By Yamina Pressler
As an avid Twitter user, fellow graduate students often ask me why I use Twitter, what I get out of it, and why they should join the bandwagon. I have heard questions like this time and time again, and the truth is, I have a lot of reasons to use Twitter. Particularly in the last three years as my career in science really began, I have found that Twitter has broadened my outlook on science, while extending my network of ecologists beyond who I meet in graduate school. Given all the many positive benefits I gain from Twitter, and the important role it plays in science communication now more than ever, I share with you all ten reasons (in no particular order) every graduate student studying ecology, or any field of science for that matter, should join the Twitter conversation.
Reason #1: Get your ideas out there!
Twitter is an informal venue in which to share your scientific ideas. Twitter connects academics and scientists with those outside of the tall walls of the ivory tower who are interested in their research. Twitter makes your ability to communicate your science easier in two ways: (1) you can gain an audience from the comforts of your own office, without having to jump through hurdles to recruit folks to come to your talk, event, or workshop; and (2) you don’t have to write some lengthy, momentous article or blog post to share your ideas – all you need is 140 characters. Perhaps even more importantly than sharing your ideas, is receiving feedback on those ideas. Once you have established a network of fellow ecologists on Twitter, your ideas will become part of the ongoing ecology conversation, and from it, fresh ideas may be born.
Reason #2: Stay connected with friends, colleagues, and collaborators
Arguably, this is one of the primary reasons to be involved in any social media platform. However, Twitter allows you the opportunity to maintain professional relationships with colleagues, collaborators, and fellow ecologists without bombarding them with (or being bombarded by) photos of your baby niece’s birthday party or grandfather’s new puppy, like you would on Facebook. Although not all Twitter accounts are strictly professional, many scientists use Twitter as a medium to discuss all things science, and you are thus spared all the personal details. That said, it is not at all creepy to meet a fellow ecologist at a meeting or conference and then find and follow them on Twitter. This way, your science network expands both in person, and on the twitter-sphere. You never know when those connections may come in handy!
Reason #3: Exposure to recent papers, new blog posts, and science news
Once you have established your Twitter network, your feed will become a personalized, curated, gold mine of science-related news. These days, Twitter is the primary way I hear about recently published papers – both from recommendations from my Twitter followers and from the accounts of scientific journals themselves. Whatever the mechanism, Twitter is a great way to declutter your inbox of all those journal emails that you automatically delete anyway. Determining which papers are ‘hot’, per say, is also easier on Twitter because important, interesting, and popular papers will inevitably come up on your Twitter feed more than once as the twitter-sphere chatters about its findings. Two easy ways to get started finding papers on Twitter are (1) follow the accounts of journals you frequently read – most ecology journals have a Twitter account by now and (2) check out #365papers – scientists post papers (new and old) that they are reading with this hashtag.
Reason #4: Creativity – a place for all your ecology jokes, poems, and art
One of my most popular tweets ever was a soil science joke that I found on the website Reddit and found too hilarious not to share with my soil friends on Twitter. Unlike LinkedIn, ResearchGate or other professional social media platforms, Twitter encourages creativity and silliness, because, after all, it is a form entertainment. Sharing your creations on Twitter not only helps you gain a wider audience within which to share your scientific ideas, but also boosts morale within your scientific network. Colleagues and collaborators are friends too; why not sprinkle a little laughter, art and joy into their day? Some of my favorite accounts to follow are science artists and cartoonists (like @beatricebiology) whose art often brighten my day and reminds me not to take my life too seriously. Your Twitter account embodies you, and all the quirkiness that comes with it.
Reason #5: #rstats… you’re welcome.
Every ecology graduate student has found themselves down a google or stack overflow rabbit hole looking for code to solve problems in R. (See this recent article I wrote on the last rabbit hole I went down.) Rabbit hole no more! Twitter has one of the most approachable R user communities on the Internet. The hashtag #rstats is reserved for questions and comments about R. Whenever I find myself at the dead end of an internet rabbit hole and have lost all hope in finding the answer, I head over to Twitter #rstats. I am continually impressed with the responsiveness of Twitter #rstats folks – in all honesty, I have never had an #rstats tweet left unresolved. But R on Twitter doesn’t end there! Many twitter accounts are dedicated to sharing useful R resources, tips and tricks (check out @Rbloggers for example).
Reason #6: Practice succinct science communication
At the core of Twitter is its 140 character limit. Although often a great challenge, cutting your ecological ideas down to 140 characters can help you cut through the clutter and get to the heart of the issue. Twitter is a fun way to practice the succinctness that is science writing. If you’re anything like me, your use of transition phrases in science writing have been criticized, or simply cut out of drafts by advisors and colleagues who have edited them. Eliminating the superfluous and being succinct in explaining your ideas is one of the keys to science writing. Twitter melds the casual format of science communication with peers and the greater Twitter community with the need to be focused and targeted when discussing scientific ideas. The average Letters to Nature paper is 1,500 words long. Let’s say the average tweet contains 10 words. So, 150 tweets and you are well on your way to writing a Nature paper? … Not quite! But practicing concise science communication via Twitter may help you get there.
