I've been writing this blog since 2011, when I decided to jump from a PhD program in biomedical engineering where I made nanoparticles at the bench, to PhD program in mass communication (away from the lab bench). It's been an amazing adventure of self-discovery. I've made many science communication friends along the way, and my writing is MUCH better because of it!
But I had a revelation today. I realized that I've never written a blog post dedicated to how I use social media as a scientist.
I'd like to tell you how I've used social media for science communication and scholarship as an early career scientist, because it may be useful if you are an early career scientist, or a scientist at any career stage.
Blogging as a Scientist
My first introduction to social media for science communication as a scientist was through this blog. This blog was first hosted by Nature Network , and later SciLogs.com. I've told this story before, but I started blogging originally because, well, I was a big-picture thinker stuck working on a tiny puzzle piece of a biomedical engineering project. But I was a writer by heart. I thrived on science fiction, storytelling, seeing the big picture and dreaming of what could be. I wanted to grapple with bigger questions, like what my research meant in a larger context, what science is and what it isn't, how science and culture intertwine and interconnect...
So I pitched an idea to Nature Network for a blog about how science intersects with film, art and culture. They liked my pitch, and the rest is history.
Over time my blog morphed in topic. I slowly transitioned from discussing popular science topics and occasionally my research at the bench as a biomedical engineer, to discussing how the media works and how that affects science and science communication.
Slowly, I became a mass communication researcher. I started conducting research on readers' attitudes toward science, how science communicators go about their work and who reads science blogs and why. But as I was conducting this research, I also started using my blog as a scientist in the field of science communication.
I blogged about research papers I read during the literature review phases of my research process. These posts often helped me write the literature review sections of my research manuscripts and my dissertation. As I was writing up my papers for school, I could almost always find a blog post I had already written to get me started! That was because I used my blog in every single class I took while at the Manship School of Mass Communication to write about how what we were reading and learning applied to science communication. The amazing thing is that this wasn't just a selfish exercise. People seemed to enjoy reading these posts, and I found myself pushing the boundaries of what was known about science communication.
As I started asking research questions about science blogs, who uses them and why, I wanted to connect with other researchers in this field to see what had been studied before. So I followed other science communication scholars on Twitter and started conversations with them.
As I collected data for my dissertation on who uses science blogs and why, I often "live-blogged" about my findings and interpretations of the data coming in. This blogging helped me to synthesize and better understand my data, and it also intrigued other science bloggers and science communicators.
When I finished my dissertation and when I had other research papers published, I also blogged summaries of these papers and provided the full text so that those without library access could read them. I've also often blogged about talks I've given at conferences on topics related to science communication in social media.
Beyond blogging about research and my research in progress, I've also blogged about life as a scientist and opportunities and challenges facing scientists and science communicators. I've often blogged about issues facing women in science and how we might start to address these issues. My blogging always circles back to my passions, my own interests (like science art collaborations) and the issues I think are most important to talk about. I've used my blog to ask questions about science communication topics that are important but that don't have easy answers, like whether science folks on social media are really just talking to each other and the implications of that.
I've mostly used my blog as a place to synthesize my thoughts on topics relevant to my research interests, and to translate my own research findings and others' findings for science communication practitioners. And occasionally to rant and point out bias.
What are you passionate about? What could you blog about that would be useful to your job or research? What topics do you have personal experience or expertise on? What makes you smile, laugh, sit up and pay attention, go "oh wow," cry or get angry? What are the unanswered questions in your field? Think of these things when coming up with ideas for your science blog.
Tweeting as a Scientist
Twitter has become one of my favorite social media venues as a scientist. For networking, I find Twitter to be unparalleled among social networking sites. And no, LinkedIn doesn't compare.
I don't remember exactly why or when I starting tweeting. I do know that it was VERY slow at first. Growing a following required persistence and patience. In my early days on Twitter, I felt that other science people with large Twitter followings were rather cliquish in their interactions with others, and I was a "nobody." But that's why, today, I try to respond to ANYONE who tweets to me and to help them out by boosting their message if I can.
Twitter is THE place that I interact with and have discussions with other science communicators, journalists and scientists. One of the most powerful aspects of Twitter is the ability to ask often very specific and technical questions, as well as broad conceptual questions, and get instantaneous answers. I very often use Twitter in the brainstorming phase of my blog writing, to get input on things I'm thinking of blogging about. It's almost like, on Twitter, I have 24/7 access to a giant brain that helps me locate and access (#IcanhazPDF all the way!) information I need or want. My Twitter network helps me expand my own thinking on various science communication topics and issues.
