What Twitter does for me

In the past 4-ish years, I’ve put out something like 26,000 tweets. That’s about 3.6 million characters typed (ok, not really, since a good chunk of those are retweets). This works out to a few dozen a day, every day. I’d say on a typical weekday if you add it all up I spend perhaps 30 minutes on Twitter. Sometimes it’s quite a bit more–I don’t want to know what award shows or election returns were like before Twitter–and sometimes it’s nothing at all.

Some folks, like Jay Greene, think Twitter is mostly “about the dumbest thing on the planet,” at least when it comes to having policy discussion. There is some truth to this, and in general I rarely get in substantive discussions on there, particularly with the army of trolls who pepper your every tweet with gotchas and asinine rhetorical questions. And I do worry sometimes that my presence on social media eclipses my status as a serious scholar–I had something of an existential crisis about this at the most recent AEFP conference when I felt like I was constantly being introduced as “the guy on Twitter.”

But there is no doubt in my mind that my presence on social media has dramatically enhanced my career in multiple ways, and I would advise any doctoral student who plans to go into education policy that they should take it seriously in that regard. Here are a few ways in which Twitter has helped me:

  • It can be immensely powerful for actually getting research done. The most obvious example of this is my FOIA work, which came entirely from a Twitter conversation with Jason Becker, someone I met on Twitter but would likely never have otherwise known. If not for Jason’s idea, I’d probably be stuck at a 5% response rate, pulling my hair out. Now I’ve gone from 3% to about 40% in the span of six business days.
    • Another excellent example came just today, when a charter school in upstate New York said they’d be happy to give me my FOIA information if I’d only come to the school to pick it up. I tweeted out a plea for assistance, it was retweeted by several researcher friends, and, miraculously, someone who works two minutes from the school volunteered to go and pick it up for me. [1]
  • It keeps me much more informed about policy than I otherwise would be. I actually don’t know how folks who are not on social media keep track of all the going on in state and federal policy. I guess EdWeek and Politico digests? I would be lost.
  • It keeps me much more informed about research than I otherwise would be. While of course I subscribe to the usual panoply of journal TOCs, there’s always the new working paper or policy brief that doesn’t find its way into my inbox. Easily several times a month I’m downloading and reading publications I get through Twitter that I would not otherwise have found.
  • It gets my name in front of people folks who would otherwise not see it. Mostly these are DC-based think-tank types, but it’s also journalists and a few researchers. It’s quite clear to me that I am dramatically better known than I ought to be given my relative inexperience. This leads to more citations (which actually do count for tenure) and more invitations to write and do important service (e.g., editing journal special issues). Probably some of these opportunities I would have gotten if I hadn’t been on Twitter, but certainly not all.
  • It’s just plain fun. All day, every day, I’m engaged in a back-and-forth with thousands of smart, experienced people. We exchange information and ideas. We joke about personal and professional issues. We engage in social movements and lighthearted memes. It’s a nice diversion from what is otherwise an often isolating, individualistic occupation.

Are there downsides to Twitter? Sure, maybe a few folks take me less seriously because of my engagement there. Or maybe I lose out on a tiny bit of productivity (though I’m actually certain that I’m MORE productive because of Twitter, not less, but whatever). It does require some effort to get anything out of it.

But it’s a slam dunk in my mind that my career would be considerably worse without Twitter, and I suspect that this would be true for virtually any young academic. So I’ll keep on tweeting and spreading the gospel of Twitter. And I’ll have fun doing it.

[1] I will do my best to pay this forward, universe.


2 thoughts on “What Twitter does for me

  1. I would add that being on Twitter has helped me enter “the conversation” beyond my program. As a newer doc student I would hear about this mysterious conversation but lacked an understanding of what it looked like as far as the give and take among academics spread across institutions. Just following the networks among faculty has helped me understand the ecology of higher ed.

    Twitter has also made huge conferences (like AERA) more manageable. Instead of diving into a pool of 10,000+ strangers I can arrange to meet up in real life with people with whom I’ve communicated online.


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