Why Twitter is worth a look for scientists

Why you should consider Twitter as a scientist.

Twitter. That´s this weird social-media thing with Justin Bieber’s breakfast and big butts, isn´t it? That´s right it is. One can get the feeling that 90% of the content is stuff like that. But Twitter is more – and we would like to show you why Twitter is (or at least: can be) an important tool for scientists and science communicators.

As you all know besides DOING science the most important thing is PUBLISHING and TALKING science. The classic way is publishing research in peer-reviewed journals and attending conferences for the very own research theme. Whoever was on a conference already knows that there is one more important or even most important thing: Socializing! Some people tend to say that the real scientific exchange is happening at a bar after the official conference. And that´s bringing us closer to a point where Twitter can help, as Zen Faulkes (@DoctorZen) says: Everything that happens on social media has been happening at conferences for as long as there have been conferences (informal conversations). ‘Social media is just the biggest research conference in the world’. So Twitter can help you getting connected to people in your field. Here are some tips how to do so:

#1: Follow interesting people.

You can start by following famous people you know from research papers. Unfortunately there are not many German university professors yet who use Twitter. It´s different in the Unites States where a lot of them are more into social media. Once you found interesting people Twitter will start to suggest more accounts to follow. There is one more thing on how to find worthy accounts: Check who is following whom. A good Twitter user should have a nice mix of own tweets and so called re-tweets. Almost every research subject has it´s own society. Following them on Twitter is a good start.

#2: Start interacting.

There are different possibilities of interacting on Twitter. The easiest way to show that you are interested in something is to favor a tweet – that´s similar to a like on facebook. If you think something is so important that you want to share it with more people, you can retweet it. You can either just retweet it or add a comment. The advanced form of interacting is commenting on other people´s tweets. It might feel weird to “talk” to strangers but most twitter users are happy to be seen and heard and it´s a good way for you to get to know people and to gain attention.

#3: How to put science in 140 characters.

As you might know Twitter allows you to use only 140 characters in one tweet. Everybody who reads papers knows that you need more space. So you have to keep it simple. If your message is longer you can link your tweet to another page, a blog, a research article or whatsoever. But even links might be too long. In this case you can use URL-shortener like https://bitly.com/, https://goo.gl/ or http://ow.ly/url/shorten-url. If your tweet is to long but you can find no way to make it shorter, the usual thing is to divide it in different parts and mark them like (1/3), (2/3) and (3/3).

#4: Use hashtags.

Imagine you are starting your phd and there is no help, you feel kind of lonely and desperate. There is a hashtag for people like you: #phdchat, #phdtalk or #phdproblems. That´s a way to find Twitter´s power: connecting people not by knowing them but via connecting hashtags. You might be surprised about the results once you´ve tried it. Another use of hashtags is to look up your field of research. You´re a drosophila-researcher? Great, try looking for #drosophila. You want to keep it more general? What about using #molecularbiology or shorter #molbio? Or #genetics? Give it a try and look up different hashtags.

#5: Let bots do the work!

There are a lot of bots on twitter, most of them are probably spam. But some are really handy. You are still interested in drosophila. So start following the bot @fly_papers and you will be kept updated on every paper published regarding drosophila. You can find more examples for helpful bots on http://ow.ly/MZQNc.


Accounts worth following:

@FromTheLabBench is an account by the science communicator Dr. Paige Jarreau. She is very active and even wrote her dissertation about twitter and science communication.

@NatureNews and @nature are accounts of the very famous peer-reviewed journal.

@sciencemagazine and @NewsfromScience another very famous journal.

@maxplanckpress one of Germany´s fundamental research organization.

@Fraunhofer another research organization

@spektrum a very nice German science magazine for interested people

@scilogs science communication and blogs by Spektrum

@Mediomix Our own twitter-channel. Science, communication and fun.

Further reading: