Over the past month, I've been preparing a scientific study with Dr. Nicole Dahmen of how science is depicted on Instagram. But in the meantime, I've been wanting to get a more personal perspective of how Instagram is being used by science communicators. So I've invited science instagrammers to answer a few of my questions about their science IG practices.
Second up in this series is @suepillans, or Dr. Sue Pillans "Oz marine ecologist, artist & graphic recorder." Sue is an Australian marine ecologist and artist who recently started her own creative business to help people communicate and experience science visually.
*Some links below to particular Instagram posts added by Paige. Light editing for clarity.
"I use Instagram to share, promote and showcase the many 'faces' of science through words and pictures." - Sue Pillans
Me: When did you start Instagramming about science?
@suepillans: I started instagramming about marine science (and the art of science) about 18 months ago when I commenced my own creative business, “Picture your ideas” with Dr Sue Pillans. I combine my skills and experience as a marine ecologist and artist to help people 'picture their ideas' - I use words and pictures to capture and convey messages in real-time. Through Instagram I get to share my passions in life, including the ocean, the art of science and visual storytelling.
I have always had a great devotion for the ocean so I love communicating about the wonders of our underwater world through my visual science storytelling. I am also very passionate about helping our future ocean stewards, our kids. Through my work in schools I put the ‘A' in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) by bringing the living ocean into the classroom.
I strongly believe that if people love their natural environment and feel a real connection to it, for example through visual science storytelling, they are more likely to respect and protect it. So it’s my hope that my visual science communication through Instagram tells a story that others ‘like’ and enjoy.
Me: Do you use Instagram to share straight science, or more to share your life as a scientist/science student etc.?
@suepillans: Initially I used Instagram to share my life as a marine scientist and artist. That has now evolved into sharing the art of science in my role as a graphic recorder running my own business where I 'draw out' people's ideas and information (about marine science and STEM in schools, amongst many other topics). My passions in life are now shown through my visual stories on Instagram, showing that you can turn something you love into something you live.
Through my work I have found that communicating the science of our oceans through visual storytelling genuinely engages people of all ages and backgrounds, no matter their geography. I have the best job in the world because I get to interact with some of the most amazing marine animals, see the beauty of our Blue Planet up close and engage with a diverse group of wonderful people. So I want to share these experiences with others — with the hope that my visual stories may help others to pursue their dreams, provide some science joy and maybe a big smile too. :)
Me: What are your goals when instagramming science? To inform? To entertain? To get people interested in science? To promote public engagement with science? To change public perceptions of scientists?
@suepillans: I think I try to achieve all of those things in my posts about science, my main goal being to share positive, hopeful and fun science stories that engage and make people smile. I'm a visual learner and communicator so I try to share one great photo (or a collage of great photos) to tell a story about ocean science, the art of this science and people's engagement with marine science.
In sharing the wonders of our underwater world through my visual storytelling, I’m hopeful that people of all ages will ‘sea’ that science helps us to make decisions about the world around us, that scientists do remarkable things everyday and that creative science communication can help people feel engaged with their marine world enough to care about it.
Me: What kinds of things do you usually post on your (science) Instagram account? How often do you post?
@suepillans: Science and its communication can be complex and challenging at times and people can sometimes drown in the numbers, statistics and data. As a visual communicator I'm always thinking about new and interesting ways of sharing the scientific wonders of our underwater world. One way I do this is through my alter ego Dr. Suzie Starfish on Facebook, which I then share on Instagram using a mixture of visual inspiration, imagination, illustration and information. As Dr. Suzie Starfish gets to visit schools, carry out research and draw out the big issues with people, there are always lots of happy and playful photos being taken showing that science and the art of science is fun!
I commonly post happy and fun photos as I believe a positive story will engage and connect with more people than negative messages of despair and hopelessness. [And some research suggests that positive messages are preferable to engage people in issues like climate change. - Paige] My posts therefore are usually of my time by the beach (my favourite place to be!), my latest watercolour artworks, images of visual stories I have created with people through graphic recording and my amazing interactions with people and kids doing my #sciart and #scicomm.
I post a few times a week depending on my work schedule and how ‘visually’ interesting my travels and activities have been that week. Before posting I always ask myself, is this a story people will engage with, and will it make them smile or inspire them? I try never to post on social media just for the sake of posting.
Oh and I also sneak in photos of my cute creative companions, Jack my Great Dane and his bestie the Westie Fergus (...they could have their own Instagram account!).
Me: How often do you post original visuals you created yourself, vs. reposting images or videos created by others? What are your favorite kinds of things to post on Instagram?
@suepillans: The majority of images I post on Instagram are my own with the exception of some inspirational quotes and super cute or unusual marine creatures I can’t photograph myself. I love taking photos and as I work with a wide range of people in both my scientific and creative work and I travel quite a bit, I get to take some pretty amazing pictures that I want to share with others.
My favourite things to post on Instagram are the reactions of people and kids whom I have been graphically recording with about our oceans (and STEAM work). I'm continually amazed by their big smiles and happy faces and the positive feedback I receive when I "picture ideas" with people around Australia and overseas. It really is the best job in the world!
Me: What kind of reception do you get on your Instagram science posts? What kinds of posts seem to get the most likes/comments?
@suepillans: I get such a great and positive response from people regarding my science posts, particularly when I'm tagging turtles or swimming with whale sharks! I mean who doesn’t love turtles and whale sharks!! I really love bringing the living oceans into people's lives through their phones and technology. I get to make some great and genuine connections too. The natural underwater experiences I get to be part of are truly amazing and I think marine science in particular needs to seen by people because it’s not as accessible as our terrestrial national parks or forests. So my science communication through visual storytelling on Instagram is one way of engaging people with the scientific wonders of the underwater world.
Posts that get the most likes/comments are always the charismatic megafauna shots of turtles and whale sharks, my original watercolour marine artworks and those happy-people photos. I think photos of people interacting with nature and people engaging with art/drawings are more relatable, therefore they get more ‘likes’. The aim of my visual science storytelling is to engage with people so that they connect with their ocean, so my posts commonly have people in them.
My creative companions get a lot of ‘likes’ and comments too!
Me: How do you KNOW when something / some piece of science content is Instagram-worthy? (What kinds of standards do you use when posting to Instagram about science)?
@suepillans: I think if a picture tells a positive story and is relatable, it is worth sharing with everyone, everywhere! I like to promote science in a positive and fun way, because it is, so that “happy factor” also crosses my mind when I think about posting on Instagram. In the end the most important part of my visual science storytelling on Instagram (and my other social media platforms) is whether or not an image/picture/artwork will engage and make someone smile or be inspired. That's what people will remember and that's good science communication.
Me: Anything else you'd like to add about your science Instagramming practices, or tips for others getting into using Instagram for science?
@suepillans: I love sharing my visual science and art storytelling on Instagram and I hope that comes through in my posts. I really enjoy seeing the positive reactions from people all around the world regarding my posts and thank them for following and connecting with me on a regular basis. Through visual storytelling on Instagram I get to ‘sea’ how science and art can bring people together to share a moment in time, which is important for science communication.
Tips for others getting into using Instagram for science: just start and see what happens! Take the time to think about the photo you are going to post, when and how regularly and also the #hashtags you use to help share your science story. Aim for positive and happy images that tell a story or call to action, even if the story is a bleak one. And of course have fun and always remember to "do what you love and love what you do," and your visual stories will tell themselves!
If you are a science Instagrammer and you'd like to be featured on my blog, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org!