Twitter for Sci-Ed Part 2: Networking and connecting

This week, I’ll be talking about Twitter (Pic via Tweepi)

On Monday I discussed some of the reasons why I think you should sign up for Twitter, and why it is a useful tool.

Encouraging scientists to use social media isn’t a new idea. When I originally posted this piece, friend of the blog @muddybrown (you may remember him from the graduate school roundtable) pointed out a series by Christie Wilcox (@nerdychristie - you should really give her a follow). It’s a four part series, but definitely worth a read for another perspective on social media and science (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

Today, I’ll be continuing that discussion, but focusing on two other aspects of Twitter: How it can be used to get information that you wouldn’t otherwise, and how it can be used at conferences.

Reason #2: It’s a great way to get information you otherwise wouldn’t

You can use Twitter in many different ways. You can use it socially, posting funny comments, videos and pictures, or academically, posting links to interesting news articles and journal articles. Alternatively, you can use it similarly to an RSS reader or news crawler. If you follow organizations and individuals you find interesting, when they post links to new content, you will see it on your Twitter feed. Suddenly, you have a whole host of information being presented to you, and it’s been filtered by people for accuracy and quality. However, social media follows the principles of GIGO – Garbage in, Garbage out. If you follow celebrities, musicians and athletes, you’ll get tweets relevant to those people. But if you follow national organizations (the CDC, NASW, PLOS), you’ll get information relevant to them, which will be markedly different.

One of the most useful ways I’ve used Twitter is in “Twitter chats.” @NinaJTweets and @SaraRubin are two public health professionals who have set up #PubHT, which is a biweekly discussion group on public health issues. On the 1st and 3rd Monday of the month, at 9pm EST, a bunch of us get together to talk about burning public health issues (and occasionally non-burning issues, such as sharknado attacks). It’s been invaluable in helping me gain other perspectives, and has opened me up to a world of ideas and broadened my horizons considerably. But it isn’t limited just to this – Steven W. Anderson has compiled a list of Twitter chats here and you can see they range from coaching, to STEM discussions, to everything in between. Even if you’re not interested in participating, listening along can be quite rewarding.

In the same vein, it can help connect you with others in an informal setting. And what better way to connect than with humour! We talked about #overlyhonestmethods before on this blog, but other popular hashtags include #melodramaticlabnotebook and #sciconfessions all help break down the barrier than exists between the public and science, and shows that scientists have a sense of humour.

Twitter also useful as a networking tool. I’ve had the privilege of “meeting” some really cool people on Twitter, both academics and non-academics. In fact, I met Jonathan Smith through Twitter, and that was how the interview series that I did on my old blog started. It’s exposed me to a whole host of science bloggers and Epidemiologists I would never have met, and perspectives on education, healthcare, science and policy that are far outside my thinking (the way an economist views a healthcare problem is considerably different to a clinician for example). I’ve also made a point to meet up with fellow tweeps at conferences too in order to put a face to the avatar :)

And speaking of conferences…

Reason #3: At conferences, Twitter is invaluable for stimulating discussion and finding out what is happening in other sessions

This is one of the best reasons to join Twitter in my opinion.

Twitter is being used extensively at conferences. While some conferences have yet to embrace it formally, others are encouraging the use of social media, even going as far as “hiring” bloggers to cover the events; the National Obesity Summit in 2011 was covered by Travis and Peter of Obesity Panacea, and the Society for Neuroscience conference was covered by a host of bloggers, including friends of the blog Neurobytes.

Using Twitter, you can join conversations with other delegates, as well as organize meetings and events around the conference schedules – referred to as “Tweetups!” It’s a great way to meet new people. Indeed, I used it at the 2013 CPHA conference, and there were people who stopped by my poster because of my tweets. Christian Sinclair at KevinMD agrees, and provides other reasons. More creatively, at the same CPHA conference, Dr Martin McKee used Twitter to get questions from the audience after his keynote, giving a voice to many who might be too nervous to speak up in a room of 800-1000 people.

But here’s my favourite part. Even if you’re not at the conference, you can still be involved. Using Twitter, you can follow conferences in real time by using the conference hashtag. Delegates write short comments and quote speakers, and discussions stem from there, and you can ask for clarification, ask questions, offer opinions and thoughts and still be involved in the conference. I was following along with the #Scioclimate discussion on Twitter, and found it very helpful.

Skeptical?

Consider this: The 2nd National Obesity Summit in Montreal had approximately 800 delegates. Of those delegates, only a handful tweeted. Approximately 500 tweets used the #con11 hashtag, and those tweets reached upwards of 80,000 people. While the conference had enough people to fill a large lecture hall, those tweets reached enough people to fill the Rogers Centre in Toronto AND have people waiting outside.

The Rogers Centre can seat approximately 70,000. Tweets from the 2nd National Obesity Summit reached 80,000.

Especially for graduate students who may not have the time or funds to go, this is a great way to remain involved and learn about new research in your area.

Ed. Note: Twitter only keeps the most recent Tweets saved. So the #con11 tag is no longer active as the conference was in May 2011.

Similarly, you can use Twitter to cover any live event. The Golden Globes used the #goldenglobes hashtag, and people commented live as the event unfolded. The Canadian leaders debate used the #cdnpoli and #db8 tags. As the event is going on, people are voicing opinions, challenging what the speakers are saying, and posting quotes from the event. It’s a great way to get other perspectives on an event, and discuss it with others who are interested and passionate about what you are watching.

This can be completely self-driven. While conference themselves may lack the resources or may not want to cover the event using social media, as long as delegates have a common hashtag, you can still tweet through the conference. This highlights the beauty of social media – it can be completely grassroots.

Come back next Monday for the final part of this series.

Ed note: A version of this series originally appeared on Mr Epidemiology (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

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Twitter for Sci-Ed Part 2: Networking and connecting by Sci-Ed, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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