Twitter As A Catalyst for Science

By Jorden Cummings, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

In May I had the pleasure of participating in a symposium at the annual Association for Psychological Science (APS) conference entitled Social Media as a Catalyst for Psychological Science. (The organizer of that symposium, Cedar Riener, wrote a great summary of our symposium  – including the slides from our talks). My own contribution was specifically about using Twitter as a psychological scientist. In fact, the very reason I was invited to participate in the symposium is because I follow Cedar Riener on Twitter, and responded to his tweet looking for someone to fill in for a symposium speaker who could no longer make the conference.

I started using Twitter more actively in my teaching (which is primarily online) a little over a year ago, as a way to connect with other researchers, and to disseminate the research activities my lab participates in. Even though not many of my colleagues follow me on Twitter, I get asked a lot about it: How does Twitter work? (I’m happy to show anyone). Does it take up a lot of time? (Not really, personally). Is it worth it? (For me, yes). Why should I use it? (More on that in a minute).

I also encourage my graduate students to utilize it as a means of self-promotion, to stay up to date on the research literature as it develops, and to connect with other scientists. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to convince many of them. (For great reasons on why graduate students should be part of Twitter, you should check out this blog post on the Thesis Whisperer).

For me, Twitter is a means of engaging in conversations with other scientists and “meeting” interesting people – many of whom I have since met face to face. Unexpectedly, my Twitter engagement has led to several research opportunities: the conference talk at APS in May, a research study currently under review (which was conducted entirely via Twitter), another manuscript in preparation, and an invitation to speak at A.I. Dupont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware later this month.

Approximately 1 in 40 researchers is active on Twitter (Priem et al., 2012). Moreover, Twitter provides increased speed and breadth compared to traditional networking (e.g., local colleagues, conferences, and email; Darling et al., 2013). In fact, Darling and colleagues reported that, on average, a scientist’s Twitter following was 7 times larger than his or her home department. Furthermore, top cited articles can be, according to some data, predicted from tweeting frequency about the article (Eysenbach, 2011).

Why should you, as a researcher, use Twitter? For that I direct you to this excellent post by Hope Jahren: “What I Say When My Colleagues Ask Me If They Should Be On Twitter” as well as the article by Darling and colleagues (full text available online) that outlines how Twitter works and the advantages/disadvantages to using Twitter as a scientist. Twitter doesn’t work for everyone, but I encourage my students and colleagues to at least give it a try. For me, it has opened the door to multiple research opportunities in only a year. But more importantly, it has also offered me a large, personalized, and positive support network – which is well worth the (small) effort, regardless of what Twitter allows me to add to my CV.


Darling, E., Shiffman, D., Côté, I., & Drew, J. (2013). The role of Twitter in the life cycle of a scientific publication. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution, 6. 32-43

Eysenbach, G. (2011). Can tweets predict citations? Metrics of social impact based on Twitter and correlation with traditional metrics of scientific impact. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 13, e123.

Priem, J., Piwowar, H. A., & Hemminger, B. M. (2012). Almetrics in the wild: Using social media to explore scholarly impact. arXiV preprint arXiV:1203.4745.





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