Social media is generally discouraged in science today. A recent article, "I'm a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer" castigated scholars with active online social lives. Most advisors won't ask you to "tweet out our paper" or "write a blog post about our findings" and it's likely that you'd close Twitter or Reddit if your colleague or advisor walked by. Some conferences have taken it so far as to enforce a "no tweeting" policy. But social networking is here to stay and will likely become even more integrated into our lives and research.
In the digital age, how are people supposed to know what you’re doing if you don’t share it with them? We are moving into a research age that is all about breaking down barriers, by embracing the reason why the Web was created - for sharing knowledge. We are recognising as a collective that collaboration and communities are more powerful than individuals and isolation. The parallels are everywhere, in the open source and open education movements, for example. For me as a researcher, open science has always been a complex beast to comprehend as a process. But as a vision, it was easy, based on the underlying principles of freedom and sharing. Social media was one way of helping to push forward towards that vision, by reshaping how I both think and operate as a researcher. And you know what? It’s liberating. Knowing there is a world beyond your desk or lab bench, where people are genuinely interested in your work, and want to interact with you and help build you up as a researcher and a person. You feel connected to like-minded spirits, and are empowered by the presence of others also trying to break down ivory towers and walls and make research something for everyone. I would not be where I am now without social media. There is an enormous, welcoming, and energetic community of researchers out there who every single day are a support mechanism for unleashing your potential as a researcher. For example, the OpenCon community is something I would not be part of without dabbling in social media, and through it learning about the open access trade. OpenCon was the first time as an academic I felt truly passionate about, well, anything - it was like an inferno was lit inside me, and I felt this burning desire to commit to this vision for an ’Open World’ as much as possible, and to help others see it too. Two years down the line, I spend every day now supporting the principles of open through various aspects of the scholarly communication process. Social media plays a huge role in this, as part of a massive scale structural re-think towards how we treat and regard knowledge as a society. Social platforms help us to re-shape cultural attitudes towards knowledge generation, and the sharing of that knowledge for the betterment of everyone. Being open about my own research and sharing my work on social media as it was still ongoing has led to many successful collaborations. I have been fortunate to be included now on three research publications, which I would not otherwise have been involved in if other researchers involved hadn’t seen that I was working on similar things by sharing them on social media. In an academic climate where papers are still the trading currency, this collaboration has been invaluable in improving my profile as a researcher, but also in opening up a whole new channel of learning that otherwise would have been closed to me. Often with social media, it’s not obvious what opportunities will present themselves, but you sure as hell won’t find out unless you actually give it a shot and make a commitment. As well as for academic networking, social media can be a powerful platform for public engagement. It is imperative that scientists bond more with wider society to help foster a greater understanding of the world around us. Indeed, what’s the point in doing research after all if no-one is going to learn from it? In spite of this, using social platforms in this manner is still often viewed as superlative to the ‘real work’ of researchers. So, research. Often when people ask me about Twitter or blogging, they say “Oh, that must be good for your CV”, or something similar. Which kind of misses the point entirely - we do these things because of a deep belief that science belongs to everyone, not to parade ourselves around in public. It needs to be seen that research and broader dissemination of research are not disparate, opposite, or disconnected. Research has not been complete until it has been communicated in the best possible way to the maximal audience possible. Realisation of this is the first major step towards embedding a wider sense of ‘science for society’ in our research culture, and being part of reaching a collective vision that science belongs to everyone and not just the priveleged few.
