Figuring Out the HealthMed Community

Luana Shafer

Following my Social Media Special Session, I have been reflecting on what worked well and what could be improved upon when attempting to engage with the new STC “healthmed” community on social media. For one, our Twitter community is still in the process of increasing its following, which makes it a bit more difficult to begin conversations and discussions with other Twitter users. As others think about engaging with the community, I compiled the following final thoughts on the week.

Beginning the Week

I started the week with a few postings of few key questions, in the hopes of receiving poignant and thoughtful responses, but after 24 hours of internet silence I was faced with a mental dead-end. My previous blog post focused on the difficulties and possible obstacles many graduate students encounter when starting their first qualitative research project. Personally, I struggled with recruitment methods and found myself scrambling to find the required number of participants I needed in order to complete my research project. I wanted to use our social media as a learning space and, hopefully, get tips and advice from other technical communication researchers on the best recruitment practices.

My first few questions focused on just that: “what’s one piece of advice you would give to a grad student who is about to undertake their first qualitative research project?” and “what methods do you use to recruit participants for qualitative research studies in health and rhetoric?”

Tried and True Engagement Methods

While my questions were left floating in the mass of tweets in the Twittersphere, I did discover other methods of prompting discussions. Since this was the first time I used social media as a space to encourage academic discussions, I was unsure if there were any boundaries or unspoken etiquette one most follow when engaging with a specific community.

After my first attempt proved inadequate, I decided to attempt to start the same discussions by tagging specific members of the community in the posts themselves. This was a fantastic idea and led to some truly insightful responses and advice for successful recruitment methods.

Recruitment Advice for Research Projects

Lisa Meloncon and Liz Herman, two prominent members of STC and the health and rhetoric community, promptly responded to the tagged post with advice such as: using your academic and professional network as starting point to get the word out about your research topic and your need for participants; staying away from the academic “list serv.” approach, as the population is usually not appropriate; researching prior to recruitment and asking yourself the important questions – can you develop a relationship with a clinic or practitioner? Where does your ideal sample “live?” Which online space and is it important to start out with an insider individual who can introduce you to possible participants?

Although it may seem common knowledge to employ these steps during a research project with human participants, as a student I didn’t realize how important prior knowledge about my ideal participant population was needed to help me locate those participants. I was a little in the dark when I started my first research project but knowing exactly where to find your sample online and whether you need a relationship with an insider individual first is key.

Things to Know as a Student Researcher

With my other question, asking for advice specifically for first-time student researchers, I tagged three PhD students involved with STC and who participated in the “medrhet” field. Rachael Lussos, a PhD student in GMU’s Writing and Rhetoric Program, responded with two key points of advice: being prepared to be proven wrong in your own research study and finding the opposite of what you expected to discover; and the realization that uncovering something that complicates your prior literature is actually an important contribution to the scholarship itself and is not a “failure” because it wasn’t what you initially hoped for or expected.

This advice is so important for students to realize, as we are often under the assumption that deviating from prior literature, and from what more advanced academics wrote about, is wrong or that we must have done something incorrectly. Being prepared to “fail” in your thesis can contribute to the scholarship and prompt more discussions that being “right.” In fact, Rachael noted that her projects that tended to “fail” were published more often.

What to Take Away From My Experience

To anyone hoping to use the HealthMed SIG as an opportunity to engage with our community, here is some advice: don’t be afraid to reach out to prominent members of our community and other researchers and scholars in health, rhetoric, or communication studies. Nine times out of ten, our members are more than happy to help fellow researchers and share their experiences, whether that involves recruitment methods or first-time research tips. It’s also a good idea to find published research online and link that to discussions already in progress; it keeps the conversation going and allows you to insert yourself into the discussion with specific questions or ideas.

You gain as much as you put out into the community, and especially on social media, so it’s imperative that you contribute to these discussions by finding your own resources and research to add to conversation. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other academics and peers; this is the best way to find answers to your questions. If you are contributing with your own studies and resources, not just asking questions, there is no reason you should face internet silence, like I did in the beginning. What makes our community so special is the fact that we are all researchers and scholars with similar questions and collaborating is what we do best.

Moving Forward

As we finish our first Social Media Special Session, what topic would you like to see us tackle next? What would you like to get out of this community in 2019? Any STC member, student, or member of the HealthMed community is encouraged to propose ideas for our Social Media Special Sessions. To propose a session, please email Heidi Lawrence, SIG Co-manager, at hlawren2[at] to discuss a possible topic and timeline for your session.

Consider reading these posts.

Social Media Special Session: Graves’ Disease Research
Social Media Special Session: Graves’ Disease Research
STC HealthMed on Social Media

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