Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Integrating social media into researcher careers

Social Media apps
Following my post on measures of success on social media I read a paper on 'A critical evaluation of science outreach via social media: it's role and impact on scientists' published on the F1000 website which is well worth a read.

The authors come to a similar conclusion my previous blog post, that the measurement of social media success needs to reach beyond simple number metrics in order to fully understand how beneficial (or not) social media channels are to academic researchers for outreach and their careers.

The paper suggests three important elements which would allow the integration of social media for outreach (SOSM) into a scientists career which are:
1) It must be valued (by research funders and by universities)
2) It must be measured (the jury is still out on what this would look like)
3) It must be manageable

I agree with the three elements but would also suggest that the efforts on social media must also feedback into the research to be truly useful and sustainable. If benefits are not received from an activity then they are less likely to continue.

At the moment, until we know how to measure value, I think universities could help researchers explore if social media networks do have benefits by better supporting and integrating researchers and research groups who are undertaking online engagement. At the moment individual social media accounts are often disconnected from institution accounts (which generally have large audiences) and exist in isolation. I think bringing them together could help raise the profile of all involved and gain bigger reach of scientific outputs and discussion. This would also help create case studies and potentially wider sharing of best practice of online engagement - which can span across research disciplines.

Research funders and institutions need to be more supportive and comfortable with individual researcher voices too, particularly on networks such as twitter. It is extremely difficult to build audiences and networks without inputting a personal voice and I think this could be a barrier to using online methods of engagement. A level of trust is required between the two is needed for this this to be a success also.

I learnt from the paper that studies in the USA have shown that female scientists are more likely to be involved with outreach activities than male but that female scientists are less likely to participate in online engagement.

The paper doesn't really explore the nature of why scientists choose not to engage online, beyond citing surveys that state a lack of time as the biggest factor. I suggest that a lack of knowledge about how to engage online and/or a attitude of 'why bother' when the benefits are yet to be understood and widely recognised. There also needs to be wider discussion about the fear of online engagement. Careers have been damaged through social media networks and many cases have been widely reported in mass media.

If you are interested in reading further how researchers are using social media networks at the moment this Nature survey makes interesting reading.

How to cite: McClain C and Neeley L. A critical evaluation of science outreach via social media: its role and impact on scientists [v1; ref status: awaiting peer review, http://f1000r.es/4vm] F1000Research 2014, 3:300 (doi:10.12688/f1000research.5918.1)

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Creating effective social media networks; why it isn't all about numbers.

In my current job I help researchers engage with the public about their research work. I talk with them about how they might engage with particular groups of people or how they might think about structuring a public talk. I especially like talking with people about different ways they can engage and how they might think about using online tools and social media to engage with others about what they are doing. This post is about maximising the potential of social media networks for engagement and measuring success online. It isn't all about the numbers....

The first thing I ask is, 'why do you want to do this?' Followed closely by, 'who is it you want to engage with or reach?' This second question is so important. It's no use chatting to fellow researchers and tweeting links to scientific research papers if you want to speak to people outside of the research field about their views on nature. Tailoring content and building the right network of contacts is so important to minimise wasted time and to use social media platforms to their full potential.

Now, social networks aren't all about a purpose or end goal. They can be a release and just an enjoyable place to spend a few hours. I didn't join social networks for the main purpose of personal gain. When I started to use twitter I didn't think about what I wanted to get out of it. I  joined because I was bored one afternoon and I had heard (via Ben Goldare's badscience book) that there were lots of people on twitter that were interested in setting right misreported science and stopping the UK government from cutting science funding. Turns out there were, they did an excellent job and they are a lovely bunch of folk too. I can't say that I contributed to that campaign. I supported and watched but I quickly realised that twitter could help me as a PhD student and that I had things to say, views about my own work and science, and that people were interested and engaged with me.

This was over 5 years ago and since then many others have realised the value social networks can serve as a tool for many end goals, including crowdfunding research. More people want to get involved and often 'social media' is thrown in as a buzz word on grant applications as a dissemination tool, but setting up an account and sporadically posting content isn't the best method of getting the most out of social media.

If you are just starting out then you might quickly realise - regardless of your social media medium of choice - that in order for it to be useful to you then you need some connections whether they are followers/likes/friends/commenters. A network isn't a network without people in it. But it is a mistake to judge solely on the numbers.  Quite often people quote simple numbers as measures of how successful they are online. There are a lot of spam accounts and you might build a huge network by discussing the in-and-outs of football but that follower number doesn't mean you have a large influence on what an audience thinks about science - although you might - but how can you measure that? As you see numbers can be a measure but looking for big numbers might mean you miss out on real benefits.