Reason #7: Join conversation about sexism, racism, and other social justice issues in science
If you only know one thing about Twitter’s contribution to humanity, know this: Twitter has given voices to those who historically haven’t had one. In this way, Twitter has opened up the flood gates to alternative ideas and opinions that may have otherwise been difficult to access. On Twitter, like elsewhere on the internet, you can say whatever you want, and people do! Not only does Twitter give you a place to speak your ideas, it also gives you the opportunity to listen to those perspectives you may not have encountered otherwise, particularly regarding difficult to discuss issues. When it comes to science, Twitter conversations about sexism (#distractinglysexy), racism (#blacklivesmatter), and other concerning –isms (#climatechange) in academia have exposed me to important conversations that benefit my professional development as I strive for a career in academia. Whether or not you choose to contribute is up to you – but opening up your ears to these discussions can only help you become a more open-minded, informed citizen of our ecological community, and our field will be better because of it.
Reason #8: Job postings, grants & scholarships, short course info & more!
This reason just about explains itself. Twitter is a great place to hear about job opportunities, particularly graduate fellowships and post docs. One active member of the ecology Twitter community, @algaebarnacle, started a google doc of postdoc fellowship opportunities in ecology and encouraged her Twitter followers to contribute to the list. Her list has since grown to 85 opportunities all neatly organized in one concise spreadsheet! Twitter is also great for seeking out information on short courses that are available all over the world. You may be asking yourself, why not just look on EcoLog or one of the many other ecology opportunity websites? Well, the difference here is that Twitter allows ecologists to recommend these opportunities to their followers. For example, a postdoc position may become available and instead of hearing it from a generic email sent around to every ecology list serve plaguing your inbox, you see a tweet that your colleague, friend, or someone you respect in the field is recommending. But let’s be honest, with the competitive job market as it is any new medium for hearing about research and employment opportunities is welcomed with a smile.
Reason #9: Tracking local, regional, and worldwide trends beyond science
Keeping up to date with the news is one of the primary reasons most non-scientists engage with Twitter, and we ecologists are no different. Twitter is the perfect medium to filter the massive amounts of news-related content available on the Internet into a manageable form. With the ability to follow news connected to hashtags that are trending locally, regionally, and around the world, Twitter is great way to get outside your research bubble and remember there is an active, dynamic society around us. Particularly with the recent addition of Twitter Moments, users are now able to quickly access important news updates and engage in the conversation surrounding it. Although all social media platforms, including Twitter, can often turn into echo chambers where you are only exposed to the things you want to hear, any clever user can break through the walls of the chamber and explore the raw, unfiltered news of the world today. Twitter is an excellent way to stay in tune with the happenings of the world, even from thousands of miles away.
Reason #10: Wholesome ecology entertainment
Let’s be real here, the primary reason us humans engage in social media to begin with if for its entertainment value. I’ll be the first to admit that although Twitter has become a really useful tool for my professional development, it also serves to make me laugh, smile, and think twice about my place in the universe. When it comes to humor and entertainment on Twitter, ecologists are no exception! Themed hashtags often pop up encouraging folks to participate and continuing to build the ecology community in the twitter-sphere. Here are three of my favorite recent examples:
- All of us graduate students have experienced some sort of atrocious fail while doing field work. There’s a hashtag for that – #fieldworkfail – where ecologists post anecdotes and photos commiserating with friends and colleagues about the ups and downs of field work. (See this recent article on the topic.)
- Ever had the urge to express your scientific work via emojis? There’s a hashtag for that – #EmojiYourResearch – where scientists attempt to distill the complexities of their work down to a single tweet filled with emojis. Sometimes effective, although often just silly, these tweets will surely put a smile on your face.
- Scientists are humans too, humans are animals, animals have herd names… ergo, scientists should have herd names too? There’s a hashtag for that – #ScientistHerdNames – where scientists describe the members of their discipline with a fitting herd name. A personal favorite of mine is “an aggregate of soil scientists”. It doesn’t get much nerdier than this. You’re welcome.
Just like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Bringing your Twitter experience to a place that is mentally stimulating, meaningful, and professionally useful takes time and effort. However, Twitter allows ecologists to connect far and wide, making our discipline stronger and more integrated. I encourage you to explore the many uses of Twitter and contribute to the growing community of ecologists online. Go forth and tweet!