C'mon scientists, let's go social!
The problems we seeScientists and researchers are supposed to be leaders of modern societies, enigmatic figures leading technological innovations. However, when it comes to adopting technologies provided by social media it is surprising to find that this community is not as open minded as expected, and divided into two schools of thoughts. In one (I guess my favorite half), the thought of spending time on social media sites seems to be quite appealing and useful and I’m not talking about posting what movies to watch, but discussing hardcore science such as „Stable p- and n-type doping of few-layer graphene/graphite” structures. These are the more progressive people that realized the vast amount of positive impacts sharing research with other knowledgeable and „hungry” minds can provide. However, for others there is still a barrier that prevents taking the first steps. In the US a national survey showed that less than half of research laboratory managers and less than two thirds of colleague faculty had accounts on Facebook and other social sites. This is even more astonishing knowing the fact that more than 70% of internet surfers uses this social utility as primary news source and to share information.
Possible causesSo, what is it then that prevents smart people from joining Facaebook, Twitter and their brothers and sisters? Are they afraid of sharing their ideas with the whole world, or they just find this process a waste of time, totally pointless, resulting in no valuable outcome? Or are they afraid of dealing with many critical eyes focusing on their work? Maybe, they are a little afraid of getting face to face with the amount of rubbish people put up there, which can be quite overwhelming to get through? Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong again! It’s really up to you if you let the whirl of endless junk suck you in. If you don’t and you put your ego aside for a while then being part of a broader community might actually help you in discovering new collaborators, direct and easy access to important people in your field of science, also to relevant research papers and online contents. Furthermore, these online „forums” can often provide incredible amount of quick and selfless support. I’ve always received quick and valuable answers to my questions raised on LinkedIn.
Rules to follow, once you’re up thereSome things to keep in mind though if you are new! If you handle your social presence according to the following rules you can only come out as a winner, I guarantee it. #1 Although sharing your work is necessary to start a meaningful discussion, sharing commercially sensitive data of yours should always be avoided, it will spread like a particularly virulent disease. #2 Don’t ever share personal information (disturbing photos :)) that can negatively impact or destroy your professional reputation. It is really hard to get back on track after such a rookie mistake. #3 Always have the right tone and follow the ethics but don’t hide your opinion. #4 finally, don’t do anything stupid and illegal.
The most important questionWhy should we care? Because we are scientists, and we are responsible for the greater society, we want to communicate and science, in general, is poorly understood! Did you know that a recent survey from the US, but I assume the numbers are similar for other countries, showed that only 28% of the population could pass a simple science test raising questions like “Does the Earth revolve around the sun?” or “Did modern humans live alongside dinosaurs?”?! People need a better understanding to be able to participate, and these forums can serve as platforms for not only satisfying our own needs but for educating the greater public.
Solutions in handWhy would you suffer figuring it out yourself? Solutions to your problem or the answers to your question may already exist (Big data), all you need to do is connect, socialize and harvest. You can use emails, but that limits your audience significantly. Blogs are great! However, don’t expect miracles without putting effort in writing them well. Both WordPress and Blogger provide very good platforms that serve the purpose quite well. They are fairly intuitive to use and appear nicely on search engines. Twitter is an awesome tool for micro-blogging, sharing resources, and building up your professional networks. LinkedIn with 200 million + registered users in more than 200 countries is not only a good way of sharing your CV, but also is an excellent tool for professional networking. And there is Academia.edu with over 2.3 million academics, who have uploaded more than 1.6 million of research papers. So, there is a high chance you find your mate in there. Through building your own profile it lets you track the impact of your research and will always be updated. Researchgate is a site sharing research papers, asking and answering questions and engaging collaborators with over 2.6 millions people from diverse disciplines such as medicine, engineering, arts, history, physics, biology, chemistry, computer science, etc. and tens of millions of publications at your fingertips. And finally, there is Mendeley, a very cool tool to manage your research from generating citations and annotations for your papers through managing collaborations and networking. Funnily described as „Mendeley is pretty much the most fun you can have with your pants on” And it works on your iPhone too. So, people! The tools are out there, dare to use them!