Wednesday, January 13, 2010

...I am a sophomore attending [omit] High School in [omit], New York. This year in school, I was chosen to participate in an elite program called Advanced Science Research. In this program, students begin to find a topic of interest and take part in meaningful research. I am extremely interested in learning about the effects of social networking on children and teenagers. I would love to become a published scientist prior to high school graduation. In addition, I hope to enter numerous science competitions such as the Intel Science Talent Search.

While studying and looking over literature, I discovered that you work in the field of social networking and are involved in research regarding Facebook and was intrigued by your research. I was wondering if we could meet to discuss your current projects and discuss the possibility of you being my mentor over the next three years. I understand since you live so far away this will be hard, but if we could possibly coordinate something where I can assist in research over the computer. If you are not available, could you please send me any literature that you think would help me as I begin my scientific journey or can you recommend another scientist that could possibly be my mentor. I know that you must get loads of messages in a day so thank you for your time.

I’m impressed that you’re taking on such ambitious projects at such an early stage in school! The topic you’ve chosen is very broad, so you might want to be careful and focus it a little bit, studying the impacts of social networking websites on youth has many potential dimensions ranging from communication to the making of meaning to influence on social relationships and so much more. You might think about one aspect of Facebook that interests you (ideas: how it’s spreading about in different countries around the world, the way it influences how people get to know one another, its differences and similarities with other ‘traditional’ forms of communication technologies, the way the interface has changed over the years and what this has accomplished, etc…) and then investigate that particular topic. The most commonly addressed topics seem to be those dealing with privacy and identity as well as business growth and valuation, I think you might find it more interesting to explore something less well-known. I’m not sure that I can help you publish anything formally but would be happy to host your work on the project site.

These days I’m not actually specifically researching Facebook, most of that research was done as part of my masters work in sociology a couple of years ago. I’ve left the project website up as a resource to help young and aspiring researchers like yourself. I’d be happy to help provide some support and feedback, but you should be aware I’m just a PhD student and am far from being an accomplished expert in the field. I’m not sure what mentorship involves but if you think it can be covered by occasional emails I might be willing to sign on. Alternatively you might have some luck contacting Jenny Ryan ( As for literature give me a little bit of a more refined version of your topic and I’ll help to pass you appropriate readings. For now you might think about some of these:

boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11.

and maybe work by Tufekci:

Good luck and let me know if you refine your topic a bit!

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