What’s your handle? (Tseen Khoo)

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On social media platforms such as Instagram or Twitter, one of the first things you'll have to set up is your username or 'handle'.

This can cause massive angst for researchers when they're grappling with developing their online identities.

Often, it's because people don't know where to start, or they may not have clarity about why they're building an online identity in the first place.

More often still, it’s because they don’t want to get it wrong. I would like to say that there's no way you can get it wrong because it's ultimately your choice what you want to call yourself, etc, but you can get it wrong, in professional terms.

I’m not a scaremonger about online issues. If anything, I probably err on the side of being too enthused about it all and minimising the evils of the internet, but I’ve seen some handles that are doing their researchers no favours. They are too long, have too many numbers (hard to memorise) or dashes, or are obvious hangovers from less professional days.

A handle's not just for your account login (though it's that, too). It becomes the name by which you get known in that space. It's how you're identified and engaged with. As you build your profile online, people will start associating certain qualities and attributes with you. Often, with online networks and collaborators, their primary way of knowing you is your handle.

So, it's never only a name or nickname.

Here are three tips on choosing an online handle if you’re aiming to establish a professional researcher profile. They’re also the answers to the most commonly asked questions about social media handles that I get in my workshops!

1. Keep it consistent – you have a bigger picture.

If you’re found professionally in various places on the internet, it’s good to have a consistent way to be known. For example, if you’re @Jbloggs on Twitter, being Jbloggs on Instagram and YouTube helps people keep track of your work and know the breadth of your engagement. We’re often spread across many different platforms these days and having a logical way for people to bring those aspects together can only work in your favour!

Keep in mind that this can work both ways. Your involvement with academic interests and those that are not-so-academic may sit side by side in a browser search of your name. This might be fine, or you may be appalled. In any case, it’s always good to know what ‘<Your name>’ turns up as on the internets!

2. You can go standard, or you can be catchy.

There is no set format for researchers to use when considering handles for social media, but there are a few standard, popular structures. The most common of these is <Firstname><Lastname>, occasionally with an initial thrown in if you have a more common name, or a title (e.g. Dr, Prof). Finding alternatives when the name you want is already taken can be a challenge, but it can be a good challenge!

You may also want to consider another angle: being known by a handle that reflects your research areas. An example I love to give is Dr Cameron Webb’s Twitter handle @mozziebites, which is perfect. Cameron’s Twitter bio reads:

Medical Entomologist (Syd Uni & NSW Health Pathology) interested in mosquitoes, mosquito-borne disease management, insect repellents and wetland rehabilitation.

Note also that Cameron’s bio is a great, succinct picture of who he is online and why he’s there.

Another wonderful example of this is La Trobe’s Dr Lauren Gawne’s Twitter handle @superlinguo, which is connected to her popular blog – also called Superlinguo – about linguistics and language use. Consistent and catchy!

3. Yes, you can change your Twitter handle (aka the “@” name).

But you shouldn’t do it too often! The best time to change it is before you have a substantial following. It’s easier to rethink/relaunch your name when fewer people associate you with particular projects and publications. I have been @tseenster now for what feels like forever but I was, at the beginning of my Twitter life, @tseenkhoo. I changed it for a bunch of reasons, all of which would be longer than a RED Alert blogpost to detail (so I won’t!), but I changed it when I barely had a couple of hundred followers. It wasn’t a tortuous thing – but it would take a lot for me to change it now.

If you’ve got other questions about your handle and how you can develop a strong digital identity as a researcher, I’m running a series of social media workshops in Semester 2:

a) Getting started (beginner’s level) – Bundoora - 8 Aug | Zoom - 9 Aug
b) Building profile (intermediate) – Bundoora - 30 Aug | Zoom - 31 Aug
c) Tweeting up (advanced Twitter user) – Bundoora - 19 Sept | Zoom - 20 Sept

Alternatively, comment here!


Dr Tseen Khoo is a lecturer in research education and development with the RED team at La Trobe University. Melbourne. She has held research-only fellowships at the University of Queensland and Monash University, and was a research grant developer at RMIT University.

Tseen created and manages the Research Whisperer with Jonathan O'Donnell.

She convenes the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN), and publishes on critical race studies, diasporic Asian cultures, and racialised academic identities.

She's on Twitter at @tseenster.