Awesome reading list on using social media in academia

A few weeks ago I returned to this blog with some reflections on a article about the use of social media by researchers in Denmark. I was disappointed to see that social media and academia in traditional journalist-based media is still portrayed mostly negatively.

In search of positive Danish experiences with using social media in academic work I called out to the Copenhagen Science Communication Facebook group (closed network). Being vacation time I didn’t manage to collect personal experiences with social media (I’ll give that a try later), but I was so fortunate to be made aware of an awesome reading list on using social media for research collaboration and public engagement. The list is complied by the Impact of Social Sciences Blog by LSE.

Some of the items in the reading list I have already touched upon on this blog (e.g. how Melissa Terras boosted the number of downloads of her scientific articles), but there are also some that are new to me and which add new dimensions to the use of social media in science communication.

Social media for sharing passion

A resource that I enjoyed reading is by Tim Hitchcook, a professor of Digital History at the University of Sussex. Tim Hitchcook doesn’t add anything revolutionary new or surprising to the arguments for using social media, but he phrases many of them very well. For example, I like how he describes social media as the perfect tool for researchers to share their passion for what they do:

The best (and most successful) academics are the ones who are so caught up in the importance of their work, so caught up with their simple passion for a subject, that they publicise it with every breadth. Twitter and blogs, and embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations at parties, are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.

And he goes on to pin point to two important aspects of using social media. First: Get started on integrating social media into your work from early on and gain by building-up your skills in communication with the public; and second, communicate about the research process itself – not just about the results, findings etc.:

A lot of early career scholars, in particular, worry that exposing their research too early, in too public a manner, will either open them to ridicule, or allow someone else to ‘steal’ their ideas.  But in my experience, the most successful early career humanists have already started building a form of public dialogue in to their academic practise – building an audience for their work, in the process of doing the work itself.

Finally, Tim Hitchcook addresses a concern which many researchers I talk to have about using social media. That it is time-consuming, and basically takes time away from doing other important things. Tim Hitchcook however points out that using social media may almost have the opposite effect:

The most impressive thing about these blogs (and the academic careers that generate them), is that there is no waste – what starts as a blog, ends as an academic output, and an output with a ready-made audience, eager to cite it.

I can only encourage you to read the blog post Twitter and blogs are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins is in its entirety. And also to take a look at Tim Hitchcook’s own blog Historyonics.

 

 

 


Back!… to a battlefield for researchers?

A year (almost to the date) has passed since my last blog post. How did time pass so quickly?* And how in the world do I get started on this blog again? Following developments in public health science communication and social media for science communication mostly from the sideline, how will I know what’s the latest development? Am I up to speed to write about this topic?

The battlefield of Facebook

FullSizeRender (1)

And then this weekend as I was flipping through the latest issue of the magazine of my Danish work association DJOEF, I came across this headline: “Forskerfejde på Facebook” (trans. Researcher fight on Facebook). A short article about Facebook as a place where researchers who dare to put themselves and their research out there are bullied and criticized and how social media is a big challenge for people working in academia. Although I agree that Facebook and other social media in some ways represent a challenge for the academic world, I was sad to see that we in Denmark apparently still are at level were social media is regarded only as a challenge and not as an opportunity for science and science communication.

FullSizeRenderThe article is in Danish but the illustration of the article is universal and very much covers the focus of the article: Social media is a fora for heavy criticism, for fights, bullying, hitting each other in the head and the researcher who enters the world of Facebook need to have tough skin and be prepared to be hammered by both their peers and the public. The rules of the game of are different. Social media have altered the premises for how scientific results can be discussed, is a key message in the article.

Focusing on the negative sides

Although short, the article is supported by a few cases of scientists fighting over Facebook. There are even a couple of researchers calling out for keeping discussions to the already existing academic circles and journals. But is this really a telling picture of how social media is used and the consequences they have in the Danish academic world today. I know the answer is no. So why, do I ask myself, why did the journalist not bother to find a positive case story as well or why didn’t he broaden out the focus from just Denmark to also look at international experiences and trends in using social media? At least just make a small mention of it. Yes, conflicts and dramas make good stories, but I think it is misleading only to portray the battles and disagreement and argue that only researchers with tough skin can successfully use social media.

Compulsory science communication education

The article confirms me in the fact that we still have a long way to go in taking in social media in science communication in Denmark. Much progress has been made over the last year for sure, but still I feel a dominating skepticism towards using these open interactive media in science. As is rightly pointed out by a specialist in social media from University of Roskilde and quoted in the article, we can only expect social media to play a larger and larger role in the scientific debate. Being in agreement with this, I really hope that science communication education and training, including using social media in the research process, could be made compulsory for all university students. Social media have so much potential for science communication that it would be a shame if all researchers who do not feel their skin is ‘tough enough’ would refrain from using it.