“Honestly, I think you’ll like it!” said my then boyfriend (now husband), when trying to persuade me to join Twitter back in 2011. The baffled, confused expression on my face was followed by “why on Earth would I want to waste my time following celebrities? Who cares what Lady Gaga eats, drinks and wears? It’s not for me.” Famous last words. Like many academics, I was blind to the potential of social media. Yes, you can choose to use it to follow celebrities, TV programmes, amusing memes and your friends & family (nothing wrong with that, I do it too!). But, as an academic, you also stand to gain so much from it if you are willing to invest a little time. When I eventually took the plunge and joined Twitter I was coming into the second year of my PhD and quickly realising the importance of growing my academic network. Of course, I fostered relationships at conferences, but my research budget was tight and international travel limited. My strongest links were, naturally, developing with scientists, in my broad field, in the country I was working in. In the competitive world of academia, I was all too aware that if I wanted to progress my career I needed to expand my horizons. Twitter was a game changer. Unbeknownst to me there was this invaluable, (quickly growing) online community of fellow scientists. All of a sudden, I was able to connect with researchers across the globe, regardless of geographical location and career stage. Not only that, they were having interesting and valuable conversations, which I was now privy to. I learnt about ground-breaking research and discovered a world of supportive PhD students who shared useful tips on how to survive the early days in the research world. I went from simply listening to conversations, to taking part in them and eventually sharing content which, to my surprise, people found interesting and useful. It took time, but I slowly carved out my small corner of the twittersphere. One where my opinion was sought and where I was known – I was successfully growing that all important network! But I didn’t approach social media exclusively with a ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude. Throughout my PhD, being a researcher, paid to do my work by public funds, I had a strong sense that it was important to give something back. Science forms the basis of so much of our daily lives, yet it goes unnoticed by so many. Social media became the platform where I (and many others) could reach out about my work, about the importance of science in general and about why it is important to communicate it. Since that fateful conversation back in 2011, not only have I changed my tune about Twitter, I’ve built relationships that now form the basis of a number of working collaborations (past and present). My network of contacts far exceeds anything I might have been able to cultivate otherwise. I draw on these contacts often and sometimes I can even return the favour! On a very personal level, it is heartwarming that I now call some of my followers, friends. Importantly, the time I invested in nurturing my social media presence and building my network has, and continues to, open many doors. My work as a science communicator, particularly using social media platforms, slowly got noticed. Since, I have been invited to speak on panels about using social media as an academic, to join a blog network and I’ve been asked to deliver workshops to PhD students on how to use social media in a research context. Above all, had I not pursued science communication using social media and blogging, even when my supervisors weren’t supportive, I wouldn’t have landed my current job. Things are changing, slowly, but there is (still) hostility towards those in academia who chose to devote, even a small fraction of their time, to outreach via social media (and other forms of outreach too). Social media is not for all academics. I understand and respect that. Even if you only dabble in it, it requires you to dedicate time to it; time, which you might decide is better spent on other activities. That is ok. Still, regardless of whether you choose to embrace it or not, social media is a powerful tool that researchers can use to reach out to others less familiar with their subject, as well as make their work open and accessible. It isn’t, or doesn’t have to be (like I once thought and many still do), about what Lady Gaga had for lunch. Just because it’s not your bag, doesn’t mean it is not worthy and valuable.
Social media is like a magnet that can draw attention to our research One day I received an email from a researcher who is living in Japan. He said there’s something wrong with my supplementary data set which was published in a paper in 2014. Apparently there was a miss-location in one of the coordinates. Recently, I received an email from a fellow researcher from UK asking for my availability to be the co-PI (Principal Investigator) on a project. Both researchers said they know me and my work from social media. I EVEN GOT INVITED FOR A COFFEE SCIENCE-TALK ORIGINATING FROM A “MENTION” ON TWITTER. Social media opens what once a closed-loop Although Indonesia is the 4th most populated country in the world, it doesn’t make our research have more impact. This is mostly due to language barrier and limited network. FOR YEARS WE TEND TO DO RESEARCH ONLY AS PERSONAL OR ORGANIZATIONAL EVENT, NO MORE AND NO LESS. Nevertheless, out of that manner, we demand acknowledgment, citations, and better yet we use that citation counts to judge who are more prominent than others. Research had been placed as a closed-loop activity, with no attention from others except the team member itself. More and more research will ended up as closed