This post was sparked from a recent twitter convesation:
pvanbaarlen: just had to teach 55 BSc students, age ca. 21.. NONE of them ever used Twitter! or read a weblog! age gap yes, but different direction..
larry_parnell: Same here. I know no grad students on Twitter
apfejes: I can’t be the only one…
larry_parnell: Nutrition research here very traditional; no Tweeps
apfejes: would be interesting to see # of grad school tweeters by field…
larry_parnell: I agree.
Chris_Evelo: Would be interesting to know why grad students prefer other things (e.g. biostar, discussionlists) over twitter.
Obviously, I’ve cleaned up the conversation (and left out a few other comments by others) for readability, but there are two good questions in this conversation:
- Why aren’t there a lot of Grad Students on Twitter?
- What are they doing instead?
I have a hard time imagining that grad students aren’t using social media at all – that would be very… unexpected for a generation that is currently 25-35.
From my own personal experience (just in Bioinformatics), I know there are a number of grad students on IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Although it’s popularity has waned in general, it is still the best way of having a real time, text-based conversation with multiple parties of which I’m aware. Still, with the 20-30 grad students IRC-ing that I know of, that’s a tiny minority. There are some fantastic discussions online, but it’s a relatively quiet (though friendly) group. (For those who are interested, it’s #bioinformatics on @Freenode.)
There are also a lot of grad students with blogs… in fact, so many that I’m not going to bother posting any links or telling you where to find them. When I started out, blogs were the “gateway-drug” of having an online presence. Twitter has vastly lowered the bar, but complex thoughts are really not well suited for the 140 character limit – and grad students usually have complex thoughts.
I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that a) grad students probably utilizing their online time for social networking rather than career networking, and b) the question above was a great example of network bias (if it doesn’t exist, I am officially coining the phrase.)
For part a) I propose that most grad students are on facebook instead of twitter, using their time for less science-y (less geeky?) communication. I actually can’t think of anyone I know of who isn’t on facebook. (except me – I have a page, but I just don’t use it, but that’s a personal choice about the platform.)
If I’m right, that suggests that social media is the primary concern of grad students, which would be supported by the presence of organizations like the BC Student Biotechnology Network on facebook. (I’d give you the link, but they’ve blocked facebook @ work.)
My proposal of “network bias” is probably the more interesting of the two ideas above. I would explain this very simply: Professors are interested in communicating about their field and thus tend to write more science oriented posts and thus also tend to follow people who tweet about more science oriented topics. This would then lead science people to heavily bias their twitter networks towards people who are either profs, or the rare grad student who’s willing to stick out his neck and tweet about science. Like attracts like, and the people I follow are generally science twitters. If there are grad students on twitter who are using it as a facebook replacement, I just wouldn’t be following them anyhow.
I admit the above is all speculation, so I’d be interested in hearing comments – and experiments – to support or disprove the above. And, I think I’d also be interested in collecting a list of twittering grad students (who aren’t just twittering about how much beer they drank last night, of course). If you know of any, please pass along their twitter names, and I’ll collect them into a single post.