I’m back

So with this sad reassurance that there is still a lot to do on science communication and social media and lots of experiences to harvest from the world, I am happy to take up this blog again and explore, comment, recommend, learn and share with all of you what I find.

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*answer: a lovely little girl came in the way


A study and article not to be missed: Translating Research For Health Policy: Researchers’ Perceptions And Use Of Social Media

Had I got my arms free I’d write a long blog post with some reflections on this recently published study. But as at least one arm (often both) seems constantly occupied by this adorable two months old baby it os just too much of a challenge to sit by the computer and type long sentences.

But this article: Translating Research For Health Policy: Researchers’ Perceptions And Use Of Social Media is just too relevant for this blog to miss out on, so some quick one-hand typing is necessary. The study is also described in the ScienceDaily and basically highlights how health policy researchers lack confidence in social media for communicating scientific evidence. Most (especially the younger generation) believe that social media can be an effective way to communicate research findings but simply do not know how to use it and feel their academic peers and institutions do not value or respect it as much as traditional media and direct contact with policy makers. A super interesting finding which only highlights the need for integrating training in the use of social media (and communication in general) in the curriculum of health researchers and, would I argue, already from public health students enter university.

 

 


Online course in Public Health Emergency Risk Communication

In just a few weeks I’ll be teaching a class on Public Health Risk Communication, as part of the Public Health Science Communication course at University of Copenhagen. Despite the topic being big enough to cover a whole course in its own, it will with 90 minutes available only be possible to give a brief introduction to Risk Communication and public health. To compensate a little for this I have therefore been searching for possibilities for further studying, which I could recommend to the students.

Online course: Emergency Risk Communication

University of Washington

One of my findings is an online course in Emergency Risk Communication offered by the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice, University of Washington. It is free and takes only an estimated 2,5 hours (thus it is also mainly an introduction to the topic). I decided to take the course yesterday before adding it to my list of “further readings and materials in Public Health Risk Communication”.

Background information about the course

The course is very practice-oriented and less theoretical. The developers’ approach to the course and described target audience is that “if you work in public health, during a crisis or emergency, you will be likely to become a risk communicator, even if your job description does not include public information or media relations”. Therefore the course’s main objective is to teach how to plan for an emergency, create effective messages, and interact with the media and community in times of crisis. This is clearly illustrated in the below learning objectives:

After completing this course, you should be able to:
  • List some common reactions exhibited by the public during public health emergencies
  • Identify some effective communication strategies that can be used during public health emergencies
  • Communicate with the news media more effectively during public health emergencies
  • Work with the community more effectively during periods of heightened emotion
  • Participate in planning processes that can help your organization be better prepared for communicating during an emergency

A well crafted and structured course

All in all I found the course quite useful and very well put together. I felt it gave me a good basic insight into some of the main components of Emergency Risk Communication. It took me about 2 hours to finish, but it has materials for extensively further studying. Throughout the different modules it is full of links to guidelines, templates, check lists, background literature, resource websites etc. useful in developing an emergency risk communication plan or strategy. All the links are also collected in an easily accessible Toolkit, which makes the course even more hands-on-oriented and user-friendly.

Another great aspect of the course is that is makes use of many real life examples and includes for example interviews with public health professionals who suddenly found themselves involved in emergency risk communication. You are presented with a situation similar to what they experienced and is asked what actions you would take. Afterwards you are then presented with their actions and the outcome of that. This works very well and helps in keeping one’s interest and attention. The course also makes sure to use many different cases of public health emergencies covering all from outbreak of infectious diseases, food safety issues, environmental health risk, to natural and man-made disasters. Again, great to keep one’s attention and making it relevant to people working in many fields of public health.

Social media and Emergency Risk Communication

A very positive aspect of the course was, seen from my perspective, that social media and its role in emergency risk communication is given much attention. Many examples of its use is presented and it is consistently mentioned throughout the different modules of the course. Apart from being of course a super important aspect to include it also gives you a feeling of the course being up-to-date.

In conclusion, it’s definitely a course worth spending 2,5 hours on. As said it is not very theoretical or academic oriented, but it has great references if one feels like digging into more of that, and is relevant for students as well as public health professionals proned to get involved in public health emergencies in one way or the other. You get a nice little diploma when passing the final assessment test and can, if relevant also apply for official credits for the course.

Emergency risk communication course


#SM4PH – A Twitter chat on social media & public health

I actually thought I had blogged about it before, but a search through my posts shows me that the #sm4ph Twitter chat has been neglected. So hereby making up for that.