report and then locked up in somebody’s drawers or some dusty shelves in the library. Social media could be the answer we’ve been looking for. Continue reading and we will show you that IT IS THE ANSWER WE’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR. Please kindly visit my ScienceOpen interview with Jon Tennant. Social media creates and opens more doors of opportunity Before we know and use social media, as academics living in a developing country, we have suffered from brain drain, lack of ideas, lack of facilities, lack of information and limited network. Today, we can harvest ideas in a snap, add some thoughts, and having more ideas in return. We can exchange ideas with people from the other side of the globe (or other part of the world, for those who believe the earth is flat-your choice). We know about the latest work/ scholarship offers within minutes. It is that easy. We read more science than ever before; we learn from it and disseminate it further. Borrowing [@Thesiswhisperer](www.twitter.com/thesiswhisperer) ’s words “WHEN I READ THE TWEETS OF OTHERS I CONSUME THEIR THOUGHTS AND IDEAS”. We believe people now capture ideas more quickly from social media feeds. Instead of have a direct conversation, most of us are now skillful in fast reading and typing to explain something in less than 160 characters. Social media attracts more scientific-generousity So you might ask what did we and so many others do on social media. Did we just create and respond to random posts or chats, spend more time on it than on our real work, the one we get paid for? No, we simply share what we know and re-tweet others’ that we thought would be valuable for our followers. It could be an inspirational one, a knowledge-driven one, or even a funny one. We don’t intend to brag (or humblebrag) about what we do, we’re just letting others know what we have achieved, and what we have not due to many obstacles. Share the ones we know and the ones we don’t. A KIND SOUL WOULD STEP FORWARD AND TELL YOU WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOUR WORK AND HOW YOU CAN MAKE IT MORE SOUND. Social media multiplies learning curve Many times, we just send out words. We don’t know who would read nor deeply care about them, but oftentimes people just show up and send us their opinions, corrections, and inputs to expand and enrich our work. On the other hand, simplest rule of nature applies, “you reap what you sow”. SOCIAL MEDIA IS A GIANT ‘TAKE AND GIVE’ SPYDER WEB. We share solutions, instant help, or just send our sincere and deepest sympathy. In the future, others will help you in a way you could never predict. OUR NUMBER ONE MOTTO AS HEALTHY AND BREATHING ACADEMICS IS ‘THE MORE WE SHARE THE MORE WE LEARN’. Isn’t it a wonderful way to live our life?
They say that life is full of surprises. That is the understatement of the moment, especially as it relates to the integration of social media within our career trajectories. It is difficult to imagine where I would be in a professional capacity in the absence of social media. My journey in the world of social media began over four years ago, where I facilitated the development of an educational blog known as Emergency Medicine PharmD, which is aimed at defining the role of the emergency medicine pharmacist. My involvement in the blog has allowed me to unite several passions of mine in one vehicle: research and lifelong learning; writing in both scientific terms and prose in the form of storytelling; and emergency medicine pharmacy. At around the same time, I created a professional Twitter account as a means of disseminating newly published entries from the blog to those who followed me in addition to sharing articles and interesting posts related to the practice of emergency medicine pharmacy. In serving as associate editor of the blog, having authored over 75 educational entries since its inception, and through my active engagement on Twitter, my contributions within the world of social media has propelled my professional career as an emergency medicine pharmacist in ways that I never thought could ever be remotely possible. I realized early on that social media can be leveraged for research purposes and to date, I have had formal publication of three research papers in the medical literature related to social media and pharmacy. With this, I have also been able to interact with several other individuals within the international community of emergency medicine clinicians and collaborate on blog posts and podcasts on various topics as well as participate in research studies and other such activities. Last year, I joined a team of emergency medicine pharmacists from around the country in producing an online curriculum called the Capsules series, which is focused on creating educational modules related to practical pharmacology for the emergency medicine practitioner. One of my greatest achievements to date has been being elected to serve as incoming chair of the Emergency Medicine Practice and Research Network of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy, where I will take the lead on various activities throughout my term on behalf of more than 1,000 members of the network in this national organization. Finally, in their provision of prescriber and patient education related to medication safety, the Food and Drug Administration (yes, THE FDA) cited one of my own blog entries as a featured reference in a recently released drug safety warning. That was the icing on the cake; to have a major federal agency cite my own writing on an education blog in their efforts to enhance medication safety was not only a “mind blown” moment for me, but it also reflects a turning of the tide, demonstrating