Live-blogging: Academics as social media curators

One of the benefits to using social media as an academic and researcher can be taking part in a larger, shared conversation. Especially when we are first dipping our toes into such a vast ocean of online content, it can be extremely helpful to have some helpful role models and guides to show us the way.

During this session of #SocialMediaPhD, our experts Mark CarriganInger Mewburn (Thesis Whisperer) and Pat Thomson (patter) shared some of the tools and methods that work for them:

One of the collective themes throughout this session was how Mark, Inger, and Pat are mindful of their audiences and use their social media accounts as a means of content curation — both for their own work and interests, as well as what their audiences might be interested in reading and sharing.

For the Thesis Whisperer, perhaps social media can be thought of as a radio broadcast — you’ll reach different listeners/users at different times while they dip in out and of being online, while they are doing different things:

When there are myriad options of tools to use, how do we decide what to be using for our own everyday social media use? Usability, the ability to link across different accounts and services, and overall user-friendliness can be important factors to consider. As with many things online, things can change quickly (for example, one of my favorite 3rd party Twitter apps can stop being useful practically overnight).

It can be quite a chore to keep abreast of what’s new while also learning about more tried and true methods for content curation. Having a spirit of exploration and experimentation can help:

Flipboard is one example of a great, free, cross-platform app that allows you to cull a variety of online sources of information into a slick, magazine-style reading experience.

(And you can follow the Thesis Whisperer on Flipboard)


Sometimes this can also mean using other platforms that we know well, in creative new ways. I think a few of us were intrigued about Pat Thomson’s use of Pinterest as a research tool (you can follow Pat Thomson on Pinterest here)!

Facebook groups, both open and private groups, can be another useful resource for scholarly communities. Such groups are particularly useful as online forums and you’ll frequently find questions and discussion put forth to the hive mind:

Let’s face it: social media can unfortunately be a nasty, unpleasant environment from time to time. There are also communities (just a few examples through hashtags that you can visit: #WIASN, #PhDChat, #ECRChat), which can be powerful sources of inspiration and support for academics and people of all kinds.

And finally, be sure to check out Julia Hayes‘ wonderful live-drawing which captured these topics!

Live-blogging: Social Media and Doing a PhD — Problems and Opportunities

It was quite a busy day at the University of Birmingham with our #SocialMediaPhD workshop. It can be helpful after a day full of information and ideas to commit some things to paper to digest later.

This photo gallery recounts our group activity “Social media and doing a PhD: problems and opportunities.”

As all of the pens, post-it notes, Apple Pencils, and coffee mugs nestled into the corners of the photos indicate, it can be a lot of work to do some group brainstorming and reflect.

Each poster is grouped into three columns:

  • What we learned
  • How to use it
  • What we’re still wondering about (perhaps useful for a future workshop?)

Take a look for yourself to see what our groups shared — and of course feel free to add any suggestions or questions you might have as well.

Some of the quick highlights:

Live-blogging: Thesis Whisperer, Academic blogging, and social media

Our next speaker is Inger Mewburn, author of the popular Thesis Whisperer blog.

Echoing Mark Carrigan’s earlier point today, it’s ok to take a less-than-straightforward path to finding a blog approach that works for you personally. In fact, perhaps the key to a successful academic blog includes half-starts and do-overs? After all, different approaches and blog experiments can give you valuable information about what works, and what does not. For Inger, this meant experimenting with seven different blog iterations before settling on The Thesis Whisperer.

The Thesis Whisperer shares her 3 Basic Rules of Blogging: 

  1. Write something that you want to read (and that other people will want to read).
  2. Write something that instructs, informs, and entertains: be useful.
  3. Be regular.

To that last point, Inger posts every Wednesday. Of course, everyone will have to determine what kind of blogging schedule can work for them. Inger experimented with posting twice a week, but keep in mind that such a schedule can be hard and time intensive when you’re spending a good amount of time on each post that you write.

It’s also important to know your audience. Why do some blog posts do better than others? Where do the ebbs and flows in blog traffic come from? Sometimes you might just know that a post will do well, but the traffic turns out a bit underwhelming. Understanding your audience behavior can be important to find when your readers are engaging with you. For example, Facebook data can provide useful, granular data about your blog audiences. Some platforms might work better than others, depending on your content and your audiences — so try multiple channels to see where your audience is coming from.

What motivates blog posts? For Inger, some of the best posts seem to be inspired from times when she might be sad, or angry. And such emotions can be productive, and cathartic — a good deal of creative energy can come from a negative place that can in turn be channeled into a positive outcome through blogging. Another powerful motivation can stem from a feeling to want to help others through sharing and exploring such experiences that we encounter in academia in our day to day lives.

