Social media profiles are bad for most scientists!

Social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are present everywhere. Many scientists wonder whether they are missing out on something and ask themselves: “Should I create LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ profiles as a scientist?”  The surprising answer is “No”!


There are good reasons to have at least one professionally looking social media profile for a career in science:

–          PhD students and postdocs will be googled by potential employers. They will check your profile on the website of your current employer and on your social media pages if accessible. The websites of employers are mostly not very informative and limit the possibilities to personalize the profile. The private websites of most people  are mostly inappropriate for finding a job in science.

–          The same is true for young group leaders: potential employees (PhD students, postdocs, technicians), collaboration partners, bachelor and master students and journalists will search for online information about you.

Thus, a professionally looking social media profile may help to create a good first impression and support your personal branding. But caveats are legion:


Older scientists (born before 1970) are not grown up with social networks and tend to interpret them as a waste of time – especially as a waste of working time. Interestingly, there is some evidence that employees are more productive when having the freedom to have breaks of leisure surfing on the web. However, senior scientists may have some reservations to hire a young scientists who is present on all platforms. The applicant obviously spends a lot of time in social media and may continue this behaviour in the new position – instead of working wholeheartedly on his/her research project.

Thus, being present everywhere may be interpreted as not working enough!


When screening applicants it became a normal procedure for many group leaders to google the most interesting candidates to get more information about them. When you are currently looking for a job in science you should avoid the following mistakes:

  • Displaying photos of yourself being drunk, undressed or being masqueraded as Adolf Hitler, a suicide bomber or a sexually overactive transvestite. Your friends may find these pictures funny, many people will find them unpleasant, crude and bad taste. Although some of them may even amuse your boss AFTER you have been hired, during a recruitment period, pictures like that may lead to the conclusion that you are more interested in your private life than in work or that you may have a tendency to behave inappropriately also in a work environment.
  • If you have added hundreds of friends on facebook there is a certain chance that a potential employer may circumvent the restrictions of your public profile by asking somebody in the list of your facebook friends to give access to the restricted part of your facebook profile.
  • Unprofessional LinkedIn- or Google+ profiles which are incomplete or contain typos or formatting errors may create the impression that you are also sloppy in your work.

Most social media profiles of younger job applicants I have seen so far were not well designed and did rather damage the first impression. Thus, social media profiles are bad for most scientists because they are not well designed!


It is a good advice to start with only one of the four major services: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Google+ and add a ResearchGate account. Read more here:  On which social media platform should I post a professional profile as a scientist?


In conclusion, select one or two social media platforms and build a convincing profile. Only embed a link to these profiles in your email affiliation and CV after you have professionally designed them.




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  1. Good question!
    Another way to look at the problem: social media do exist nowadays. The new coming scientist generation is born with. Actually, they have no choice: they most likely all already have social media profiles, maybe excepted LinkedIn (found too ‘professional’ at an earlier lifetime).
    Advices to be careful are correct, but I would suggest, as people get older and about a professional career, to publish more professional things on their social media. This can mask the older, maybe unwanted, data. If possible, one might also ‘clean up’ some profiles.
    As senior scientists who appoint young ones, we also have to adapt and only choose those relevant information when selecting someone.
    The Web will not die, we have to learn living with it…

  2. This post has given reasons why the author feels that “Social media profiles are bad for most scientists!” I would like to respond by providing my reasons why I feel that “Social media profiles are good for most scientists!”

    Supporting Key Purposes: Developing professional networks; engaging with one’s peers and enhancing dissemination

    I do not feel that scientists should make use of social media services just because they are fashionable! Rather social media services can help scientists to support key areas of their work:

    (1) Developing their professional networks: note that use of social media tools such as Twitter can be particularly useful at conferences when talks provide an opportunity for focussed discussions about the talks. In addition Twitter can support the more informal aspects of conferences, such as providing opportunities for going our for a meal or drinks with new contacts.
    (2) Engaging with one’s peers: Once your professional online network has reached critical mass you should start to appreciate the benefits which can be gained in the rapid exchange of ideas, sharing or resources and even having disagreements with fellow researchers!
    (3) Scientists are no longer expected to work in isolation from the wider community. Use of social media can help in the dissemination of one’s research outputs, not only to other researchers and practitioners, but also to the general public.