that our contributions in social media can be influential on the grand scale – and that you never know who may be following your work in these outlets. These opportunities serve as conversation starters of the penultimate question related to social media: “What’s next?” There is room for improvement in this medium. We need to begin to develop those discussions with folks who may be of the “traditional” mindset, particularly those who may serve on promotion and tenure committees, on the value of social media in professional development in a manner that they can understand and appreciate. No longer should it be conventional to scoff at social media for all of its associations with frivolity and “time wasted”, which has been a traditionally held attitude in the past. As more and more academics, researchers, and clinicians professionally engage in social media, it is also important to recognize the opportunities that arise as a result of their involvement. In addition, social media is not without its shortcomings, not unlike any other medium where information is shared, and one area is in the lax peer review process. There can be any number of methods for conducting peer review, whether it be pre- or post-publication, of material that is open access and available for wider web of readers and users. If this is conducted as a means to enhance the accuracy and quality of information shared within the resource, it may facilitate presentation of the medium in such a way that members of promotion and tenure committees may recognize and value, and perhaps become more receptive in accepting these materials as scholarly activity in the same manner as traditional print publications. Suffice it to say that social media is indeed here to stay. The window of opportunity in the world of social media is wide, and through these improvements, research and discovery can progress to support and further the work of contributors of this movement.
As an undergraduate network science researcher, I use social networking platforms to keep abreast of cutting edge research and publications in my field, engage in larger conversations with leaders in my own and adjacent fields, and enter into personal conversations that have extended beyond social media and into real friendships and mentorships. These opportunities did not exist in the same magnitude before the advent of modern social media, nor did the analogous version of these opportunities have such low barriers to entry. Because of social networking sites, I have had to the opportunity to expand my peer group, mentorship circles, and overall access to the frontiers of numerous fields of academic research far beyond what was available at my own university and social circle. As a senior in college, trying to figure out what academic path I should take after graduation, the conversations I have had with both groundbreaking academics and PhD students alike, across a broad range of scientific fields, from architecture and urban planning, computational biology, particle physics, and natural language processing, to name just a few, have been extremely fruitful in guiding me toward a broader perspective both in terms of my personal and professional trajectory, and my active research project. For my senior thesis, I am working on a computational and mathematical epidemic model for the spread of the Zika Virus. While my thesis advisor has been tremendously helpful in providing me support and guidance and answering my questions, I have also gained a significant amount of my current knowledge from following the right accounts on Twitter and reading the articles, both general and scholarly, that they tweet out to their followers, as well as the ensuing conversations that occur with other experts on their profiles and the larger social media sphere. When trying to develop a model for the spread of the virus, I stumbled upon papers and comments discussing the spreading phenomenon of memes on twitter and then witnessed their spread firsthand through the very discussion. An experience like that gives deeper and fresher insight into the underlying science than just diving into journal articles with techniques and ideas that are at least 6-months old. Rather than detract from this phenomenon, by alleging that it is without precedent and not in the spirit of scientific discovery, or that it may only serve as a distraction, I embrace the shift to lively discourse on these social networks, where everyone from the top academics in the field, to students, to interested lay-readers can contribute their voice to the conversation and join together to create a vital spirit of science, discovery, and discourse that is the heart of modern scientific research. Improvements to the ad-hoc social networking that is currently done in science could include introducing semi-formal discussion forums that help to foster a sense of community and enrich the discussion by situating it within a digital place and time rather than the current seemingly random diffusion of ideas. This random diffusion is still very valuable and should not be disregarded, but can be enhanced by adding this second, organized component. Cultural attitudes that need to change center around the majority of academics’ disregard of social networking sites as silly and not part of ‘real science.’ Ways to adjust this attitude would be to engage in campaigns on campus to bring more academics into the social media fold by creating accounts with them, showing them relevant sources and people to follow, both within their field of expertise and the larger scientific and popular discourse, and slowly chipping away at the inherent bias against engaging in meaningful discussions online.
