Twitter as a tool for scientists

Join the worldwide conversation about your field of interest and keep track of the latest developments via Twitter
Posted on: 
Friday, August 30, 2013

You'll probably have heard of Twitter, the fastest-growing social network in the world with more than half a billion users worldwide. If you're not yet an experienced Twitter user, you may only have a vague idea of what value Twitter can have for you especially as a Ph.D. student or researcher. Statistics still show that Germans are chronic skeptics concerning the use of social media and social networks like Twitter and are latecomers in comparison to other countries, although this is currently changing. As a scientist and researcher you are oriented towards a worldwide community of like-minded people, where the use of Twitter certainly is much more common than in Germany. So Twitter might be an option for you as it is for other international scientists and has been announced by Tinker Ready on bostonblog (a local community blog from Nature) in 2011: "Twitter has become an established tool for scientists."

What is Twitter?

As described by Twitter itself:

Twitter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting. Twitter is a service for friends, family, and coworkers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages. 

After setting up your own account, Twitter enables you to post and receive short, public messages of a maximum of 140 characters called "Tweets". Further links, images or videos can be optionally included. In Twitter you can listen and talk to your own community of interest. By following selected people you listen to what others (e.g. leaders in your field) say. People who are following you will listen to you. Besides "tweeting" and following, additional features are at hand to even more directly communicate and keep the conversation going. With the help of a defined term and a hashtag (#) placed in front of this term, the messages and their content can be categorized and searched. (Please find more detailed information about how to use Twitter in the references section on the bottom of this article.)

Why should scientists use Twitter?

The value of Twitter is all about interesting people and relevant content. Keep track of the latest developments in your field, join the conversation and make unexpected connections. It's a free service. Twitter provides you with a personalized stream of information (often linked to further knowledge) in your field of interest you wouldn't have heard about otherwise, e.g.:

  • a new research paper,
  • a new tool
  • a relevant online source,
  • an upcoming conference,
  • real-time news from a running conference
  • a new research approach,
  • a current discussion,
  • a new funding theme,
  • a job opportunity, and much more.

Just by following the right people as well as editorial and institutional accounts, you'll be supported with this relevant and current information, most of you'd never have the idea to search for by yourself.

With its celebrated culture of openness and reciprocity, Twitter enables you to make worldwide connections with other scientists in your research field and also becoming known yourself in your peer community. It will also help you to reach out to an external audience, make links with scientists of other fields, business practitioners, journalists or other media representatives.  Increasing the number and diversity of your contacts it scales up your opportunities e.g. for potential future cooperation based on your visible expertise, be it a matter of improved serendipity or based on your greater prominence enabled by Twitter.

What to do?

You just need to join in, find the right people and make your participation become a routine part of your weekly or daily practice.  After a first starting phase for introduction, learning and establishing your personal niche and network, which cost you some extra time, it'll be useful to set yourself own goals for your Twitter engagement and daily or weekly time limits, because Twitter is also a potential source for distraction.

You can join the conversation and attract your own followers by providing current and relevant information too:

  • annotate links to interesting online resources with own comments
  • announce conferences, new papers, new blog articles 
  • share your research and experience via tweets and links
  • discuss new tools and approaches (via @- mentions)
  • tweet updates from special events for those who cannot attend (#this-events-hashtag)
  • retweet materials that others tweet to get more attention for it (RT via @example: ...)
  • support your community (e.g. answer questions)
  • promote your own blog posts

Keep on doing this on a regular, weekly or daily basis and your list of followers will grow up steadily and build your own worldwide spanning network.

Please take note

As with all content you intend to publish publicly on the Web, be it a Twitter post or blog article about your research interests, performed research or related issues, be mindful of authorship, copyright and related rights, third party rights and other obligations. To not violate any secrecy agreements you should talk it over with your principle investigator or stakeholders in advance.

For CoLab Biomed members: If you want to promote your Twitter account on your online profile, please write an email to

Example Hashtags

Hashtags Example stream for #Oncology in Twitter (Source: Twitter)

For PhD students:

In science: