Does Facebook fit in Academia? Yes!

A common misconception among many academics and professors is that Facebook is bad, that Facebook is a means of procrastination, and that students need to spend less time on Facebook and more time working. I had the misfortune during my time as a graduate student to have the least strategic location for Facebook-usage during work hours. Not having my own office, I had to use a makeshift (but very safe) desk next to my bench in the lab. That meant that during incubation periods, I can quickly check my email, Wikipedia, the molecular weight of mitochondrial Cox1 and of course, Facebook.

Unfortunately, my desk was located in front of the lab’s entrance, with my back to the door; and this meant that anyone passing by can see me check my email, Wikipedia, the molecular weight of every protein, and of course, Facebook.

In a world where ‘there is always something to do’, not being by your bench when your professor or supervisors pass by, can be regarded of somewhat as a no-no.

The purpose of this post is not to complain about the ‘persecution’ some students may get for using Facebook, or talk about how some graduate student got around using Facebook (the control tab function is an amazing thing); but rather to explain briefly that Facebook does have a place in academia. Yes, it may be a waste of time; but Facebook can be a channel for discovering academic content and also a way for students and academics to promote their work online. Also, a big movement in academia is the use of alternative metrics / altmetrics, which look into the number of downloads, article views, as well as how ‘sociable’ an article is by indicating the number of Facebook likes, mentions on Twitter, etc. However, what I will be focusing on in this blog post is how Facebook can be used as a source of information.

I mostly use Facebook to communicate with my friends worldwide, complain about the traffic in my commute to work, and find out what my friends are doing without having to actually talk with them. What is great about Facebook (other than endless kitten pictures) is that it also can be used to be find out about the latest published research. As a non-practicing molecular biologist, I use Facebook as a source of science. I liked several journal and science-news pages and I get to find about the latest research and publications by simply browsing my Facebook news feed.

If you like the Facebook page, you will be receiving content related to published articles as well news about open access publishing. The same holds true if you are a fan of Science, Nature, Frontiers, or eLife. For example, I found out about Randy Schekman’s criticism of ‘luxury journals’ from eLife’s Facebook post which popped up in my news feed. Interestingly, I also found out about Schekman winning the Nobel prize from Facebook. What followed as soon as the news was announced, was a series of post shares, status updates of excitement from fellow Goettingers, and a debate among some of my German friends whether it was a nobel prize for Germany or the USA. Nonetheless, there was a debate and dissemination of news. Isn’t this what science is about? A big part of successful science is communication (given that you do not give away your recent results and get scooped).

To receive updates from your favorite journal page, simply like the page and click on ‘get notifications’. Many journals are increasingly using Facebook for content marketing and will periodically post about their most exciting research. Of course, many would argue that Twitter is more efficient than Facebook for news and information. To an extent, that is true. But does Twitter deliver the same visual aesthetic as Facebook? Not so often. Besides, many scientific article titles alone can be more than 140 characters. If you are an academic supervisor, the next time you see a student using Facebook instead of ‘working’, they could actually be doing research!


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