability: @legogradstudent re-enacts life as a grad student using Lego. @AcademiaObscura provides quirky thoughts on life in science. Annals of Surgery (@annalsofsurgery) led the way in developing the #visualabstract, which most journals now use to better communicate the latest science. Our very own Dr. Tom Varghese (@TomVargheseJr) has a huge following (13K) and an informative, high quality feed. Practice Greenhealth (@pracgreenhealth) provides resources for reducing the environmental impact of the health care.
  • In diversity and gender equity: The Association of Women in Surgery (@womensurgeons) has led the way on a number of great hashtags, including #ILookLikeASurgeon, #NYerORCoverChallenge, and #HeForShe. Dr.Esther Choo (@choo_ek) is an emergency medicine physician (#FemInEm) who tweets about public health, women’s rights, and bias in medicine. The Sunday evening #womeninmedicine chat is always worth joining.
  • In sports: @utahathletics, @utahjazz, and @yaleathletics, of course! #GoUtes”