A perfect place to pick-up arguments for why scientists should be on social media

An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists‘. I have wanted to mention this article published in PLOS Biology ever since it came out in April 2013, but somehow never got around to it. But as I reread it earlier this week, I was reminded how this article must be mentioned on a blog like mine.

An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists is written by Holly M. Bik and Miriam C. Goldstein from University of California Davis and University of California San Diego and is an excellent place to start for researchers considering trying out social media or for enthusiasts of social media for science communication who are in search of good arguments they can use to persuade others of why they must set up a Twitter account, start blogging or establish some other form of online presence.

Research Benefits and flowcharts

Supported by lots of examples (with links provided to many of them!) the authors list a number of ways in which social media can benefit both the scientist and the scientific work. In short form these are:

  • How online tools can help improve research efficiency;
  • How being visible on social media helps track and improve scientific metrics;
  • How social media enhances professional networking; and
  • How online interactions have the potential to enhance ‘‘broader impacts’’ by improving communication between scientists and the general public.

flowchart

They go on to address different kinds of social media and how they can be used, and provide advice to new users on how to get started. A useful (and fun) feature of the article is a flowchart that can help newcomers find out which media might be most relevant for them to try out and solution to common online communication fears.

Acknowledging the stigma

Throughout the article the authors mention the stigma which is often attached to online activities. They acknowledge how many researchers are skeptical towards the media and regards it as a waste of time and a distraction from true scientific work. In a response to this the authors have set out to address some of the many misconceptions and misinterpretations of what social media can contribute with. And in my opinion it works. One could argue that they don’t spend much energy on the risks or disadvantages of social media for science communication (of which there are of course several), but they are plenty to be found elsewhere.

Need for formal training

Social media among scientists is quickly growing and will eventually become more and more natural for scientists to use (if not sooner than as the younger generation whom have grown up with social media enter the research arena). But until then there is a need to train on researchers and scholars on the potential of social media in academic work. Both to address the many misconception and skepticism but also to avoid researchers use it inefficiently or inappropriately. I could therefore not agree more with the authors:

“Social media and internet-based resources are increasingly ubiquitous. Thus, there is a pressing need for scientific institutions to offer formalized training opportunities for graduate students and tenured faculty alike to learn how to effectively use this new technology”.


What does Britain’s Science Media Centre (SMC) think of social media for science communication?

smcMost people working with science communication will probably have heard about Britain’s Science Media Centre (SMC) and perhaps also about its front woman Fiona Fox. In case you’ve never heard of it or can’t really remember what it is about the scientific journal ‘Nature’ recently published a news feature on SMC and Fiona Fox which gives a good overview of the centre, its concept and the critic it faces.

Science Media Centre (SMC) is an independent press office that works to get scientific voices into media coverage and policy debates. By doing so the aim is to improve the accuracy with which science is presented to the public. The Centre works with:

  • journalists by providing them with information about science and its related disciplines; and putting them in contact with relevant scientists
  • scientists, engineers and other experts by supporting them in engaging with the media and by creating more opportunities for them to get their voices.
  • Press officers by supporting them when they are working on complex science, health and environment stories.

In addition, the SMC provides expert advice and evidence on issues relating to science in the media.

I won’t repeat the background or work of SMC further on this blog but instead refer to the Nature article or their Science Media Centre website. 

Social media and SMC?

Reading the Nature article with the interview with Fiona Fox and looking at SMC’s website it strikes me how reflections on the use of social media for science communication seems completely absent. It is not mentioned once in the article and on the website they link to their own Twitter account and Fiona Fox’s blog, but other than that there is no reference to social media as a tool or as medium for science communication.

Even in their Top tips for media work to help scientists to work with the media social media is not mentioned with a word, despite the fact that social media provides an excellent opportunity for scientists to communicate their research. Neither is it mentioned in their 10 best practice guidelines for reporting science & health stories. Of course these two guidelines are meant to be a tool on how to prepare for meeting the scientist/journalist and interpret correctly what information they are looking for or sit with, but none the less social media is only growing in influence also among scientists, so advice on checking out if the researcher is blogging about his or her field or using other social media could be worth including. As could advice to scientists on using social media to communicate themselves and use this communication channel as a resource to guide journalists too.

