Social Networking Sites

By Meagen Pollock, The College of Wooster

Social networking sites allow individuals to create personal profiles that can be viewed by other users. Personal profiles include a variety of information, including names (or pseudonyms), multimedia files (photos and videos), and information that can be updated easily and often. Social networking sites connect users with similar interests and make those connections visible, enabling users to explore connections and expand their networks. The most popular social networking sites are Twitter and Facebook. Google recently released its version of a social network called Google+. The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) also offers opportunities for online networking.


Twitter is a social network that allows its users to post "tweets," short updates up to 140 characters in length. Students, faculty and professional geoscientists use Twitter. Academic departments and professional organizations are also tweeting.

How Twitter enhances undergraduate research

Discussions - A quick Twitter search on nearly any geoscience topic reveals rich scientific discussions involving geoscientists across the globe. Not only do students witness these discussions, they also participate. Twitter serves as a virtual international conference where students can find resources, ask questions, and contribute to conversations on topics related to their research, graduate school, and geoscience careers. The same benefits apply to faculty advisers, who are able to stay current in their fields and engage other geoscientists in scientific discourse.

Connections - Students and faculty can interact with other geoscientists by soliciting comments from the general Twitter community or directing tweets toward specific users. Initial contacts with other users can quickly and easily develop into a social network consisting of international experts, future collaborators, and potential graduate school advisers.

Resources - Twitter can be a useful tool for finding information because so many different users are posting updates on an endless number of topics. Academic institutions tweet about undergraduate research opportunities; Professional organizations tweet about meetings and online resources; Faculty tweet about research and teaching; Students tweet about their research experiences.

Where to start

Although users don't need an account to search and view Twitter feeds, signing up allows users to interact. Once you have an account, you can create a profile with information that you'd like to share with other users (e.g., research interests). Search for topics of interest and identify users whose tweets are useful. Add the useful users to the list of people you follow and their tweets will appear in your timeline. Expand your network by tweeting and replying to other user's tweets.

Consider your Twitter identity - Whether you choose to use a pseudonym or your real name, create an ID that is user-friendly and a profile that describes why you're on Twitter. There is no mistaking why eruptionsblog is on Twitter, whose profile reads "Volcanoes! Eruptions! Magma!" and has a link to the Eruptions blog.

Interact with people - Once you find people with similar interests, follow them. Identify popular "tweeps" (Twitter users) and see who follows them and who they follow. It is perfectly normal to follow people you don't know, although don't be surprised if you end up meeting them sometime later at a "geotweetup" at one of the national conferences. You can tweet to the general community, or you can use some basic commands to be more interactive:

  • Use "@" directly before a Twitter ID to reply to a user (e.g., @rschott do you know of a kmz/kml layer for Death Valley region geology?)
  • Use "RT" to quote a user's comment (e.g., RT @Allochthonous Geotweeps Discuss... blogging your research & teaching with social media
  • Use "#" to mark a keyword or topic in a tweet (e.g., RT @highlyanne Need to get some writing done this month? Want support and accountability? Join our #sciwrite challenge:

Manage your Twitter stream - It is easy to become overloaded with information, so create lists to categorize your Twitter stream by topic (e.g., geotweeps, scinews, education). Try one of the multiple Twitter apps that have more functionality than the online version of Twitter and can be installed on your computer. Be selective about who you follow and only follow people whose tweets are valuable to you.

Examples of geoscience Twitter users (aka Geotweeps)

Where to find more information


Facebook is perhaps the most widely-used social networking site. Most students already use Facebook for non-academic purposes, but it's capacity for connecting people and sharing information can also facilitate undergraduate research.

How Facebook enhances undergraduate research

Connections - Private groups can be created to build community among research cohorts. Students and faculty involved in summer research programs can get to know one another in a virtual "preunion" prior to field work. Group pages are especially useful for helping long-distance collaborators stay in touch after a summer research program ends. Chat and video calling functions provide a convenient means for groups to socialize, exchange information about logistics, and discuss steps in the research process.

Resources - Undergraduate research offices use Facebook to post announcements about workshops, scholarships, and conferences. Funding agencies post information about upcoming funding opportunities. CUR provides information about undergraduate research-related publications, institutions, and news. Professional organizations post details about meetings and recent journal articles.

Recruiting - Department pages can be used to advertise research opportunities for students. They also provide a venue for current students to interact with alumni. Research programs seeking to recruit diverse and underrepresented participants can use the Facebook network to reach students from a variety of institutions.

Where to start

Begin by making a Facebook account and adding information to your profile. Use the privacy settings to control who sees what you share. Create groups or pages to suit your needs. Update your status, share photos and videos, or use the chat, messaging, and video calling features to interact with other users.

Consider privacy issues -Before creating a Facebook account, consider your privacy and the privacy of your students. Determine whether your institution has a social networking policy. Evaluate the culture of social networking on your campus and decide on your personal level of comfort with the "friending" of students. Use the privacy settings to control the availability of your information. For example, you could create a 'students' list and only make certain information visible to people on that list. Alternatively, you might decide to have two separate Facebook accounts, a professional one and a personal one. There are ways to interact with students on Facebook that do not require adding them to your personal list of friends. Private groups, for example, are only visible to the group members and do not require the members to be friends with one another.

Use consistently - One of the advantages of using a Facebook group is immediacy; students often check for updates several times in a single day. If multiple means of communication are used, however, students can become confused about how to contact you and where to find information. Establish guidelines for when to use the Facebook group and when to use email. Questions like, "Who wants to be roommates at the conference?" and "Who's bringing a water purifier to the field?" might be answered in the Facebook group while email is reserved for more formal exchanges. If you administer a public page, your audience will be most engaged if your updates are valuable and frequent. Neglecting the page or posting irrelevant updates will alienate your network.

Distribute the administrative duties - Public department and group pages, in particular, require regular maintenance. By making multiple people administrators on the page, the work of updating the status and mediating comments can be shared and can occur more frequently. Consider inviting faculty, administrative coordinators, and student research assistant to be page administrators. Encourage fans of the page and members of the group to contribute to the page.

Examples of geoscience Facebook sites

Where to find more information



The popularity of Facebook may soon be rivaled by Google+. Like Facebook, Google+ users create profiles and share updates. The Circles feature is similar to Facebook's list function for managing contacts. The Hangout feature is Google's version of video chat. Google+ users can also send messages and chat online with other users. There are additional functions for searching and recommending pages on the web. For those who already use other Google functions (like Calendar, Gmail, Reader, Documents, Groups, and Picasa), Google+ may be a comfortable social networking fit.

Where to find more information

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Networking for CUR Members

CUR maintains several listservs and registries that seek to foster connections among individuals involved in undergraduate research.

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