Twitter & Why Scientists
Recently COMPASS helped with outreach efforts for a paper on the benefits of comprehensive ocean planning published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Part of this outreach included tweets about the article from both the COMPASS Twitter account (@COMPASSscicomm) and from the personal account of our resident social media guru and Assistant Director of Communications @LizNeeley.
Together those tweets had 16,419 impressions, or opportunities to be seen, by Twitter users. Juliette Kayyem, who covered the piece in her article for the Boston Globe, had 11,915 impressions from her tweets. By Twitter standards, those numbers aren’t huge, but it’s not simply the quantity of eyeballs reached that’s so remarkable—it’s also the type of people the information reached. One of the people who retweeted the article was Ed Markey, ranking member of the House Resources Committee, who plays a key role in shaping the dialogue around the National Ocean Policy on Capitol Hill.
As the newest member of the COMPASS Communications team, I was recently asked to assist with a science communications workshop at Brown University. My assignment was to present a brief talk on Twitter: Why (and how) scientists should bother. Since this was my COMPASS training debut I wanted everything to be perfect, but with limited personal experience on Twitter, and a dearth of public speaking experience…I was pretty apprehensive. In the end, though, I had a presentation that I was not only proud of and believed, but was also excited to share.
As it turns out, I actually had a lot to say on the topic—which is great, because now just about everyone I tell this story to says…so…why SHOULD scientists care about Twitter? There are many other great resources already out there on the topic—like AGU‘s and Deep Sea News‘ posts- but below is a list that I’ve distilled as my answer. You should know in advance that Twitter is not for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a try. While the brevity of the medium may seem daunting, it helps to think of Twitter as an aggregator of voices answering the question “What’s Happening Now?” Armed with that understanding, there are a number of ways in which scientists can, and do, take advantage of Twitter:
It can be a useful teaching tool. Incorporating hashtags like Connecticut Ornithologist (and Leopold Leader) Margaret Rubega does with #Birdclass, can bring the field into the classroom, and add an extra layer of discussion to coursework that can include outsiders.
It can give you a leg up on the competition! Competition for funding, fellowships and jobs is fiercer than ever. Institutions and organizations often use Twitter to send announcements about these kinds of opportunities.
It’s a conference tool. Twitter is a great way to have a conversation in tandem to those at scientific conferences. It’s both interesting and useful to see what people find most interesting, and is a great way to follow important issues if you’re unable to attend in person.
It’s a forum for connections and discussion. It can be a way to connect your science to the outside world- to meet journalists who may be interested in covering your work, to find other enthusiasts in the field, and even to reach policy makers. There are also platforms to use these connections to fund, promote and get the general public excited about science through groundbreaking initiatives like #SciFund’s crowd funded science initiatives.
It can give you opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise. One of the most powerful stories I have about Twitter is that of my former boss Marilyn Terrell’s (@Marilyn_Res) connection with Andrew Evans (@WheresAndrew). Andrew met Marilyn through a series of Twitter interactions, and was able to leverage that connection into a feature story for National Geographic Traveler Magazine, and ultimately a full-time job as a blogger and Twitterer: he travels the world under the auspices of National Geographic, documenting what he finds along the way- a job, many would argue, is among the sweetest around.
Ultimately, my talk on Twitter at Brown was a success, both personally and statistically (I converted the entire class from suspicious to varying degrees of convinced!).
How have you used Twitter to advance your science? Meghan Miner was a Science Outreach Specialist at COMPASS from 2012-2014. This post was transferred from its original location at www.compassonline.org to www.COMPASSscicomm.org, April 2017.