phdchat on Twitter

What is #phdchat?

#phdchat is a Twitter chat channel created by Nasima Riazat, better known as @NSRiazat, who runs a live #phdchat session for UK and European students at 7.30pm-8.30pm GMT on Wednesday nights.

@thesiswhisperer runs occasional live #phdchats, usually on the first Wednesday of every month from 7pm to 8pm, Sydney time. As part of the ‘How to survive your PhD’ MOOC, Inger will run a Twitter chat using the #survivephd15 hashtag from 26th of August 2015 at 7:30pm, for 10 weeks.

How do I take part in #phdchat?

If you want to connect with students from all over the world, log in to twitter, type #phdchat into the search box and join us!

The search function will show you all tweets which have #phdchat in them. The idea of live chat is to read and respond to these tweets in whatever way you want to.  This creates a free-flowing, somewhat anarchic conversation. Sometimes these chats might be ‘Storified’ later.

Note: if you are using the Twitter website you will have to click on ‘All’ at the top to see tweets being posted in real time.

Anyone can participate in a live chat by including the phrase #phdchat in their tweet. Most people participate by replying directly to others, but so long as you include #phdchat anyone will be able to read your tweet, whether or not they are included in the reply. For a longer explanation of Twitter see below.

The #phdchat channel is active at all times of the day and night outside of these facilitated chat times. No PhD student has to be lonely. Hanging out on #phdchat is a great way to share your experience and learn from other people who understand what it’s like to undertake a research degree.

Using Twitter

Twitter tends to divide people. It is absurdly easy to sign up and start tweeting, but it is quite difficult to work out how to use and enjoy it. The first step to successful tweeting is to understand how the platform works.

For those of you who are yet to be acquainted with the mechanics of the platform, Twitter is a ‘micro blogging’ service where people post ‘tweets’ of up to 140 characters.  You can follow anyone (unless they block you) and arrange them into lists. You can be followed by anyone – unless you lock your account and force people to ‘knock on your door’ to enter.

When you log in to Twitter your timeline shows the tweets of all the people you follow and anything they have re-tweeted (RT). The Tweets may be just plain text, or include web links and special searchable links called ‘hashtags’ (#). A hashtag placed before a word, or string of words with no spaces, turns the piece of text into a special sort of ‘search link’; when you click on it your timeline changes to show all the tweets containing that hashtag. Hashtags can be used to make informal, adhoc chat channels.

I recommend that all first time users go straight to the Twitter About page and the Resources page then watch this You Tube video by Dr Eva Alisic, which takes you through the basics of following, retweeting and hashtags.

(Please note there has been a facelift or two on the site and minor changes since this video was made, but the most important change is that you no longer need to add a ‘D’ before mentioning someone. For example, to send me a message type ‘@thesiswhisperer’ anywhere in the Tweet. I will see it in my ‘mentions’ list. Alternatively add  @thesiswhisperer at the start of the tweet to restrict the audience to only people who are following both of us. You will not be able to send me a direct message unless I am following you too.)

Getting the most out of Twitter

Composing good, information rich tweets is difficult, at least initially. A good place to start is with Dr David Silver’s post on Thick and Thin Tweets. Blog Brevitity’s post on “Content curation for Twitter: how to be a thought leader DJ on Twitter” and the LSE impact blog post on 3 Twitter styles you might like to adapt will help you think about how you want to present yourself.

I recommend you have an account that is set aside just for academic work (you can always have another, possibly locked, account to talk with your friends). Use your own name, or choose a name which will resonate with the topics you are teaching and researching. For example, I call myself @thesiswhisperer, which simultaneously publicises my blog and announces to anyone cruising by that my purpose is to help people to write a PhD or Masters thesis. Make your bio concise and signal the topics you are interested in talking about in 160 characters so that people can understand who you are. For example, this is how I describe myself:

Research Fellow @RMIT University. Does research on research ( yes – really), writes for and edits the Thesis Whisperer blog and thinks about stuff.

The main value of Twitter in teaching is the conversations it enables and the ability to harness the wisdom of the crowd to find useful information. But what puts many people off is that the more people you follow, the faster the tweets multiply in your timeline until there are literally too many to read.

The first thing to do is relax – imagine Twitter as a rushing waterfall of information and noise. You can’t drink from the waterfall by sitting under it with your mouth open; you hold a cup under it.  Since you will only be able to catch a small amount of what is going by in your cup, you need to ensure you are catching more information than noise.

There are three different ways to tune into Twitter and sort information from noise: be selective about whom you follow, use hashtags and compile lists. I’ll tackle each of these in turn.

Potential followers will look at who you follow to work out who you are and what you value. Use this opportunity to send the right signals by being careful about whom you include in your ‘waterfall’. If you are a teaching and researching politics you may follow politicians, political journalists and perhaps certain bloggers; if you are also interested in knitting you would include other knitters and perhaps supply shops and so on.

Don’t worry if you end up following lots of people; you can use lists to organise them. When you make a list you are essentially making an alternate timeline to view. The key advantage of a list is that the timeline can be viewed by others, so I like to think about myself as a curator of an art gallery; I try to make lists of people that others will want to read.

Lists can be used to track and monitor your audience. I have over quite a lot of followers. If I followed everyone back I would have a really crowded timeline, but I am still interested in what they are saying, so I organise all my followers into different lists. The lists are broadly speaking organised into my own interests I can scan these alternative timelines when I have time and get a sense of what conversations are going on and pick out interesting links.

I’ll be happy to answer questions in the comments section below.

32 thoughts on “phdchat on Twitter

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  2. Great overview of using Twitter for academic work and #phdchat. One clarification for people who may be new with it — #phdchat is not country or region specific; the real time sessions may be easier to attend from one region or another, though they do have a sample of people from around the world. As an American studying in the UK from a distance, the #phdchat network has been integral to my networking, my research, and my support.


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