    Working WITH the Web Infrastructure

    Popular social media services tend to work well with the web infrastructure, including search engines such as Google. If you link to your research papers from popular services such as ResearchGate and LinkedIn you should find that the links to your papers provide Google juice’; which can make your papers more easily discovered.

    The Evidence Increasingly Shows the Value

    Scientists will expect to read evidence of assertions of the value of use of social media. Increasingly such evidence is being published. The Impact of Social Sciences blog hosted by LSE (London School of Economics) has published a number of posts which provide evidence of the value for researchers of using social media (see

    But It Doesn’t Have To Be For Everyone!

    Social media works best when the individual seeks with an authentic voice. Social media works less well when it is used simply as a marketing tool rather than for facilitating discussions.

    There is also a need to understand the contexts in which social media will be most effective. There may be location and language factors which limit its effectiveness. The effectiveness of social media for researchers may also differ across different subject areas
    In addition, just as not all scientists will be comfortable in giving presentations, analysing data or communicating visually we should not expect everyone to be comfortable in using social media. Therefore, I would argue, we shouldn’t insist that everyone if a research team uses social media; rather we should ensure that responsibilities for ensuring the aims of use of social media are achieved are being carried out within the team.

    Further Information

    In a paper on “Using social media to enhance your research activities” presented at the Social Research 2013 Conference I provided further information on the value of social media for researchers and strategies for using social media – see

  3. How about a profile at
    There are many ways the platform can be used, from publication reviews, sharing and finding protocols, to looks for jobs, list events etc.

  4. Thanks for a discussion-provoking article.

    I can certainly see the author’s point that it is important for younger researchers to maintain a professional profile online, however I wanted to add a couple of points to the debate which came up when I posted this to the researcher community at my institution:

    1. It’s important for researchers to maintain a healthy work/life balance, and often the use of social media is imperative to that. With mental health issues in academia being such a hot topic at the moment, I worry about researchers distancing themselves from potential sources of online support for fear of appearing unprofessional/unemployable.

    2. If you identify with any minority group such as the LGBT+ community, it is quite likely that this will be reflected somewhere on a social media profile. Although I’m sure the author did not mean to cause offense in the above article, I think we should be careful not imply that this might undermine anyone’s perceived professionalism or employability.

    1. Thanks a lot for the comment. These are two very important points. In fact, I did not consider these fears at all because I am grown up in Berlin where the LGBT+ community is very present and the general acceptance is rather high. My very personal opinion is that transparency is the best way to go. I personally do not want to work for anybody who may have a tendency to discriminate me. However, not many people are in the luxury position to choose the perfect employer and may be careful to avoid discrimination. There is no doubt that discrimination for gender, sexual preferences, ethnic background or any kind of mental or physical handicap is seen less frequently in an academic context – but far from being absent. Thus, it is a notorious dilemma for job applicants.

  5. This is indeed a very interesting and thought provoking article. Personally, I agree with the fact that a lot of young researchers mix their personal life with their professional one to easily on these social media. (However, it should be noted that for most of them this has become a bit of a “second nature” because they have grown up with them and do not know better). It could indeed become a threat for their career if they not pay attention to the amount of information they post on them if they ‘intend’ to also use it for professional purposes. In my opinion if they never intended to use for example their facebook account as a professional networking space and use it for recreational goals and as a social tool, their privacy should not be invaded by the future employer (although this is done a lot these days). Also it can be confusing for young researchers because a lot of ‘bosses’ are on these social media too (so if they do it we are doing nothing wrong).

    If one would purely focus on social media for professional usage, I believe that sites like for example linkedin and researchegate are viable. One can easily maintain their professional network on them, display their curriculum and (in my opinion one of the most important reasons) look up specific information in a quick manner, thus saving time. With the enormous amount of data present on the internet young researches can get quickly lost and social media can provide a solution. For example linkedin features ‘groups’ to which you can connect. These groups collect all the specific information and post them online which keeps the researcher updated for grant proposals, possibilities for external stays, … . A lot of these things would be missed by young researchers since they do not know where to look, thus missing out on all kinds of opportunities. Also there are the other advantages that were earlier mentioned.