#sm4ph#sm4ph is a Twitter hashtag dedicated to exploring aspects of social media use and how it affects public health, including the academic field of Public Health and the public’s health at large. Until recently it was a monthly chat (although not really active in the second half of 2013) but since January 2014 it has been upgraded to a weekly chat. It is moderated by Jim Garrow, who is director of Digital Public Health in the Department of Public Health in the City of Philadelphia and works like other scheduled Twitter chats: A moderator choses (often based on inputs of other chat participants) a number of questions for discussion, which are then discussed at a designated time. The #sm4ph chat takes place every Wednesday at 9pm Eastern Time (which in central Europe time means at 3am (!))

Due to the time difference I have never been able to take part in the chat, but as with other similar chats an archive is stored and made available through a website (in this case www.phsocmed.wordpress.com). In addition, the hashtag is regularly used, also by myself, for tweets which relate to the topic of social media and public health. Doing a regular check-up on #sm4ph on Twitter is a great way to get updated on new studies, initiatives and people (mostly US-based) related to social media and public health.

#sm4ph twitter logoShould I next Wednesday night suffer from insomnia, I might try to join the chat. If not I will most likely be checking in on the Storify summarizing the chat afterwards. Of course the topic discussed is not always of interest to me, as my main interest is in public health science communication, but still it is a good way to keep up to date on ideas, initiatives and innovations in using social media for public health.


Teaching Social Media and Science Communication again

Earlier this week I had an opportunity to give a talk not on general science communication but with a zoom on social media and science communication. A field I truly feel at home in, am confident talking about and find super interesting.

The talk was in Danish and given to young researchers attending a Media course for researchers organized by the Danish newspaper Information (Informations Medieskole).

With only 45 minutes at hand I prepared a presentation of about 25 minutes, which seemed so little when there is so much to say and so many examples to share. It was a fine balance to find out whether to give a general introduction (including: what is social media?) or to give a more practical “this is how you get started” presentation. I chose to go for the first solution with a strict programme:

  1. What is social media? (5 min)
  2. How and for what can it be used? (5 min)
  3. Examples (10 min)
  4. Advantages, strengths, risks, limitations (10 min)
  5. Questions/discussion

As expected questions related to “how do I get started” popped up and so to say interrupted the flow a bit, but I guess that this, especially in new fields, is a common challenge and can really only be solved by allowing for more time or perhaps even a whole separate course on how to dive into social media as a researcher. If I was to do the later, I think I would have tried to build it around myself, and show how I got on board and started out from absolutely scratch. I could perhaps even have included a slide on my way to social media into my slides on this occasion. Perhaps I’ll do that next time.

Focusing on blogs, Facebook and Twitter

All in all the presentation went well. I decided to focus on three kinds of social media for science communication: the blog, Facebook and Twitter. Had I had more time I’d definitely included some examples of wikis too (I briefly mentioned it), but time constraints means cutting of and focusing.

blogs

As blog example I chose Rosie Redfield’s blog Rrresearch, which may be considered the executive example of a science blog and the impact it can have. It is a good case to discuss some of the advantages of science blogging including its speed compared to traditional journals, post-publication peer-review, transparency in research, getting feedback during the research process, responding to criticism as it occurs, allow for reflection and focus of thoughts and increased visibility and self-promotion. But it of course also raises questions such as validity, personal bias, time demanding, rushed and unreflected comments, violation of research ethics or institutional policies, risk of scooping etc.

twitter caseFacebook

For Facebook I took the I Fucking love Science page as an example of popularizing science and research in general, and The Center for Healthy Aging at University of Copenhagen’s Facebook page as a way of drawing attention to own research, attempting to initiate discussion and living up to donor wishes. And for Twitter I chose the Microbiology Twitter Journal Club (#microtwjc) and the tweeting done by conservator at Medical Museion in Copenhagen, Nanna Gerdes (@NaGerdes) on her work processes.

Discussion, points I tried to make and those that I thought of later

pictureAs I was ‘warned’ the students were a bunch of people with questions so the presentation of was interrupted by questions, which is great but of course also means that some questions would have been easier to answer later and makes keeping time a slippery task. Coming home after teaching I scribbled down some thoughts. Some especially targeted those students who are by definition skeptical and already think that they spend way too many hours in front of a computer screen. In bullet point format I thought I’d share some of these reflections with you.

