I am going to let you in on a secret. A few months ago, after giving up on a woefully technical journal article I was trying to read, I was scrolling through social media and I discovered something. An undercover world, of sorts.
I, like most people, spend a hefty amount of time every day on my phone. According to the newly installed ‘screen time’ indicator on iPhone (thanks but no thanks for that, Apple), I often spend an embarrassingly long time flicking through my phone, 99% of which time is spent on social media. I have always thought of my time on social media as pretty much a waste and have vowed to cut down my hours to focus on more pressing matters, like making coffee, reading books, or… doing my PhD.
I am pleased to inform you that there is a world within social media that allows you to get your internet fix and work towards successful postgraduate life, simultaneously.
Most postgrads will be relatively well versed in the different ‘worlds’ that exist within social media sites. There is a ‘science side’ of Tumblr, an academic world in the Twittersphere, and weird meme underworlds of Facebook. Twitter, in particular, is incredibly useful for forging academic connections, listening in on meaty debates of policy and practice, and joining in virtually at conferences using the relevant hashtags. Twitter has badged itself as the sensible older brother of the social medias. Quick-witted and intelligent with a decent sense of humour and a good supply of politically-relevant satirical gifs.
Instagram, on the other hand, is the giggling little sister of the social media family. Usually synonymous with dog photos, Kardashian sisters, and eyeliner tutorials, Instagram has very much situated itself on the non-academic side of life. However, I have recently discovered a more covert, PhD-friendly, academic side of Instagram and, let me tell you, it is glorious.
After a few knowing hashtag searches (#PhDChat, #ECRChat, or the less subtle #PhDStudentsofInstagram) and a few informed follows, I was in. My feed suddenly burst to life with photos of stationery, quotes, workspaces (my personal favourite – use #DeskSetUp), pages of notes, and shared stories. It was wonderful.
I have been a PhD student for around three months now, which means I am bubbling with blissfully excited naivety. However, I never anticipated how much Instagram would soon become a genuinely helpful resource. It helps me feel motivated. It comforts me knowing that other people, all around the world, are dealing with the same stuff as me. It makes writing notes feel…kind of fun. It keeps me going.
I have recently set up my own separate PhD Instagram account, where I log my thoughts and progress, alongside pretty filtered pictures of flat whites and notebooks. Even now, a couple of months into this process, I enjoy looking back and reflecting on where I was at the beginning of this journey. I now have a work set-up that I love, an army of anonymous online chums who support my process, and unofficial membership to a growing online community who all get it.
My overall point is this: screen time doesn’t have to be inherently unproductive. Time on social media doesn’t have to be seen as merely procrastinating. The internet can be a brilliant resource for reflection and motivation – if only you know where to look.
Maddi Pownall is a PhD Researcher at Leeds University.