The unofficial psychology blog from Paul Hutchings

Twitter as a student’s best friend

Up until about a year ago I was firmly in the anti-Twitter camp – I had enough to concern myself with without worrying whether Stephen Fry’s latte was up to standard or where Ashton Kucher had spent the night (although, in retrospect, that one became more interesting!). The prevailing notion with me (and I think many others) was that it was a tool for people with too much time on their hands to bore the world with their inane drivel. Then, about six months ago, I had a revalation – ok, not so much a revalation as Alice Bell running a really useful workshop on Twitter and websites – which made me realise the usefulness of Twitter for research.

Modern psychology has become an eclectic mix of theories and research. Whilst most researchers will subscribe to the key journals etc., in their field of research, we also need to be aware of things happening outside of those direct fields as well; theories and studies from other perspectives in psychology and from other disciplines such as biology, politics, economics, and sociology to name but a few, news reports, education information, the list is endless – and it is hard to keep up. I’d be forever scanning websites, news channels, all sorts of things to try and keep up to date. With Twitter, it is like someone doing a lot of the searching for you and delivering a link to the information to your door (this must be what world leaders feel like when they get their daily briefing reports – someone spends half the night writing a report so that they can spend one minute perusing it and getting the pertinent information in the morning).
I still do my own searching for information but I’m pretty sure that I’ve also come across countless articles and pieces of information which I would be ignorant to if it hadn’t been for someone providing a link via Twitter. So I was surprised to find that so few of my students used Twitter in the same way – few used it, and many of those that did weren’t following research sources which would provide them with information, with organisations such as Research Digest and Psychology Today and individuals such as Vaughan Bell, Jon Simons and Sophie Scott tweeting useful links to excellent and often cutting edge research findings.

Using Twitter to find out this information isn’t necessarily about helping students on their course of study – sometimes there is a feeling of ‘I’ve got that much to read for my course, how can I be expected to read even more which might not be directly related to what I am studying/the exam I’ve got at the end of this semester’. However, I think this is a mistake – reading about as many things as possible, even if they are only tenuously related to the direct topic you are studying at the moment, is beneficial. It immerses you in the field of research, it makes your mind consider all of the possibilities both for what you are reading about and the things that you already know.

A good psychology student can answer questions relating to the subject at hand – a good psychologist can draw in issues which cross boundaries to see the bigger picture. I would hope that all psychology students achieve the former but aim for the latter – and Twitter is an excellent and efficient way to try to achieve this.

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