But using the giant smart brain that is the cultivated Twitter following requires that you cultivate that following from the beginning. You have to have meaningful and mutually beneficial interactions with other individuals in order to really tap into the networking value of Twitter. That's the piece that so many people miss. If you are using Twitter primarily to broadcast information in a one-way manner, you are missing the point.
You have to start by following other people, lots of people, that share your interests. You can organize these people into Twitter lists so that the number of people you follow doesn't get to be overwhelming. I follow nearly 3,000 people! Also, identify hashtags relevant to your field and monitor those daily for things you might retweet and tweets you might reply to. For me, my two staples are #scicomm and #sciart. Join interesting Twitter chats and follow relevant event hashtags to grow your network. Ask people questions on Twitter! And also, be useful. If you see someone else with a question you can answer, help to answer it or offer advice. Twitter is give and take - you can't benefit without first giving your time and expertise to others.
These are just some of the ways that I've used Twitter:
- Retweeting and sharing interesting articles and blog posts about science communication
- Asking other science communication scholars questions about their research
- "Live-tweeting" as I read through research papers
- Live-tweeting conferences, talks and other events related to science communication
- Asking for input on my research questions and directions I might go with my research projects
- Sharing things I find inspiring
- Asking for input on blog posts (I recently asked my Twitter peeps to send me their pictures of what science communication looks like - for a post I'm putting together. I got over 50 pictures!)
- Organizing and running Twitter chats with other science communication professionals
- Engaging in class discussions with my students (inside and outside of the classroom)
- Promoting my research surveys and recruiting science communicators to interview for my research projects
- Direct messaging people I want to interview, talk to and/or brainstorm with
- Sharing data and insights from research-in-progress
- Offering to answer questions related to particular science communication topics
- Sharing my blog content
- Taking over other Twitter accounts (like the rocur account @Iamscicomm)
- Sharing Instagram visuals and videos
- Ranting and talking about life as a scientist and science communicator
- Finding and collaborating with science artists
- Job hunting (#scicommjobs)
How might you use Twitter as a scientist? Start by connecting with researchers and science communicators in your field of science. Don't wait until you have published papers to talk about what you do every day and the nature of the data you are collecting. But most importantly, start asking questions and engaging in conversations using relevant hashtags. Retweet and share the love.
Insta-gramming as a Scientist
I only recently started to use Instagram as a scientist (but have used it for a while now as an acrobat!). Especially now with Instagram stories, I think IG has become a powerful tool for sharing your life as a scientist with others, especially with students and younger audiences. Whether sharing your "real life" as a scientist (walking your dog, being a scientist at home, etc.), or taking viewers into the lab or field with you, Instagram is a powerful tool for making your science and research relatable to others who don't often get to see the everyday work of scientists and science communicators. Instagram also allows you to share visually interesting aspects of your research quickly and accessibly.
I created this video recently when I went into the lab with LSU researcher Noelle Bryan. I created this within a matter of minutes using Instagram stories and the iPhone video editing app VideoShop.
How could you communicate what you do on an everyday basis as a scientist visually, or in visual graphics?
Using FigShare and Open Science Apps as a Scientist
As a scientist, I've used many digital and social media platforms for sharing my research-in-progress. I've used FigShare to post data, figures and tables I created as I was writing up my dissertation. I blogged and tweeted these figures and tables to share findings from my research as I was making them. This was a great way to share large amounts of raw information quickly. Not all of that information might make it into a publication, but it was potentially useful and insightful for other science communicators and scholars. Sharing raw data also allows other scholars to give you feedback and opens your eyes to interpretations and explanations you might have overlooked. It's scientific research and peer-review in action, all at the same time!
Collaborating Online as a Scientist
While we don't often think of tools like Google Docs and Google Slides as social media, they most definitely are social media. I use Google Slides (and previously used SlideShare) all the time to create slides for my science communication talks that I can share publicly. For example, here is a Google Slides presentation I gave on using technology and social media in the classroom. This SlideShare presentation on using social media for science communication has nearly 2,000 views. That's certainly more eyes than were in the room when I gave that presentation, and it's a resource I can continue to point people to.
I also use Google docs extensively to collaborate with others in writing not just research and technical manuscripts, but blog posts and popular science stories. Create a Google doc and share it publicly to get feedback on a question you have, or to brainstorm ideas for a research project, etc.
There are an infinite number of ways to use social media as a scientist. The type and numbers of social media platforms are expanding, and with them the possibilities for sharing science. Do you use social media as a scientist in ways that I didn't talk about? Comment below to let me know!