by Revathi Reddy
It is an exciting time to do science. It is an even more exciting era for the field of science communication. Scientists are now investing efforts to make science accessible to a wider audience. Doing so via social media fosters global communication, enables discussions even before they are published and helps receive prompt feedback. As scientists, many of us embrace social media in our daily lives. However, are we doing it right? How much of our time spent therein can help in cultivating our professional online presence? Does it make a difference? As I am a person interested in science communication, these questions started to bug me shortly after starting grad school. And in my experience, in a scientific landscape, I found Twitter to be the most engaging and interactive of them all. Why, you ask? Let’s go through it together!
The major strength of Twitter is – it is real-time. That means on Twitter, content is brought to you fresh out of the press and is updated instantly and constantly. On this front, no social media platform comes close. I have also observed that the scientific community is much more active on Twitter rather than other social media platforms. For the scientific world, Twitter is like a pulse of science on which you place your fingers and listen to what’s happening in your field. The crisp language of “tweets” coupled with photos, videos and links renders the platform extremely interesting and engaging. I see Twitter as a mega summer camp for scientists wherein you socialize, meet new people, make new friends, while learning some real good science. Apart from learning and networking, “tweeting” on this microblogging platform can be considered as a great writing exercise. From lab notebook to project reports, or from grant proposals to journal articles, scientists write a lot. Often, it is essential to communicate our research in a coherent and succinct manner. With its 280-character word limit, Twitter forces you to find a focus, make every word count and convey your thoughts in a way that would trigger interest among your followers.
Meet. Tweet. Network. Repeat
Grad students end up spending a significant amount of time attending meetings and conferences. How many of them are actually fruitful? How do we get the most out of conferences? If you are an introverted grad student like me who hates small talk, hesitates to network and finds the multi-day scientific extravaganza of a meeting overwhelming, here’s why you should consider joining Twitter.
Conference-specific hashtags are created before the event which enables conference attendees to share their thoughts by tweeting along. As such, live-tweeting is an excellent way to disseminate key points that you learn from a talk to a wider audience. In this way, you can virtually network with the speaker or fellow attendees beforehand and use it as a reference to strike a conversation in person. If you don’t wish to tweet yourself, you can start by joining a discussion under the same hashtag. When I practiced this for the first time at the 4th Canadian Glycomics Symposium (#CGSBanff), I immensely benefited from this exercise. I got noticed by fellow grad students and approaching the speakers proved much easier.
Notice and get noticed
Often, in huge conferences, it is only possible to attend one session at a time. Due to this, you may miss out on other sessions happening in parallel that may be equally interesting. What do you do? You can follow the conference hashtags and catch all the highlights without having to physically attend the talk. Similarly, when you are the presenter, how do you make sure that your work gets noticed amidst a sea of presenters? Boost your conference attendance by letting your network know that you’re participating, well before the event. A single tweet about the topic and timing of your presentation will portray your interest and excitement.
The Twitter starter pack
Whether you are on Twitter since ages or you are a Twitter neophyte, you want to ensure that you are making the most of the time that you are spending here. Thus, it is essential to learn the know-hows of this platform before taking the plunge.
Creating the right profile
Whether it is a prospective admissions committee of a grad school that you are applying to or a potential employer, the easiest way for them to know more about you is to do a google search on you. Unless you have your own website, it is most likely that your Twitter bio will pop up first whenever you’re googled. So, I would suggest to give a considerable thought behind your bio. If you are a grad student like me, a very basic description would be mentioning what you study and the lab or organization that you work at. You can also mention your interests, add links to your blog or website (if you have one) to make your profile even more worthwhile reading. The next step is to include a good and decent photograph of you as your profile picture. Having a professional headshot is a plus and looks even more appealing, but is not a necessity.
- The Twitter jargon
If #, @, RT, DM, DYK – these characters seem foreign to you, you are not alone. Every beginner has the same feeling. Click here for a handy list of Twitter jargon abbreviations along with their explanations that you will most frequently encounter on Twitter.
- To tweet or not to tweet?
Once you have your account setup and have familiarized yourself with the Twitter lingo, it is now time to maintain your online activity so that you are noticed. Sounds like a task? Don’t worry. You need not go out of your way to spend extra time to tweet. If you are not very keen on sharing your own thoughts and ideas to the Twittersphere, start by engaging in a conversation of your interest by looking for relevant hashtags. For example, I would search for #glycomics or #glycotime to participate in a glycobiology based discussion. Another easy task is to share another user’s tweet (also called as RT or retweet) which may be of interest to you and your followers.
Following your favorite scientists, lab groups, fellow grad students, journals and news sources will help you keep abreast of the latest happenings in your field; while sharing your own thoughts as tweets will eventually help you gain recognition in the Twittersphere.
I hope I have convinced you of the many benefits and provided tips to help you easily get yourself out there one tweet at a time. Looking forward to seeing you in the Twitterverse. You can follow me @reddyrevathi96, and make sure that you follow @glyconet_nce for timely updates on Canadian glycomics research, news, activities and events.