I’ve been inspired this week after winning tickets to see Alan Alda’s “Getting beyond a blind date with science”. For those of you who don’t know Alan Alda he is probably most famous for playing ‘Hawkeye’ in one of my all-time favourite TV series; M*A*S*H (as well as writing and producing parts of the show). More recently he has become an advocate for woman’s rights and active in promoting better science communication (through the Alan Alda Centre for Science Communication). Now I won’t give you a lecture on this because we could be here for hours so look him up yourself! You can read lots about Alan at the moment but there are also some great clips on youtube including this one on the ‘Flame Challenge’ which talks about what colour is (think it’s a simple question then you definitely need to watch this) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAFWJGK0G_A
Alan’s basic idea, as I understand it, is that by giving scientists improvisation lessons he can help them become better communicators. Now I’m not 100% convinced of this, I did a year of drama in high school and it didn’t make me a better communicator. But I do understand where he is coming from. As scientists we are expected to present talks and posters at conferences, give lectures to undergrads and as guests at universities/institutions as well as communicate with media if we are ‘lucky’ to work on something deemed interesting/charismatic enough for an interview. I say ‘lucky’ because for many of us we’d really rather not have the media attention. Honestly it’s a bit daunting; most scientists do not have any formal training in public speaking/teaching or media. This is not the reason we got into science and those that did now have jobs in science communication. So where does that leave the rest of us? Well maybe Alan is right, we just need to be able to think on our feet and learn to explain things in a way that non-scientists and even scientists outside our field can easily understand. I do have a bit of an advantage in this area, I work on very charismatic birds (which get lots of oo’s and ahh’s) and on aggression (which people can relate to) but I don’t have confidence. I do have bucket loads more confidence than I did when I started my PhD though and this blog and social media has a lot to do with that. Which leads me to part two of this post;
Oh where to start!? There’s facebook, twitter, Instagram, reddit, pinterest, blogging. Then there are the more professional sites like linkedIn, google+, academia.com and research gate. And that’s just the beginning! Don’t be overwhelmed just pick one and give it a go. Many people say if you don't have a google+ profile you may as well not exist in the eyes of employers so why not start there.
Why create on online presence? Well for a start you already have one. If you have published papers or belong to an institution that has a website (and really which ones don’t?), so why not claim it! Most journals now have a presence on social media so it’s quite likely your papers are already being shared online – so link yourself to the conversation! You might not think you have much to share and you might not be comfortable with self-promotion. Don’t worry you can be as active or passive as you like on social media. Being there and being quiet is better than not being there at all. In reality when you first start there aren’t that many people ‘listening’ anyway.
So they say doctors are the worst patients and it’s no different here, I’m not very good at following my own advice. I know I should blog regularly but in reality I tend to do it when I am avoiding doing the last edits on a paper…. And although I do tweet and have started to use Instagram, I am mostly active as the Australian Bird Study Association (ABSA). On some levels this has been very helpful – it has given me a fairly anonymous shield to hide behind and my ABSA accounts have grown much faster than my personal ones ever will – the @ABSAbirds account on twitter has 844 followers while I have just 162 as myself despite both being active for a similar amount of time.
Different platforms work better for different people. I find that twitter works very well for me, it’s easy to use and I can spend as much or as little time on it as I like. You don’t have to have a twitter account to see what’s going on so have a look. Twitter is also great for following along with conferences even if you aren’t there. The first conference I attended as a tweeter was the Behaviour conference in Cairns last year ( #Behave15 ). It was great! I felt so much more included and involved with everyone there than I had at other conferences. Before I even got there I had connections with other attendees and could see what social occasions were planned. I also could promote my poster and with multiple talk sessions going on at the same time I could read others tweets and didn’t feel like I was missing out because of schedule conflicts.
Most importantly when a Rufous Owl was found roosting outside the venue we could easily spread the word!
When in doubt just remember that the internet was literally invented to help scientists communicate with each other – it’s time to take it back!
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