Along similar lines to patter’s thoughts earlier today on the function of a blog — the Thesis Whisperer blog can function as a scrapbook, as a gateway to other things, and as a shared bookmarks resource for herself and for others.

The Thesis Whisperer is full of wonderfully helpful blog posts and topics. To that end, a blog can also be used as a teaching resource, for current students and classes (see for example the Learn From The Whisperer sidebar on the right).

Another helpful practice for those of us prone to typos — consider running everything through Grammarly before posting. I just did it on this post and caught two small ones!

If you are committed to doing your own academic blogging, put some thought into your content strategy. Inger, for example, alternates between her own self-authored posts and guests posts (tip: the waitlist to post with Thesis Whisperer can be long!). To post regularly on your blog, be sure to have content or at least ideas for content lined up — for example, Inger has about one year of blog post content ready for posting.

Omnifocus, the task management app extraordinaire, can be useful for managing your workflow in many ways — including for blog posts. (Be sure to check out the great Thesis Whisperer post on this: Super charged academic productivity?)

How much time can be devoted to your blog? The Thesis Whisperer shares the exact data, for those of us that are interested:

77 hours, 32 minutes* on the blog this year as of 11:30am this morning, which works out to 1.48 hours per week.

Note: keep in mind that she is a very fast writer. But that speed has taken years of practice — whereas a blog post might have taken four hours while she was starting out, that same process takes her an hour now.

*For anyone interested in learning about your own amount of time spent online, check out the Mac app, Timing and be sure to check out Thesis Whisperer post: The Academic FitBit 


Live-blogging: Mapping your social media footprint

From today’s Social Media and Doing a PhD workshop: this photo gallery chronicles our group activity “Mapping your social media footprint”,  a self-audit of our social media use frequency, as well as our feelings about such use.

Images represent each groups 4-part grid:


Far Left = Visitor (I rarely or never use this)

Far Right = Resident (I frequently use this, or “live” on this platform)


Upper: Most positive (I feel positive about using this)

Lower: Most negative (I feel negative about using this)

Live-blogging: Pat Thomson, Academic blogging, and social media

Our second speaker is Pat Thomson (patter), Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham.

For those of us that are interested in academic blogging, a blog can represent a significant part of our online scholarly identity. Consider that — whether we are aware of it or not — we are already online in different forms, and a blog certainly represents one way to manage the “various bits of you” that are floating around online without your necessarily being at the whim of Google search results:

For Pat, her immensely helpful blog enables her to present a particular version of her scholarly work and interests online. In addition, the patter weekly blog posts can be an incredibly powerful means of extending her teaching practice of academic writing to a wider audience beyond the classroom. And as she points out, those blog posts represent not just her teaching, but sharing her our own scholarly practice.

How much time does it take to craft such information-rich blog posts, every week? For Pat Thomson, Patter is a “Sunday morning job,” with two-three hours on Sunday mornings devoted to her extensive backlog of potential blog post ideas, or expanding upon fragments of writing that she writes along the way in her everyday work.

Blogs also can be used for a number of purposes beyond personal blogging projects. Take for example, the TALE Project:


A blog such as this can be an invaluable means of connecting with funding organizations and other stakeholders during the course of research projects. A blog can serve as a means of communication in ways that Twitter and other platforms may not be able to achieve. Project blogs can help your project reach different groups, which in turn can lead to different, valuable forms of engagement.

A blog such as the TALE Project site (see images above) can be used as a place to share progress on a project and a means of chronicling the research progress itself. Or even think of it as an alternative to keeping your thought process just on a word document on your computer, but as a means to share that progress online.

Do you have stories or other examples of how you use your blog or website to disseminate and share your work? Please feel free to share either here or on Twitter!

Tyler Shores

Pat Thomson

Live-blogging: Mark Carrigan and Academic blogging and social media

Starting off today is Mark Carrigan, digital sociologist at the University of Cambridge and The Sociological Review Foundation.

Mark discussed some of the history leading up to his own, very successful, blog. Sometimes personal blogs can take a few iterations before we’re able to settle upon one that clicks (and gets clicks). For Mark, his current WordPress-powered blog began as an online receptacle for his thoughts, which slowly transitioned into a place to share thoughts on his PhD experience, and eventually becoming a research blog.

What is a research blog? For Mark, the blog became a tool for the thinking process. The blog in this way functions as a sort of publicly visible playground of the mind — where ideas are played with, explored, and even tested as prospective projects. During the process of sharing, linking, researching through his blog, Mark often found that disparate ideas became larger, connected ideas or incorporated into larger bodies of work.

A blog in this way functions along the same lines as a digital commonplace, a form of digital marginalia that you use a way to think while working, reading, and researching. A blog can also potentially represent a measure of accountability — any ideas-in-progress are out there, and can attract feedback that can potentially be worked with later.