  • A point I fear I didn’t make clear enough during my presentation: Social media are an excellent tool for communication with other researcher. Researchers on the other side of the planet, researchers in boarding fields. This has nothing to do with your communication department or with popularizing your research. This has something to do with your life as a researcher, your academic network, and your research process. It’d be a shame to miss out on an opportunity.
  • So far (at least), being on social media for research purposes is not a duty for researchers. It’s an offer, a possibility. If you actively chose to invest time in using them you have a chance of taking advantage of some their functions, which may benefit both yourself and your research. However, it does not come by itself. Social media is a give-and-take media, where you have to contribute/be active in order to benefit. It’s a matter of prioritization. (The same evening after teaching I went to visit my 92 very active grandmother who, if she wanted to, would have no problem using a computer or a mobile phone, however she has chosen not to. The same goes for using social media – it’s a choice.
  • There are pitfalls to using social media and you must use common sense as you do in any other kind of research related communication, discussions, methods, procedures etc!
  • You have to learn how to write a scientific article in order to be published in peer-reviewed journals. You have to learn how to use a smart phone to enjoy its benefits. The same applies to social media. It requires investment of time to get familiar and confident with it. That’s just how it is. But the more you use it the better you get at it. And don’t hesitate to ask people around you for advice. Just like you may ask for recommendations on what app to download to your phone when you go on vacation, ask your colleagues who they follow on Twitter, which blog they follow etc. People are willing to help.
  • On social media the person in charge is YOU. You set your own rules for how you use it, for how often you want to blog, check you twitter feed, respond to comments etc. If you don’t like the way communication people (at your university, in the press etc.) communicate your research do it yourself and supplement their work in a way you’d like to.

I enjoyed very much getting to talk about social media for research purposes, and just realized how much there is to say (making 25 minutes + 20 minutes discussion way too short time). It triggered me to revisit my own Twitter feed (which I have been neglecting lately) and to get blogging again. All in all great side effects.

Literature distributed in advance

In advance the students had been given three texts to read:


Teaching Marie Curie PhD students

I might worry a bit excessively before and be afraid that I won’t be able to give an interesting talk or teach students anything, but then while I’m doing it and afterwards I realize that I really enjoy it. Teaching.

Its been a year now since the public health masters course in Public Health Science Communication at University of Copenhagen took off. Since it finished in December 2012 I have only taught science communication a few times. Last week I got a new dosage of interaction with students to discuss the communication of science.

MariecurieactionsI was invited to give an introduction to science communication to a group of 14 PhD students under the Marie Curie Actions Initial Training Networks (ITN)The students all had a background in biology (or similar) and were just into the second year of their PhD. Most of them (if not all) were deep into lab science and were working at the smallest possible scale of the human cell and genetic materials. In my experience lab scientists often represents one of the most challenging group of researchers when it comes to arguing for why the should communicate science. Not because they don’t recognize it as necessary and useful, but primarily because they find it almost impossible to explain what it is they do. Overall these students were not much different.

Focus on you!

Why botherI had three hours at hand on what was equal to a Friday afternoon for the 14 students who after two weeks of presentations, social events and classes where looking forward to returning to their labs and weekends. Combined with the premises that this was an introduction to science communication I decided to try to make the class as fun and as interactive as possible and centered around the students themselves. My four main headlines around which the class was structured were therefore:

  • Why is it relevant to communicate your research?
  • Who would be interested in hearing about what you do?
  • How can you benefit from communicating your research?
  • Are there any tricks to making science communication easier for you?

We did a lot of common brain storming of why one should communicate science, who is involved in science communication and where it takes place. The students were actually pretty good at this at a general level, but when it came down to their own research it seemed like they ran into the barrier that their research field is just so difficult to explain… I hope that at the end of the session the students had gotten some new perspectives on how you can approach communication of your research. For example that research is not just about the facts, theories, hypotheses and results but just as much about curiosity, frustrations, hope, processes, challenges, dreams and collaboration. All things that can be easier to explain than the genetic description of what determines the structure of a receptor protein on a cell involved in the development of fat cells. Or at least easier for the outsider to relate to.

Practical writing tips

abstraction ladderI chose also to allocate some time to some practical communication (mostly writing) tips. Little things that can make writing a little easier, which I learned in School of Journalism. I tried to include some fun examples with little YouTube clips (e.g. The Great Sperm Race as an example of the power of comparison) and sound clips (e.g. Radiolab’s podcasts and experimenting with sounds). And then of course I tried to open their eyes to social media as something that is not only useful in their private life but could play a role in their research and research communication! When I mentioned the word ‘blog’, I saw many rolling eyes, but arguing that even peer viewed journals like Nature uses blogs seemed to legitimize the blog just a tiny bit.

All in all it was great being back in my teaching mode and I hope that the students got something out of it too. I look forward to my next teaching job which is in Copenhagen at Informations medieskole, where I’ll talking to Danish researchers about social media’s role in research and science communication. More on that to follow.