Creating a Twitter Space for Dementia Research

University of Stirling PhD Researcher, Julie Christie, shares with us news about the development of social media platform #demphd, including how it was created, how it can help research and future plans:

“Being a PhD candidate is a great privilege. You research areas of specific interest to you and immerse yourself in generating new data and answering unanswered questions.  Research takes place over many years, and during this period you have to isolate yourself physically and mentally, finding space and time to think and write.  Whilst universities provide formal supervision to students and offer a range of groups and services, these are structured activities, available at set times, and usually take place on the university campus. It isn’t always easy to catch up with other PhD researchers due to the diverse range of activities people are engaged in through their study. If, like myself, you are undertaking your PhD on a part time basis, or are in full time employment this becomes even harder. The answer for me was social media, and specifically twitter.

I started using twitter towards the end of 2012 but like many people considered it to be a social experience, engaged in as a leisure activity.  I then discovered that there were a small group of PhD researchers and academics exploring this new space, each testing the potential for new relationships. I began to connect with PhD candidates from around the world. I started by engaging with a new group the ‘Social Sciences Forum’  a social media platform for social scientists, hosted by Donna Peach of Salford University.  One of their early twitter chats was around the potential for intra and interdisciplinary connections. Also taking part in the discussion were several people who were researching different aspects of dementia and, in particular, Anna Tatton, a PhD candidate from Leeds University. Anna and I began to explore a space where those with a research interest in dementia could connect and the Dementia PhD identity #demphd was born.  We started to plan discussions, blogs and twitter chats and before long we had a dedicated group from around the world who were participating. The discussion topics relate to research, the PhD process and dementia.

So what is #demphd and how can it support dementia researchers and in particular PhD researchers? Anna describes it as “an international support network” (2014: 16).  I describe it as a space where anyone with an interest in dementia research can meet. A space for people who have dementia, carers, and experts by experience to meet academics, researchers and students as part of an evolving community of practice.  Peer support is both the foundation for this new community and a natural part of the process. Our twitter space is used to promote the work of PhD candidates, supporting them to present their research in weekly chats.  Our varied membership and connections facilitate the provision of advice, information and support on many aspects of the PhD journey. #demphd promotes news on dementia research opportunities and conferences from around the world. Our members live tweet from many events which mean that those unable to attend can follow speakers and topics of interest to them. We also offer an important critical friend role discussing challenging topics and, equally important, offer congratulations on the many personal and professional achievements of our community. This includes celebrating and promoting publications and conference engagements. I also believe that the transparency of twitter promotes the PhD experience, reaching new people and encouraging others to consider their own questions about dementia.

So how does this dementia twitter space work alongside formal supports and networking in person? Virtual PhD experiences can never replace face to face interaction but the friendships and support developed are real and can become opportunities to meet. I have met with many colleagues now, arranging to meet at conferences and to take forward work opportunities. The most recent development is that many of the #demphd community will be present at the Alzheimer Europe Conference in Glasgow, October 2014.  As a result we are currently planning our first in person #demphd meeting to explore our future direction.

If you are interested in shaping the future of this dementia twitter space or learning more please contact me by email at or on twitter @juliechristie1 or simply use #demphd to connect.”

Tatton, A. 2014. Introducing #demphd. Journal of Dementia Care 22, 4: 16-17