    But in conclusion it is indeed a path that one must take carefully but can be invaluable.

  6. I’m confused, Sven.

    Your hypothesis is that social media is bad for most scientists, but all the evidence that you cite shows that it is bad for most employers.

    Use of social media during the employment process leads them to:
    + Make judgements based on inappropriate data;
    + Invade people’s privacy (sometimes in illegal ways, it seems);
    + Jump to conclusions.

    On the other hand, the job seekers have demonstrated the following behaviour in their use of social media:
    + Been open;
    + Built networks;
    + Demonstrated effective use of new technology;
    + shown that they maintain a healthy work-life balance.

    As other people have noted, there is plenty of research-based evidence showing the value of social networks to researchers. I think that there is also a growing body of knowledge around employer abuse of social networks.

    1. Dear Jonathan,
      thank you so much for your comment. I must admit that the title I have chosen is a little bit misleading – in an ideal world I should have chosen something like “Social media profiles – that are not well curated – are bad for scientists” 🙂 but I wanted to be a little bit provocative because MOST profiles I have seen so far as employer are not ideal. Thus, I hope the main message is clear anyway – create a few WELL CURATED social media profiles – for example in LinkedIn and ResearchGate – or leave them empty to avoid negative effects. Also important: as Brian Kelly put it “You are not obliged to put embarrassing photo’s of yourself on your website”. A well curated profile is valuable for your career – a crappy one can be detrimental.

  7. Hi Jonathon
    As Sve has said, this was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek post which was aimed at stimulating discussion. It succeeded in doing this!
    I gave a talk recently at an event in Brussels which Sven organised. I used Sven’s post as a means of challenging the points he made as some people do believe that social media can be irrelevant to researchers, can be a time-sink and can be used in ways which are counter-productive to one’s academic career.
    As I described in a blog post which accompanied the talk, these concerns may be true but need not be true in you make appropriate use of social media tools. In addition such concerns could also be made about traditional media – tabloid newspapers are irrelevant and appearing on reality TV could undermine one’s academic career. But getting your research mentioned in a quality newspaper or a journal such as Nature, or being featured in a documentary about your research on the BBC could be valuable for one’s career.
    I was pleased that Sven published this post as it helped me to compose a response.
    BTW Sven, Jonathon is a researcher I met at the conference in Australia I mentioned in my talk. Since then we’ve communicated primarily via Twitter and on blog comments (such as this one). This makes me wonder: “Do email tools, such as mailing lists, still have any relevance to researchers?”
    That is intended as a provocative tongue-in-cheek suggestion. But I have made this suggestion before, so maybe there is some validity to it?!

  8. I was hoping to come across this subject matter and I am glad to have found this article. I always wondered what people would think of me given my Facebook presence because it is a very serious profile with religious, political, cultural, social, economic articles, videos, comments and I avoid making online friends, posting my pictures and anything personal because I always thought it might be bad for my professional life. Also I travel to and work in countries where they don’t have the kind of liberties where you can speak your mind and if I do I could get into legal trouble so I try to be very private and professional online. I really appreciate this article for addressing a very important subject matter in our day and age.

  9. This is the second dubious article written by this person. I’m in the middle of job hunting as my PhD is over and I had come to the conclusion that the reason why I don’t have a job is because of my presence on social media.
    Let’s call things with their name, if you don’t hire a person because of their presence on social media you’re actively discriminating them because of their opinions.
    Unfortunately, as stated in the article, this isn’t a single case. All dinosaurs of science have this mentality and this is why many talented people, vast majority women, leave science. You’re always asked to choose between yourself and identity and science.
    Last paragraph was the most heartful to read. If you show you have a life, aka posting too much on SM, you come across as not dedicated enough. Why are this people still doing science? I don’t know rrally

    1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. The key message is that you should be aware that employers will google you and may come across your social media accounts. This does not mean that this is right but it happens and it is good to be aware of it.

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