I'm not the only, or the first, person to think about this. I like this quote from Andrew Maynard, in his article about social media and science communication , "..every hour spent writing pieces like this is an hour lost to something else I should be doing. Which is why I’m constantly grappling with how I determine the worth of the videos I make and the articles I write."

There have been multiple attempts to try and track and rate online influence too , through tools like Klout. I haven't seen a tool that is truly insightful though and useful enough to use as a metric for tracking success.

So what do you measure?

The problem the belief that people should use a one size-fits-all model. This will not work. Firstly, all social media networks are different so a 'like' on facebook doesn't equal a follower on twitter. Interactions are subtle and hard to measure. You need to be familiar with the platform and how it works to get the most out of it and to understand what is worth measuring.

Really, you can only judge success based on your aims. Let's say your aim is to engage with the local community about their history.  If you get 25 people actively involved on a Facebook group sharing historical content that could equal success. The active sharing is key  here. If you had 300 likes on a page about local history with no active posting or sharing then that isn't really a success even though the stat of 300 likes is higher than 25.

As a PhD student your marker of success could be securing a post-doctoral position. Like all good research you need to determine what you want to do before you launch into it. Of course, unexpected excellent things can happen too. The biggest mistake is getting bogged down in the numbers.

If you have thought about and set your measures. Where do you go from there? 
How do you build a relevant network or audience?

In order for a social network to be useful a certain number of connections are needed. A certain level of activity is also needed. The network needs to be present and useful/of interest to those in it.  The point of being on twitter or other networks isn't necessarily about growing a network of hundreds and thousands of followers. If you are looking to grow your network what are the best, most meaningful ways of achieving it?
  • Search for your audience. See what your audience is posting about, where they are posting it and when they are online. 
  • Pick the right social network to use. A Facebook page usually isn't the answer. 
  • Match your content to your audience. Always have that in mind when you post. 
  • If appropriate, use hashtags that your target audience are using and respond to. Use the hashtags to engage in conversation with others. If regular chats happen about a topic of interest then join in (for a guide on twitter see here)
  • Make yourself available for comments (if you are looking for engagement)
  • Join in conversations.
  • Be present. 
  • If you are looking to start something with a community that you cannot find online then don't make social media your first point of call. Reach out to them in person and find if an online source might be useful. 
Grow purposefully not for the sake of growing your follower number.

I want to hear more about useful measures and ways of presenting them. If more people map what they are trying to do and how they get there (perhaps by blogging?) then others can follow, adjust and use for their own aims.

Useful information might emerge from this too - like an ideal number of people in a Facebook group for it to be active and informative. Too few people and there isn't enough momentum to keep the group interesting, too many and conversations aren't conversations they are just singular posts. Where is the tipping point?

High numbers of followers on twitter can be useful as it ensures that when you post at least a number of them will see it before it drops off the timeline - but the same thing can happen - over a certain number of followers means you get too many responses to read. Is that still useful or just time consuming?

If you are interested in conversations like this and interested in community structure and how they work then I would highly recommend reading Lou Woodley's Social in Silico blog.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Age of Discovery (How old are people when they do their best scientific research?)

Science is an extremely competitive field, getting research funding requires an excellent track record and researchers judge themselves against their peers. I wrote a blog post about the number of publications scientists are 'supposed' to have per year in order to be competitive on fellowships and grant applications a few years ago. I am surprised at the number of people that find that post by  searching for 'How many research papers should I have?' . It's a worry or thought most researchers have throughout their careers. There is of course no magic number and there's a need for a track record of quality publications vs a quantity of publications.

The ultimate accolade for a scientist is being awarded a Nobel Prize and I came across an interesting infographic about the age of Nobel Prize winners (when they completed their prize winning work) and also how that relates to the age at which they wrote their PhD dissertation. I have included it at the bottom of this post. Before 1905 2/3rds of Nobel Prize winners completed their 'winning' work before the age of 40. Post 1905 the average age is 48. I am surprised that the average dissertation age is 33. I thought it would be more in the mid-20s.

Of course the age of someone when they make a world changing discovery is also influenced by their peers, mentors and often by the technology and equipment available at the time.

