Yesterday afternoon I attended a workshop called “Scientists and Social Media” held at the University of Washington as a part of a lecture series called “Beyond the Ivory Tower”. The workshop featured talks by Christie Wilcox (blogger for Scientific American) and Liz Neeley, assistant director of COMPASS, followed by a hands on workshop. As the Communications Officer for the American Fisheries Society UW student chapter that co-sponsored this event with COSEE, SeaGrant and others, I felt that it was important for me to attend. Beyond that, I attended for selfish reasons, to better myself professionally and do a little networking.
A couple of things really hit home for me. As a new twitter user, I didn’t realize how important it is as a tool for outreach. According to PewResearch, the internet is now THE primary source of news (link). This makes sense to me, as I stopped reading magazines and newspapers as my primary news source in middle school or highschool, and started getting all of my news via facebook, and more recently twitter. This seemed like a natural transition for me, but my generation is not the only ones making the switch. These days, the general attitude, especially of “the younger generation” (me!), is that if news is important, it will find me, as Christie aptly pointed out. Christie illustrated this point by discussing how twitter was a flurry with posts about the Japanese tsunami when it hit, and immediate updates when Osama bin Laden was killed. Nothing else can reach so many people so quickly all over the globe. I think it is also meaningful l for me as a “budding scientist” to feel that my work has a greater meaning and impact to society. The idea was brought up during the workshop that it is our duty, as scientists using tax payer money to do our research, to show the public what we are doing with their money.
Another important reason to use social media for science communication is self promotion. This has been true for me personally, even as a twitter newbie. I have made connections with people I never would have talked to otherwise, in Hawaii, California and many other places. It is easy to strike up a conversation via twitter with a complete stranger, much easier than cold calling. Overtime, I hope I will be able to cultivate these connections. Christie also brought up the point that highly tweeted scientific papers are 11X more likely to be cited! This stat blew my mind. Just by self promoting via twitter, leading to eventual retweets etc., I could get 11X more citations? I’m convinced. Christie summed this up well by saying “blog or be blogged”: your research will most likely be blogged about at some point, so why shouldn’t you be the one doing it?
It seems to me that science communication via social media is a new theme, and I am grateful to be in such a cultivating environment for doing so. I would encourage others to hop on the band wagon lest you be left behind! I welcome any comments to keep the convo going.