On #phdchat – some initial thoughts

This post is an early contribution to an exploratory exercise in collaborative writing following recent discussions with fellow Twitter users @jennifermjones, @martin_eve and @FlyGirlTwo. In discussing the activities associated with the recently established Twitter hashtag #phdchat and its emergent postgraduate student following, we hope to use our own online spaces to create an open dialogue for critical reflection that others (not least ‘phdchat-ters’ themselves) can contribute to and develop.

#phdchat is a themed, hour-long session held every Wednesday at 7.30pm UK time, with associated asynchronous chat through the rest of the week, and – at present – limited activity on other platforms (a wiki and a Facebook Group). For a more detailed overview, and an account of its brief history, see Martin’s excellent introductory post.

Many of the increasing number of studies into Twitter have adopted modes of enquiry based on largely quantitative and data mining methods, which provide very useful indicators of participation activity, frequency and interactions, often utilising easily accessible visual forms of dissemination. Microblogs like Twitter present researchers with explicit environments that lend themselves – perhaps too easily – to a network-based research paradigm that can reduce user relationships and interaction to nodes and clusters without adequately addressing the complexities that underpin such activities.

By critiquing such methodologies we can also problematize the over-emphasis on digital artefacts as a singular indicator of social media use. Whilst I realise active participation is fundamental to the web 2.0 rhetoric, we should recognise that the production and re-appropriation of digital artefacts do not necessarily represent the full picture of social media engagement and interaction. For example, I contributed to a recent weekly chat in between cooking tagliatelle and watching football on TV.

Several studies have attempted to develop more qualitative models for analysing tweets, including boyd, Golder et al.’s (2010) look into retweeting practices, whilst others (for example, Priem & Costello, 2010) adopt a mixed methods approach, supporting quantitative data with participant interviews. I’m sure there are other examples in the growing body of literature.

I encountered the difficulties in categorising Twitter use myself when, as part of my PhD pilot study, I attempted to develop a taxonomy of tweets based on individual participants’ use of Twitter in relation to their doctoral practices. Mutually inclusive categories were defined by:

  • Type – e.g. open, reply, retweet. direct message etc.
  • Orientation – e.g. crowdsourcing, notification, backchannel etc.
  • Feature – e.g. (includes) RT, link, hashtag etc.

In addition, I examined relationships within participants’ Twitter networks (followers and followees) by:

  • Location – to identify collocated and distributed research networks within and external to faculties and institutions
  • Academic Discipline – to identify modes of ‘locating’ in the research field, enculturation and boundary crossing across disciplinary and interdisciplinary contexts
  • Academic Hierarchy – to identify peer support and participation and recognition in the research field

I’m not suggesting that even modified versions of these imperfect models would be appropriate for examining #phdchat, but it is useful to consider how such approaches might contribute to an understanding of emergent practices.

Discernible themes in #phdchat are naturally influenced by the pre-determined topics of each of the weekly chats, though it is not uncommon for participants to go ‘off-piste’ in their discussions. Whilst recurring themes related to ‘doing a PhD’ are clearly evident – such as specific academic practices (literature review, writing up etc.), theories and methodologies, and use of technologies – we also need to recognise that many of the tweets indicate phatic, empathic and socio-affective forms of conversation. It may well be these elements of peer support that represent the real value of this growing community.

This is only a start, but it’s getting interesting…


boyd, D., Golder, S., & Lotan, G. (2010). Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter. Proceedings of HICSS-43. http://www.danah.org/papers/TweetTweetRetweet.pdf

Priem, J. & Costello, K. L. (2010). How and why scholars cite on Twitter. Proceedings of ASIST 2010. http://bit.ly/eJnlb5

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11 Responses to “On #phdchat – some initial thoughts”

  1. Tweets that mention On #phdchat – some initial thoughts | PhD Blog (dot) Net -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Martin Eve, Andy Coverdale. Andy Coverdale said: New blog post. On #phdchat – some initial thoughts http://phdblog.net/on-phdchat-some-initial-thoughts/ […]

  2. luisa Miguel Says:

    Andy – I appreciated to now that you’re envolved in such amazing pilot experience project as the setting hastag #phdchat on networks is, to the ones envolved in the organization and aswell in participation. I’m sure the general interest will be massive today and I hope also, as the process growing on you will get feed-back on good information sources to your investigation. As always, reading your thoughts – lead me to some doughts: inside your methodological investigation, have you considered analysing some ethical (pratical) sides of the investigation elements, related to their interactions on social media? For instance, can you now what’s the real interests, with your actual investigation model, byond the actions on comunication online? and as the nature of language, is using too, to comunicate during online interactivity, are you watching some changes in the nature of speech in all the participants? Finally Andy, why pre-determinated discussion themes on #phdchat, how much do you want to “control” or facilitating the ongoing discussion between participants?
    All these questions, musn’t be taking too serius, because I’m not envolved in this study matters althougt – I enjoyed very much your theme investigation. Good discussions on today later. See you, Luisa

  3. Silence and Voice » Blog Archive » Weaving a PhD via #PhDchat Says:

    […] about considerations related to ways of understanding Twitter networks, among other things, in On #phdchat – some initial thoughts. I have previously spoken about this experience in my earlier post PhD Chat as #phdchat and Liz […]

  4. Andy Coverdale Says:

    Hi Luisa.

    Thanks for your comment. Just to make sure there are no misunderstandings; this is not a research project as such, rather an ongoing discussion between several #phdchat participants that may lead to a collaborative paper.

    The weekly themes are determined democratically by an online poll which is posted on Twitter in the days leading up to the Wednesday session.

    Martin’s post provides a good account of how it got under way, Other than initially setting up the weekly session, and posting the online polls, there has been very little stewardship of #phdchat. It has developed through a growing participation and engagement which has seen increased asynchronous use of the hashtag and the setting up of the spin-off sites I mentioned.

  5. Luisa Miguel Says:

    Hi Andy – your’e right, there has been a missunderstood from my point of view, visibal on the interpretation of your post. I’m sorry for that. Althougt, sometimes mental translation doen’st work properly, this time, my thoughts about the mentioned issue, looked like beeing very unrational… Was not my intention, making you waste time whit this, but it was good you clarified things for me. Good work for your research and nice weekend. Luisa

  6. Andy Coverdale Says:

    No problem Luisa. Always happy to get comments.

  7. #PhDChat – thoughts on twitter methodologies (& an experiment in open, collaborative paper writing.) :: Jennifer M Jones Says:

    […] post carries over from Martin Eve’s and Andy Coverdale’s initial posts about the process of writing a joint paper about the phenomena of #phdchat; a weekly […]

  8. George Veletsianos Says:

    HI Andy,
    just a quick note to say that I’ve used the constant comparative (grounded theory) approach to analyze a Twitter data set because we were trying to reach an understanding of a specific practice and prior literature did not offer any insights. Following an open coding paradigm we could also categorize tweets into multiple categories, not for the purpose of defining each single tweet, but for the purpose of understanding the kinds of practices that occur (send me an email and I’ll send you then paper – it deals with some of the issues that you are working with but it’s currently under review so I can’t post it online just yet).

  9. Andy Coverdale Says:

    Thanks George. Will do.

  10. Supporting Self-esteem in Twitter Communities | PhD Blog (dot) Net Says:

    […] the socio-technological relationships that such platforms can reasonably support. I suggested in a previous post that the most important aspect of peer support in these types of hashtag communities might be found […]

  11. Twitter Timelines and the Art of Skim | PhD Blog (dot) Net Says:

    […] commented previously on how sites like Twitter provide researchers with explicit interactions and user relationships […]

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