Top tips for building science communities with social media

So a few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be asked to give a talk at the Nature Careers Expo in London about how to use social media to  build scientific communities. As part of this, there was a short panel discussion afterwards with myself and Sarah Blackford from the Society for Experimental Biology, and Nature have made a few short videos of some of the responses available!

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Spice up your science with these 10 simple steps

This was originally posted at http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=1168

What an awful title, eh. Well, you can avoid making this mistake! A recent Guardian post by Conversation UK’s Akshat Rathi (he’s popular on the blog today!) discusses some of the common mistakes in popular science writing and how best to avoid them. It’s fairly general, and by no means exhaustive, and mainly for more writing about science than science writing (er, the latter being formal publication in peer-reviewed journal, I guess).

But a more interesting recent find was a wonderful paper by Kaj Sand-Jensen from 2007 entitled ‘How to write consistently boring scientific literature‘,  all about, well, you guessed it, avoiding some common pitfalls when writing science articles. So in true Buzzfeed style, here are the top 10 tips of how to be a terrible science writer, with some personal comments after.

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Social Media for Science Outreach – A Case Study: That social media thang

This was initially posted at: http://www.nature.com/spoton/2013/04/social-media-for-science-outreach-a-case-study-that-social-media-thang/ as part of a series of case studies exploring how academics use social media.

Jon began university life as a geologist, following this with a treacherous leap into the life sciences with a course in biodiversity and taxonomy. Now undertaking a PhD in tetrapod biodiversity and extinction at Imperial College London, there was a brief interlude were Jon was sucked into the world of science policy and communication. He blogs at http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/, tweets as Protohedgehog and co-runs an [infamous, probably] podcast series called Palaeocast. Jon can usually be found procrastinating in pubs, trying to exchange bad science, usually about dinosaurs, in exchange for food and beer.

Tell us a bit about you and your social media project

I’m currently a PhD student at Imperial College London, investigating the biodiversity patterns of tetrapods (anything with four limbs/wings/flippers) about 145 million years ago to see what we can figure out in a macroevolutionary sense, and whether we can find a ‘hidden’ mass extinction in the fossil record. I commit some of my time to 3 major social media platforms: bloggingtweeting, and podcasting, with a bit of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and others on the side.  These activities are less of a project, per se, and more just stuff I do in parallel, and often with overlap, with my PhD research.

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The values of social media and blogging for academics

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=517

At this years European Geosciences Union General Meeting (Vienna), I’ve been asked to be on a panel discussion describing the ways in which I think using social media and blogging can enhance academic careers. Sometimes, talks of this kind can be very echo-chambery, and there are plenty of really cool guides already out there online. This was a chance though to actually directly target a group of academics who may not have any experience of these things though, so was an opportunity to mobilise a new wave of ‘web 2.0’-active academics. Of course, I’m writing this in advance of the actual discussion, so it might be the case that only a few people turn up and live-blog the entire thing, in which case it might be viewed as a little preaching-to-the-convertedy.

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Relocation, and a chance to try some open science-ing

Shortly, this blog will be moving to a new home within the European Geosciences Union blog network! Somehow, they get the idea that a blog with the url ‘fossilsandshit’ would be appropriate for their needs. Anyway, as part of this, the blog needs to become more focussed. That means no more miscellaneous rants, no more diversions on to drugs policy, and much to my dismay, no more swearing*. Bollocks. What it does mean, is loads more Palaeontology! Possibly with some ranting (according to my tags, this is what y’all like the most anyway? How cynical.)

As such, it seems like a perfect opportunity to try something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’m sure many have done it before, or at least had the idea, but screw it I’m doing it anyway. In about a month, I’m starting a PhD in London! I’ll be investigating the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary to see if there’s a ‘hidden’ mass extinction in terrestrial organisms, as well as looking in detail at some groups such as atoposaurid crocodylomorphs. This is to feed into a much larger ongoing project to reconstruct the patterns and processes of vertebrate biodiversity from their origins on land to now. Neat eh!

This is what I think it’s going to be like..

So, with this in mind, and the impending relocation (although I’m not 100% clear on the details yet), I figured I’d try and sort of live-blog my PhD, from day 1 to day 1000, or however long it’s going to take. The idea is to open up the PhD process, by going into what exactly a vertebrate palaeontologist does nowadays, as well as the more general aspects of PhD life. This means going into the details of the processes, not just ‘hey look I didz a graph’, but ‘here’s how you can replicate this analysis 100% if you wanted, and here’s why it’s awesome/I’m doing it’. I’m still expecting this PhD to be an awesome ride, as opposed to some of the more negative stories floating around the interwebz recently, and hopefully will be able to convey this and show that doing a PhD is something pretty damn awesome still. Of course, it could be shit, and you might just read weekly posts of “added some data, computer died, beat up undergrad, ate soup made from cold water and ketchup”, and the like, but hopefully it’ll be a bit more of a dynamic insight than these delights.

Rationale: If I’m doing something I love, why wouldn’t I want to write about it, and if it’s something I think is awesome, why wouldn’t I wouldn’t to tell everyone else about it?? I wouldn’t be doing a PhD otherwise. Also, my memory is pretty naff, so it’ll be nice to have a record of the experience.

Some of you are probably thinking, ‘but if you open up your PhD, won’t you just get scooped on the idea you’re investigating?’ This thought has crossed my mind, but frankly, I’m not going to be doing anything that isn’t theoretically beyond anyone else’s reach anyway, as the data is all openly available, as is much of the software I’ll be using too. Naturally, I might have to keep some of the conclusions slightly secret, until I publish them in an open access journal anyway. Every publication I’m first author on in future is going to be fully available, as far as it’s possible for me to make in terms of content and data. Taxes paid by you all are allowing me to conduct this research, so I’ll be damned if a single aspect of it will be paid for again.

I’ll post weekly updates on here, and using Twitter under the #OpenPhD hash tag, when the time comes. What I hope this will achieve is some sort of dialogue were people can see not just the end result of research, but query the processes, and gain some understanding of the scientific process at the same time. And of course, opening up the discussion means that I might be able to crowd-source some valuable points of view from you great peeps!

Any feedback on this idea will be greatly appreciated, and if you want to join in then go ahead! The more the merrier!

Stand back, I’m about to try a science..

Source: Probably XKCD

*A separate outlet may have to be found for this, if (=when) needed