Image of a network representing social media connections, Marios' research focus

To be a researcher or not to be?

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FIRST YEAR PSYCHOLOGY PHD STUDENT MARIOS SHARES HIS RESEARCH EXPERIENCE SO FAR

This is the question which plays in the mind of all postgraduate students before making a decision and embarking onto the train of research; a limitless journey where at each stop knowledge is gained but the last will forever be out of reach. Nobody can be all-knowing.    

My train for that destination commenced when I moved from Greece to Scotland to study for an undergraduate degree. Undergraduate studies quickly became postgraduate studies, and then I had to make the ultimate decision to embark into academia or not.

My research career started somewhere in the middle.

Being a research student is an underpaid position with not a lot of prestige. An irregular timetable, and no standard job requirements. You could consider a research student as a sacrificial lamb of sorts; they sacrifice all of the above for the common good so what remains is the researcher’s intrinsic goals. 

My research experience has been very fulfilling. However, we all get into a research dead-end sometimes. Your supervisors, colleagues, and your family (don’t forget the Student Counselling Services) are always nearby to give you a helping hand when in your eyes nobody is there.  Many times I’ve been unsure of where to focus my research, or when to stop reading and start doing. Your supervisors are always there to help you make crucial decisions and surpass those obstacles.  Yet doctoral study is a long and lonely path where often your own voice will be your guiding force.  

My research area is around the role of social media and what motivates people to spread information online. Is this something new? Probably not. Octavian in the past used a campaign of disinformation (known to us today as fake news) in order to benefit from his victory in the last war of the Roman Republic against Marc Anthony. After the outcome, he changed his name to Augustus. He dispersed a complimentary and juvenile image of himself throughout the whole Empire maintaining its use into his old age. Nowadays, social media is all around us. The epidemic of online fake news is apparent in every aspect of our lives including politics, news broadcasting, and religion to name just a few.

As for my interest, I have always been curious as to how people interact and communicate with each other. But my interest stemmed from when I started looking at Marketing courses outside of my main Psychology postgraduate degree. This taught me an invaluable lesson on the importance of being open to new experiences and exploring fields that are external to my own subject area. These courses, in combination with my interest and the current topic of fake news, led me to create a proposal where I was able to combine Psychology and Marketing. There is significant interest in this area due to its inexpensive method of distributing information as well as the extensive use of social networking platforms to exchange material on a much bigger scale than ever before. 

However, Facebook-like platforms also have one crucial downfall. By catering to the specific ‘likes’ and tendencies of an individual online, this means that the content that they view will be formed in such a way that they will only ever get to see posts which please them.  While this, in theory, sounds like a perfect idea; if for example, I happen to be terrified of dogs then limiting my exposure to them on this network would be a positive thing. However, what if my tastes delve into darker interests whether they be political, social or cultural… I would only ever be exposed to images or posts which conform and venerate this way of thinking. Needless to say, the danger behind this is immense on such an extensive information sharing platform. 

With this in mind, what truly motivates people to spread specific information online and what are their common traits? Can we spot users who spread fake news based on their personality traits or platform-use tendencies?

These questions will be explored as I continue my research for my PhD in Psychology and I look forward to perhaps unveiling the answers to these questions.  My decision to follow a PhD in Psychology was the right choice for me. But if you want to follow this path it truly is a matter of personal choice. But above all, it is perhaps a question of what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve what you truly want. 

Stay tuned on the Forward Thinking blog to keep up-to-date with my current research.

About Marios

Psychology PhD student Marios is the Psychology Social Media Ambassador (Research Focus) at the University of Edinburgh. Keep an eye on Psychology at Edinburgh Twitter account @UoE_Psychology for research and event updates from Marios.

Related links

Fake news: what exactly is it – and how can you spot it? | The Telegraph

How to solve Facebook’s fake news problem: experts pitch their ideas | The Guardian

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