If you want to hear from Nobel Prize winners about their career paths and hear their advice for current researchers. I've just discovered this resource of videos of Nobel Prize winners inspiring others through their stories. I'm looking forward to watching quite a few of these. This video is about choosing a research project but there are also videos on dealing with surprises and setbacks during your research career.

How should young scientists choose a research project?

The infographic about Nobel Prize winners is below. I always try and remember when reading lists and summaries though, especially when it comes to research,  that all projects and research pathways are unique and no two people take the same path. 

Source: Online-PHd-Programs.org

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Can Research Groups communicate as a collective rather than as individuals?

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I'm speaking to more and more research groups about how they can get online and share their work via social media.

I used some of the thoughts and diagrams from 'An introduction to social media for Scientists' published in PLOS Biology 2013 to illustrate some of the thoughts, barriers and journeys to engaging online in a short talk I gave..

I'm looking to speak to more people and read more case studies about how collective research groups have shared their science openly online - rather than the science being communicated by single individuals -  which I see to be more commonplace. Research rarely exists in isolation so I see more groups moving to this collated model.

Communicating as a group is, in theory, easier than as a single entity as there is potentially more to discuss and potentially less onus on one individual to provide all the narrative. That said, it is more difficult for people to communicate as a group as you are representing more voices and within a research environment everyone needs to be happy about what is being said. Relationships within research groups aren't always easy and that can mean that communication can stall. Communicating as a group also takes more input from people to organise and co-ordinate so although individuals might not have to contribute as much content, their time might be dedicated to the outputs in other ways.

For the receiver it may be difficult to engage with a group communication rather than an individual as it can lose the personal connection. Especially on twitter, group accounts can become static and exist only to announce outputs and information, rather than real engagement with an audience.

The use of social media by scientists has been criticised by some, including a Nobel Laureate,  as being 'self-promotion' and that, isn't 'science'. I was at that discussion and disagreed with it completely at the time but would communication by groups, rather than individuals avoid this? Or does it just prevent many of the benefits that can come from social media if used as an individual voice?

I am really interested in discussing this further and some ways people have used to overcome the barriers to communicating as a group.

Here's my prezi talk for those that are interested!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Academic productivity app review: Habit RPG

In my previous post I asked people to share which digital tools and apps they use to help them work faster (and smarter). Lots of them sounded useful and interesting so I thought I would try some of them out and write some short reviews.

@java7nerd recommended HabitRPG. The habit changing app that turns your life into a COMPUTER GAME. The aim of the app is to help you ditch bad habits and pick up good ones. The app sounded like great fun and perfect way to help me get more into a work/life balance (by that I mean not sitting at my desk when I should be at the gym). I signed up and tried it out.

The app is FREE (whoop), easy to use and fun to look at. It takes some setting up as you decide what tasks you want to set where (and decide on which points to reward yourself).

The app works by assigning points for tasks which accumulate until you earn enough for a reward. Points do get taken away for bad habits though....

As you can see on this list you can include anything you like. I thought this app would be particularly useful for breaking up thesis writing.. as a long, boring, never ending monotonous task thesis writing can be broken up into chunks (big ones, little ones, and daily ones) and completing those is incredibly rewarding. Using this app you could track your progress and reward yourself with an enjoyable activity (and/or reminding yourself to go OUTSIDE/phone the friends you had in the days before thesis writing started).

I set my app up but I was never really sure of the difference between habits, dailies and to-dos - but I put tasks where I thought they should be and away I went ticking off my good (and bad) habits.

Unfortunately, very quickly I realised that the app wouldn't really work for me.

The main problem I have with the app doesn't have anything to do with the app at all. It's to do with me. I lie. I lie to apps to make them do what I want. I don't tell the app about my bad habits and sometimes I say that I have done things that I haven't. I also work on a lot of varied projects and my daily habits vary (I couldn't be described as someone with a 'routine'). So, I quickly gave up updating the app and then when I logged back in this happened...


I think this app is a great idea and would be really useful for someone taking on a big task (like writing a thesis or studying for exams). Unfortunately it didn't really work out for me though.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Which digital tools do you use to make your life easier?

I've been thinking this week about all the apps, tools and plug-ins that I use to make my digital life easier. I use a variety of tools to catch up with digital conversations, save things for later and to make sure I don't miss blogposts.  I also use them to manage my own digital footprint so I can update blogs and twitter when I am away from my desk and laptop.

There are lots of options out there so I want to collect a round up of what people use and for what. I'm particularly interested in hearing from researchers.

98% of the tools I use are free and I am reluctant to pay for something new without a really good review first.