I started a Twitter account in 2010, during my first year of graduate school, because I was told I needed to. Not by my graduate program, but by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). I had just been accepted to be an official “neuro-blogger” for the SfN conference – an annual gathering that draws over 30,000 attendees. The requirements for outreach were minimal: at least one blog post per day during the conference, preferably within our assigned “theme”. Additional postings were encouraged and Twitter accounts were mandatory.
Graduate school is notoriously lonely- so I’m on Tinder. And so is the rest of my lab. I’ve seen your profiles, guys! For those unfamiliar, Tinder is a dating app that allows you to very simply browse mates by viewing pictures. You swipe left if you don’t like what you see or right if you do. It’s a social networking site in that it allows you to sort through other people nearby and interact with only those that also swiped right on you. All people, not just grad students apparently, get lonely so Tinder represents a relatively diverse cross section of the population. I’ve met people on Tinder with professions from house painter to software developer to professional clown (swipe left, swipe left!). Now as far as social media goes, it is generally well integrated into my professional life. My advisor is active on twitter, regularly posts on her blog, and encourages us to use online platforms for everything from notebooks to lab organization. We are a modern lab. But this social media communication that we typically practice, such as live tweeting conferences or posting on ResearchGate, ends up being almost exclusively scientist-to-scientist communication. While students should be sure to integrate this sort of communication into their work, most of the world is not populated by scientists. Most people are house painters, software developers, clowns, etc. and my time on Tinder has taught me how utterly incompetent we are at communicating our work with them. As a bioengineer with an emphasis on genetic manipulation, I tend to get a pretty formulaic response from new people. “Oh wow, bioengineering. Miss smarty pants over here.” There’s a certain level of pedantic shock and surprise when you’re young, blonde, female and a PhD student in STEM. This is usually followed by some joke, always pertaining to possible nefarious activities that I might be undertaking in the lab. “What kind of super virus are you cooking up?” “Resurrect any dinosaurs lately?” When I first started talking to people on dating apps about my career, I was shocked by how many assumed I was getting a PhD in Evil. Most people go into my field with the intention of curing cancer, not causing vast global plagues. But our portrayal of scientists in pop culture as generally a little whacked in the head, and superstitious fears of GMOs explain a lot of this. Many people have no picture of what a scientist, bioengineer, or other STEM professional looks like outside of the general stereotype of an old white man with crazy hair. We have done a terrible job showing non-STEM folks that we can be women, people of color, queer, etc. And we have failed in communicating the motives behind our work to them. Tinder has put me into contact with more diverse groups of people than any other social media platform. My list of Facebook friends and Twitter followers is full of scientists like me, but I swipe right on people from all walks of life. Over time, I’ve developed an elevator speech for my work that I can give to non-scientists. I’ve figured out ways to define complicated topics like horizontal gene transfer in metaphors that make sense to a broader audience, ie that bacteria swap genes like Pokemon cards. I’ve become able to talk about complex biological engineering with people who haven’t taken biology since the eighth grade. And these new skills from late night chats and many, many first dates, have improved my science communication skills vastly. I have translated them into speaking clearly with possible funding agencies, improving my K-12 outreach, and describing my work to broader media outlets. But I shouldn’t have had to learn this through Tinder. If we ever hope to see strong funding for science, public understanding, science-conscious policy making, and true diversity in science, we need to shift our communication style. We need to learn in the course of our studies how to communicate outside of our special little STEM club. There is a world of house painters, software developers, and clowns out there that is curious but hopelessly uninformed. We’re the experts and the onus is on us to be able to keep them in the loop by including them in our target audience for communication. We have the luxury of knowing how to find answers in databases, understand primary literature, and think critically about data. Joe from Tinder never learned this stuff. It’s our job to make sure that when we publish a paper, we blog about it in a way he can understand and that is still accurate. It’s on us to ensure that this makes it to media outlets that he uses. And it’s our job to make sure that when we match with him on Tinder, we know what to say.