#StudentsMayTakeover: Three reasons doctoral students should be on social media

Posted in: #thinklist, Social media, Students

This May, the Business and Society blog will focus on students. After a difficult year, when students have had to show extraordinary resilience, they've proven themselves to be diligent and dedicated to their learning. So, this month we'll hear from them and shine a spotlight on their work, their experiences and their ambitions.

The ThinklistNext21 is the latest iteration of the thinklist, focusing on doctoral researchers. The Centre for Business, Organisations and Society hosted an event to accompany the publication of this list, to hear from this group about how they use social media. Here, our Thinklist21 curators Tanusree Jain, Kam Phung and Verena Girschik, and event panellists Laya Behbahani and Onna Malou Van Den Broek reflect on this event and share what they learned about the potential uses of platforms like Twitter.


The Difficult Conversations in a Digital World event series was created to explore how people in academia use social media to build their professional reputation and network, share their research insights and affect change outside of higher education. The latest event in the series asked how doctoral researchers, an important but often overlooked group, are using these platforms to kick start their academic careers. Here’s what we learned about how it can help.

It can flatten the hierarchy

The panel discussed how social media allows you to build identity in a more egalitarian space, where your voice can be heard even if you haven’t been published extensively. The improved access to information – where anyone can find out about job openings, events and funding opportunities – that you get from being online was seen as invaluable to doctoral researchers.

“Academia is often viewed as an ivory tower, that manifests as a culture where hierarchy matters. This is especially difficult for graduate students to manoeuvre, who on one hand may be constrained in their access to senior scholars, and on the other hand need those interactions to develop a deeper understanding of business and society scholarship. The participants suggested that Twitter is a medium that has helped flatten the hierarchy within academia, making it easier for PhD students to directly interact and engage with each other and even with top scholars in the field. Grant and job opportunities, networking events, seminars (especially those going online due to COVID-19) have further flattened this hierarchy and enabled the emergence of a supportive and more open academic community.” 

-Tanusree Jain

 It can create community

Participants shared their gratitude at finding a group of like-minded people on social media, from whom you can learn and get support and inspiration. They expressed their hope that this could be turned into something practical – that they might turn these relationships into real-world collaborations, and affect real change.

“I felt a sense of inspiration and hope stemming from knowing there is a network of peers who are building community, asking the questions that need to be asked and finding a way forward while reimagining what the future can look like. I’m excited about future conversations amongst other #ThinkListNext2021 doctoral researchers.”

-Laya Behbahani

“On how PhD students could use #ThinklistNext21, one of the PhD participants commented that it's a great place to find loads of interesting people to follow and could help PhD students think about pursuing more impactful research”

-Tanusree Jain

“While I found the whole discussion on social media with the speakers and in the breakout sessions fascinating, something that stood out to me was that many of my peers use social media – Twitter specifically – to meet, support, and learn from like-minded researchers. For many, Twitter is far more than a platform to share one’s research and expertise. Instead, it is a place to join and contribute to a community of their peers around the world, asking questions, discussing research, teaching, and the struggles of PhD life. I learned that many close relationships and friendships have been created and built through social media, and that some of my peers find it easier to connect with members of the community through Twitter as opposed to events at conferences.”

-Kam Phung

It can drive change

Many spoke about the power of social media for changing hearts and minds, and knowing that they can reach a far wider group of people on Twitter than with an academic paper. However, with this power comes risk – participants discussed the fear of putting yourself at the forefront of difficult conversations. They weighed up the value of self-censorship, and the balance between advocating for important issues, and protecting one’s own mental health and career prospects.

“I was impressed and humbled to see how doctoral researchers drive change through their activism. Rather than adding social media engagement to our to-do lists as yet another item that the job market dictates, the webinar inspired us to develop our voices, to explore what issues and voices we can amplify, and to reach out and start new conversations.”

-Verena Girschik

“The conversation around censorship on social media was one that particularly resonated with me. We explored why we censor, what the implications of self-censorship are, and whether we had any obligation to ask the difficult question. People questioned what the purpose of social media was, if not to share important information with your peers that you would otherwise be unable, in traditional academic mediums. In the case of my research, asking questions around labour rights and more broadly, human rights in the Gulf States of the Middle East, is highly contentious. I have made the conscious choice to share what I learn on social media because of the vast audience which I can reach. However, I always know at the back of my mind the risk of discussing topics like human rights violations which are considered taboo in the spaces that I conduct my research. It was comforting to know that other scholars shared similar concerns. We heard from people who had decided to be selective with their social media posts, knowing the potentially negative downstream effects, as well as those who had made a conscious decision to share what is often conceived of as taboo. Both positions are justified but it was reassuring to hear from people who consciously try to raise awareness, tell stories that are not told, and to provide coverage on topics that are not typically prominent news stories, and reaffirmed my desire to do so”

-Laya Behbahani

The event highlighted the variety in the thinklist - we use our social networks in different ways for different purposes. Some advocate political causes while others focus on creating safe communities where our peers can have the necessary uncomfortable discussions. But what binds us all is our end goal: the hope that our Tweets make the world a (tiny) bit of better place.

-Onna Malou Van Den Broek

Posted in: #thinklist, Social media, Students


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