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Using social media to your advantage: a grad student’s story

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 by Chad Atkins, ICORD Social Media Project Assistant. Chad is completing his PhD in Chemistry at UBC and has held a Work Learn position with ICORD during the 2014-15 academic year.

“He’s rounding third and heading home” – that’s the feeling I have as a PhD student in the final year of my degree. I’ve been enrolled in various post-secondary institutions for over a decade and it’s exciting to think about the next chapter outside the walls of academia. At some point of this journey, I decided it was important to utilize my flexible schedule to develop skills that didn’t require a lab coat or safety glasses, and in areas that didn’t have fume hoods. This decision has led me down many different paths, including my current one as a Work/Study student, where I’ve spent the last eight months as a social media assistant with the ICORD administration team.

I share this story because social media isn’t just a place to follow Justin Bieber news or share the funniest meme. It also represents an evolving domain where graduate students can find communities of people in different parts of the world who share similar interests and backgrounds. I started using Twitter in April 2011, and witnessed the creation of the #RealTimeChem hashtag – a way for chemists, such as myself, to share their science and outreach activities with the online world. If Twitter could be home to troupes of chemists, what other online groups existed?

Chad Atkins linkedinI started a LinkedIn profile shortly thereafter because that was the social media platform for professionals and the best way to digitally catalog my research and volunteer experience. Unlike the communities I discovered on Twitter, LinkedIn struck me as a superficial place where connecting with strangers was commonplace and the immediate benefits were minimal. Regardless, I decided to get involved and estimate the value for myself. In February of 2013, I volunteered to manage the Twitter account/LinkedIn page for an organization specific to my field of research – as a reward, I was anointed with the title of Social Media Chair in their conference program – and over the course of a year I was in charge of screening discussion board posts and managing member-requests.

When my time in this role concluded, I continued to keep my eye on the LinkedIn page and the community I had contributed to build. In November of 2014, I saw the headline of a post from a Product Manager at a chemical instrumentation company based out of Florida; it read, “Young Chemist Award.” I have never spent my time on social media prowling ways to achieve financial gain, but here in front of me was a post from a member of a community I was a part of, sharing an opportunity for an award specific to my discipline. I clicked the posted link – mostly out of curiosity – and discovered that the requirements were well-suited to my graduate research. The barrier to create an application was low, so I crafted a research abstract and submitted it, making sure to include a link to my LinkedIn profile as part of the application package. A month later my profile was viewed by another employee of the company and in January of 2015 I received a phone call informing me I was selected as the winner. The award was a $10,000 check and a paid-expenses trip to a prestigious analytical chemistry conference to present my research at the company’s press conference.

While social media brought this award to my attention, I don’t believe it should be seen as a search-engine for academic prestige and financial gain. I believe a social media presence is important to discover opportunities, and it’s up to you to decide if those doors will lead to awards, job openings, Post-Doctoral positions, or networking opportunities. Information exchange in the online world is now a fixture of communication, so I encourage you to embrace social media and discover your own opportunities.

Remember: ICORD is on Facebook and Twitter (@ICORD_SCI).

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