Using Twitter in science: advice for graduate students

I recently gave a hands-on workshop to graduate students in our department about using Twitter in science. As part of that workshop, I provided some bullet points about this social media tool, and I thought it might be useful to share these perspectives more broadly!

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Twitter can be useful for:

  • Filtering, accessing science stories relevant to your field of study (e.g., EurekAlert!, news media, science writers)
  • Assisting with your career (job ads, getting to know potential colleagues/supervisors)
  • Creating a research network
  • Doing research
  • Forging collaborations
  • Attending conferences virtually
  • Engaging with a broader audience (e.g. Directly or through journalists, media offices, science writers)
  • Social justice, political change, activism
  • Being inspired by great thinkers, innovators, writers, scientists etc
  • Seeng the human side of science
  • Becoming a better writer and science communicator
  • Track the reach of your work (analytics)

When using Twitter as a scientist, here are some things to think about:

  • What you might want to do on Twitter? (Learn? Engage? Have fun? Grow a following? Do research? Promote your work?). Craft your profile and approach based on these objectives (Note: this can change!)
  • If your objectives are about science, find a balance between professional/personal (actually: ALWAYS think about this… And remember that “personal” is seldom completely private with social media tools)
  • Don’t overwhelm your followers with self-promotion
  • When tweeting try to “Be professional, and Be positive” (note: I learned this advice from Adam Taylor who runs #SciStuChat)
  • You don’t have to Tweet to be on Twitter: Watch and learn before jumping in (many months, perhaps!)
  • Curate who you follow carefully (Don’t be afraid to unfollow people)
  • Don’t obsess about growing your own following: this will happen over time
  • Don’t feel you have to read your entire feed: important and interesting content appears multiple times
  • If you per objective is to share content, aim for information-rich tweets (links/photos etc)
  • Use “draft” features – sometimes it’s good to write Tweets without sending them right away.
  • Learn how to use Hashtags effectively (they are, essentially the “magnets” of the Internet)
  • Own up to mistakes / apologize
  • Give credit where it’s due, especially when thinking about sharing photos or art: ask permission before sharing!
  • Curate content! (e.g. “Like” button, or better yet, another program – Pocket, Evernote) – it’s easy to forget about neat things you have seen on Twitter, so it’s important to find ways to save the things you may wish to find later on.

Caveats:

  • Twitter can become a time-waster and great procrastination tool: learn to be careful with your use
  • Often, your community ends up being limited to like-minded people
  • It’s easy to get embroiled in debates and controversy: be careful
  • Trolls can ruin everything; people can be jerks.
  • Twitter is certainly not for everyone

There are heaps of other resources out there, and I do recommend checking out this page on Science Borealis.

Have things to add? Please comment, below!

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Happy New Year (and the year ahead)

Welcome to 2016! Over the holidays I have been thinking about the past year, planning new projects for 2016, including taking stock of this blog and where it’s going.

Last year was terrific year for this blog – I managed to publish 69 posts and over 240,000 visitors came to Arthropod ecology (thanks in a large part to xkcd linking to my ‘you are always within three feet of a spider‘ post). Spiderday was successful, and I remain so thankful to everyone who reads, shares and comments on my posts.

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The time investment for blogging is not insignificant, and I do sometimes question whether it’s worth it. I enjoy writing, and posting, but I also sometimes feel conflicted, as time blogging takes away from time doing other things. It’s also notable that engagement has been less this year (if measured by comments on posts), and all my ‘top posts’ are things I wrote years ago. Although I am posting at least once per week, I don’t invest the same amount of time with each post that I used to do. This may be because I have less time than I used to, perhaps I have less to say, or I’ve run out of energy for it (FWIW, I think it’s mostly because of time constraints). I also don’t much like feeling the (self-imposed) pressure to publish regularly. Heck – it’s supposed to be FUN!

I’ve therefore decided to shift things a little for this coming year on Arthropod Ecology. Here’s my plan:

  • Spiderday will continue, but instead of trying to post 2-3 times per month, I will instead save up the Arachnology links for a whole month, and publish Spiderday once a month – perhaps on the last Saturday of each month.
  • I will continue to use the blog to post about publications from the lab, and about laboratory news. It’s a great way to promote the work from the lab, and share exciting news.
  • I will try to publish one longer-format science post about once a month – I have a whole lot of ideas written down about things I would like to write about, and if I invest more in quality instead of quantity, I might get to some of these ideas. I’d like to get back to more in-depth treatments of topics, whether it is about arachnid research, or thoughts about teaching and higher education.
  • I’m also toying around with the idea of trying to use the blog for occasional shorter-format notes, whether it’s curious observations about nature, or as a type of ‘research notebook’ to toss out ideas and see if they float. I think a blog can be a form of journaling, and although I’ve not used in this this way before, I may give it a try.

I hope you like what’s in store for Arthropod Ecology for 2016. Thanks again to everyone who follows along, and I wish you a wonderful year ahead.

SciArt and SciComm at an entomology conference

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending the Entomological Society of Canada’s annual conference, held in Montreal. As usual, it was awesome: it was great to catch up with fiends and colleagues, and to hear about some amazing insect science. There was an active hashtag, too, that you can check it to get a sense of the breadth and depth of entomology in Canada.

A real highlight for me were the amazing conference notes that were sketched by the superbly talented Paul Manning*. I’ve certainly heard of this idea before, and read about how visual note-taking at a conference can provide new insights into the science, and enrich the experience, especially when shared with others. However, seeing this in action was quite special, and I was impressed with how Paul was able to grasp the fundamentals of talks, and draw out the key points. Case in point, check out this sketch of May Berenbaum’s talk on honey bees:

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Here’s another example, based on a talk about wasp (Vespula) alarm pheromones, by Sean McCann. Here, Paul guides us through the talk, by using simple arrows, but also uses different coloured boxes to illustrate the ‘introduction’ compared to the ‘methods and results’. The take-home messages are super-clear!

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And I am immensely grateful to Paul for doing  a visual sketch of my own talk, about the functional and taxonomic diversity of northern arthropods. It was a dense talk, and covered a range of topics, from ecological monitoring to complex measures used to evaluate functional diversity. Paul captured it very well, and was able to effectively get the main message of the presentation.

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In sum, THANK YOU, Paul, for doing this, and illustrating the different ways we think about, draw about, and communicate science, and showing how visual note-taking has immense value. I can imagine Paul will remember those talks long into the future, and he has a permanent record to show for it. Although I dabble in sketching here and there, I’ve yet to give this a try at a scientific conference. I think I ought to bring a sketchbook to my next conference: I’m inspired.

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*you can check out more of Paul’s great work on his blog.