New tools are launched on a what seems like daily basis and older apps and tools get changed, removed and updated frequently. Here's a run down of what I use (and for what). I would be really interested to hear from others about what they use and how it makes your life easier!

- Twitter - I use twitter.com from my desktop and laptop and the twitter app from my phone. I don't schedule tweets. I use favourites and lists to make sure I don't miss tweets from people that I am interested in and save posts and links to read at a later time (although I very rarely go back and read things that I have favourited). I have started to look at using tweetdeck as an easier way of managing multiple twitter accounts. I have also dabbled in hootsuite but to be honest I found it made my life more difficult rather than easier (sometimes too many options is a bad thing).

- Storify - really useful for capturing twitter conversations and for sharing them with others. Super useful for capturing live tweets as they happen at conferences.

- Facebook - I just use the facebook app on my phone. I mostly use facebook for personal posts but I do manage a few pages and do that via the pages app.

- Updating my blogs - I use blogger and wordpress. I use their apps so I can update on the go. I find both apps a little tricky to use from my ipad and iphone as writing isn't easy and editing is even more difficult. They are both useful for uploading photos direct to a blog from my phone and jotting down notes which I can then turn into a blog post at a later date.

- ifft - if this then that. A brilliant tool to automate your online activity. I used ifft to automatically collate guest pictures from my wedding! I saw someone instagraming something on the day and felt a little bit smug knowing that it would be waiting for my on my flickr account to look at the following day!

- Reading Blogs - I use bloglovin on my ipad. I read a mix of blogs from cooking, design, gardening, beauty (yup) and science blogs. I like the simple design of bloglovin so I can get to the content I want to read easily. I've tried other apps but find that nicer designs can detract from finding the content I want, quickly.

- Capturing interesting stuff and writing notes - I use evernote. I have a plugin for Chrome so I can screenshot and save pages from my desktop and laptop. I also have Everclip and Evernote on my iphone/ipad. You do need to pay for these but they are totally worth it. I am awful at categorising things properly so the search option within my saved clippings and notes in evernote is a godsend.

- File sharing/saving - I use dropbox (but it is full and I don't want to pay for storage). I use google drive to share and back up files I am working on (if they are in a format not suitable for evernote). I am terrible at backing up and deleting things so my laptop, phone and ipad all have full storage (help!)

Please share what you use, for what and how you use it. I expect this page to evolve and keep updating as I will undoubtedly start using new tools and apps as I change how I navigate online and also as new ones appear!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

How to help someone that is writing up their thesis

Writing a thesis is a lonely and it can be a very stressful time. I found it extremely difficult to keep up with friends and family. Holding normal, conversations that lasted longer than two sentences without my mind drifting away to thesis related thoughts was also a challenge.

Quite a few of my close friends have gone through their thesis too and I thought it might be useful for those that haven't experienced the joys, highs and lows of thesis writing how they can help support those that are writing up.

A few things that you can do to help...

See if they would like to go out for food or a walk but don't get annoyed if all the said person does is talk about their thesis. Getting writers away from their computer can be a welcome distraction.

Send them some nice smelly soaps/shampoo - I stopped all shopping when writing up

You could also send fruit and healthy snacks. Confession time. I once spent a weekend at my desk writing up and ate all of my desk mates food because it was within arms length. He wasn't happy. His nickname for me is now 'the seagull'.

Try not to get annoyed if they are a bit snappy or don't reply to emails/requests - when you are writing up your mind works in strange ways

If you are planning something tell them where they need to be/when and what they need to do. Don't ask them a lot of questions about availability and dates as they will probably get confused. Trying to plan when you are immersed in a thesis is a challenge.

Be patient and supportive. They will stop writing their thesis (and hopefully pass) but thesis writing can last for months/years. It isn't like writing up a dissertation as part of an undergraduate or masters course.

A few things that might be best avoided..

Don't keep asking what they are doing post-thesis (especially if they don't know)

Don't say 'have you not finished that yet?'

Don't compare their thesis to your undergraduate project..

If you are the thesis writer...

Try not to get stressed when people can't understand the situation.

Get outside every once in a while (it helps)

Try and speak to your friends and family every once in a while

Try and get a hobby that doesn't take up too much time but does give you some escapism

Watch cat videos on youtube (and/or ASMR ones - also I found watching 10 minute episodes of Charlie and Lola on iplayer also helped!) Here are a few more suggestions for current thesis writers!

If anyone has any other tips or stories to share please do!