In the Nature article, Fiona Fox says that the part of her job in which she takes the most pride, is convincing once-timid scientists to join the SMC database and speak out. “A real triumph for us is getting a scientist who has worked for 30 years on a really controversial issue and has never spoken to the media,” she says. I wonder if she also encourages them to take communication into their own hands and start communicating through social media as well or if she mainly thinks of them talking to journalists who then do the communication or sign up on the SMC scientist roster….. All in all, I guess I’m quite unclear about what SMC and Fiona Fox thinks of social media for science communication.


Trends in making a career in German science communication

Internships, coincidences, childbearing and passion for communicating seems to be key themes in making a career in science communication in Germany. At least those are some of the conclusions I made when attending Science Communication Career Day at Heidelberg University last week.

scicomcareerdayThe Career Day was all in all a good experience. Logistically well organised and with an interesting bunch of speakers. There was even ‘fancy new media’ involved. A hashtag (#scicomcareerday) had been assigned and it was enthusiastically noted when 20 tweets had been reached and later on 50 tweets! Being beginners in using this it worked remarkably well.

The day was organised with a first session focused on Press and Corporate Communication. The presenters were in general at the level of Head of Communication etc. They all came from a scientific background (predominately in biology and with a ph.d.) but had moved into communication. 5 of 6 speakers were women, and in presenting their road from science to communication they all mentioned “and then I had children…” as one of the reasons for leaving their academic field and getting into science communication, which granted more flexibility. Although many did say that they found communicating to be fun and through internships had found a passion for exactly communicating, I was surprised to find that none of the speakers of the session seemed to have a passion for their scientific area, and that it wasn’t a desire to communicate their knowledge which was of interest to them. My impression was, putting it a bit roughly, that their science background had basically just proved to be an advantage in getting jobs in communication… Perhaps one of the reason I got this impression was that the presenters where at Head of Communication level, and thus had gone on to much more than science communication and also (or primarily) worked crisis communication, corporate communication etc.

The second session made up for the tendency of working with communication in general and not specifically science communication. Especially inspiring were three communication officers from EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory) who with enthusiasm talked about the joy of communicating science. Again, it was clear that internships seems to be the thing in Germany if you want to get into science communication. When asked by the participants (who were primarily ph.d. students at University of Heidelberg) if they should go for getting an internship or take an extra degree in communication or journalism the response was either that it didn’t matter or that they should definitely go for the internships! Not being so well acquainted with how things work in Germany, to me it seemed at bit surprising that this was their main recommendation. I guess however it could be translated into: get practical experience! and that internships is one way of getting this.

All in all, it was a good day and it was fun to get into some German Science Communication. The round table lunch idea, where you could have lunch with a speaker was a good idea and worked okay. Being a career day the objective was of course to inspire to and show how you can also take your science career into a communication direction. This meant that at least the round table I participated in became very focused on the internship discussion and concrete questions about how these internships work.

For me personally, corporate communication took up a little bit too much of the day and I wonder if the participants, being mainly ph.d. students, wouldn’t have found it interesting also to hear about how getting into science communication doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to your scientific career and how science communication can help your scientific career – but perhaps that could be a whole theme for another career day…

In asking around for science communication networks in Germany it was my impression that there is not formal network and few of the presenters had knowledge about formal science communication training programmes at university (see below), but were much more practice based. As in many other places the science communication community seemed much more to be a personal network thing. Many of the presenters had either worked or done internships with DKFZ (German Cancer Research Center), who was also one of the main organisers of the day, and knew each other from there.

Three study programmes in Science Communication in Germany were mentioned. The all seem to be in German, but none the less I thought I’d share them here on this blog:

Science Communication M.A. (Wissenschaftskommunikation) at Hochschule Bremen – University of Applied Sciences

Science Journalism B.A and M.A. (Wissenschaftjournalismus) at the Technical University of Dortmund

Science Journalism B.A. (Wissenschaftjournalismus) at Darmstadt University