For Mark, a blog is a “place for developing ideas, thinking out loud and collecting things I might need later.

Another option, either alongside or as an alternative to WordPress, is How might audiences vary from WordPress or It depends. Curating your content and topics via tags (see image on the right for Mark’s organization scheme) can influence the kinds of audiences you reach.

On the one hand, can potentially have a built-in audience for the topics that you write and think about, which can in turn lead to different traffic and different audiences than perhaps a WordPress blog, where audience growth can happen more slowly or more organically. Mark posits that perhaps might be more conducive for longer form pieces of writing (I’m inclined to agree), which might lead to longer, more sustained forms of audience engagement.

What sorts of things have worked (or not worked) for you? Any questions for Mark on this topic? Feel free to get in touch right now!







Live-blogging: Social Media and Doing a PhD, What Do you Need to Know

Hello Everyone — this morning I will be live blogging for a great workshop: “Social Media and Doing a PhD, What Do You Need to Know – A Postgraduate Workshop.”

For #academictwitter followers, the lineup for today is quite the who’s who of academic social media experts: Mark Carrigan, Inger Mewburn (Thesis Whisperer) and Pat Thomson (patter) with the Sociological Review. 

Follow along here for many more updates!



What are digital devices doing to our posture?

Quick: What does your posture look like right now? There are literally three people in the coffee shop hunched over their assorted devices right now while I’m writing this.

I have somewhat of a bad neck from an accident awhile ago, so I am fairly mindful about my neck and pain and strain. It’s no surprise that our ubiquitous technology affects our relation to the world, but less clear perhaps is how we are unwittingly training our own bodies around the devices that we use.

I’m interested more broadly in our physical relationship to our devices, and posture is such a habitual behavior that is well worth thinking about from time to time. For me, words like “hunch” or “slouch” just seem like the most appropriate verbs to characterise our physical postures in relation to our devices.

Amy Cuddy wrote this helpful piece at the New York Times, which is well worth a read if you can manage to do so in as ergonomically proper a way as you can manage: “Your iPhone Is Ruining Your Posture — and Your Mood

Posture says something about our emotional states, but as Cuddy points out: “Posture doesn’t just reflect our emotional states; it can also cause them” and some research suggests that our posture affects our cognitive capacity and even our memory. Also check out Erik Peper’s post on this for a more in-depth examination (“Posture affects memory recall and mood“). Cuddy has done some studies of her own, with some interesting suggestions that intuitively seem to make sense: “there appears to be a linear relationship between the size of your device and the extent to which it affects you: the smaller the device, the more you must contract your body to use it, and the more shrunken and inward your posture, the more submissive you are likely to become.” The takeaway is basically that perhaps being mindful of the fact that our smartphone induces slouching and bad posture might be a step towards avoiding it. Maybe. Hopefully.

Here’s an article with a few more fixes on the posture maladies we might be suffering with everyday: “Tech neck, texting thumb: Our bad tech habits leave us in pain. Here’s how to feel better.” And I know what you are thinking — yes of course there is an app for that.

The NHS Live Well website has a number of helpful tips on this: “Common posture mistakes and fixes.” After reading all of these things, I’ve made a concerted effort to start doing some stretches that really do help.

don't slouch

And for those of us so inclined, there are handy little devices to help us with that very problem, too. From Engadget: “A posture trainer works, if you want it to.”

New article: “Why The Simpsons are needed more than ever in the age of Donald Trump”

As a follow-up to last week’s visit from Harry Shearer to the University of Cambridge, Sarah Steele, Todd Gillespie and I have written a new article for The Conversation UK: “Why The Simpsons are needed more than ever in the age of Donald Trump”:

simpsons satire cambridge

In it we share some highlights from Harry Shearer’s talk on the importance of political satire (here’s a link to the video of the event) as well as some thoughts from Simpsons show runner Al Jean and what satire means at a time when reality often feels stranger than fiction. What is the place of satire in our current political and social climate?

Our timing for the article also happens to coincide with Donald Trump’s much-discussed visit to the UK this week.

Harry Shearer at the University of Cambridge – July 6th, 2018

This week Harry Shearer — voice actor for The Simpsons, including characters such as Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders and many others — will be visiting the University of Cambridge, and the Intellectual Forum at Jesus College. 

I will be hosting what should be an excellent event with Harry and we will be taking questions from the audience. He will talk about the The Simpsons in the context of its use of political satire as well as a range of other topics. Also be sure to check out including his excellent work at Le Show radio program.

If you’d like to pose a question for Harry Shearer, we will also do our best to field some questions online. If you are on Twitter, tweet your questions using the hashtag: #SimpsonsQA

For up to date information, follow us on Twitter:



If you’d like to tune in from afar, the livestream of the event is available at: