Monday, July 7, 2014

Scientists: How can you afford to not be on social media?

It's no secret anymore. Science has embraced social media in a way that will have many early adopters saying "I knew this was going to happen" and those yet to adopt it saying "What's all the fuss about? How can I get involved?

Using social media for science is like any other aspect of life that needs diligence and training. If you don't care about it or don't know what to care about, you'll be missing all the fun and rewards. I had the same journey. I questioned the value of spending bits of time on twitter or why people would blog - that seemed like a major time sink. But when scientists that i respected were so involved with social media, i felt compelled to figure out what they got out of it. There are far more virtues of social media that one could list in a short blurb about it. So I will boil some of my favorite aspects of social media down to three key points.

1. Staying in touch with the current literature - If you don't use twitter, then you likely stay on top of new articles by pubmed searches, table of content emails, and word of mouth. Twitter makes these methods seem archaic as following experts and their tweets brings the literature directly to you rather than you searching for it. It also comes filtered directly from the experts rather than through luck of finding the articles in a random search. Many tweets are just links to really cool articles that you would have seen six months later in a pubmed search; but because luminary X on twitter caught it first, you get to see it and integrate it into your science far faster. Also, sometimes the tweets to publications come with a fatal criticism or major complement - helping you to see where the community places the work. 

2. Staying in touch with conferences - It seems like there are more and more conferences that we all want to go to every year, but we don't have the budget to attend all of them. Twitter users will use hashtags (i.e., #ASM2014 for this year's American Society of Microbiology meeting) that you can click on and follow the conference in a virtual way that brings you the most exciting talks and key points right to your desktop or phone. Following conference hashtags has been of such tremendous value to me that I have at times questioned the need to go to conferences all that often. Moreover, if you're not at a conference, you can interject into conference happenings by tweeting to conference goers or using the hashtag to virtually place your ideas and "self" in the conference.

3. Giving your research wings - Both twitter and blogs are venues to disseminate research and the stories behind that research to those that care. You can hope that someone reads a table of contents and finds your most recent publication or they search for your work in pubmed, but why not cast your paper into their world directly through social media. In this fast-moving and competitive world of science, getting your student's work out there is important. Or for the assistant professor, how about expediting the growth of your international reputation by connecting with tweeters from across the world? It is lab policy that all students join twitter. Some use it more than others, but at least it is something they can test out and come back to if they don't like it at first. 

I like to think that twitter is my Department of the World in which collegiality by proximity is replaced by collegiality without borders. I can tweet research questions, follow my peer's work, go to conference seminars, talk about latest results, promote students all in the social media world. It takes far less time that non-users think, it is far more valuable too, and the only question left to ask is "How can you afford to not be on social media?"

Seth Bordenstein

Twitter: @Symbionticism

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