Why I Tweet and Blog: Captured by Beryl Lieff Benderly

You know, many people ask me – why do I talk to science reporters so often.  They ask this and then claim that science reporters are just all kinds of evil because they always get quotes and facts and concepts wrong.  Well, that has really not been my experience.  Sure, I have my examples of problems.  But overall, I have been impressed and pleased more often than not.  And here is a great example. I was interviewed a while back by Beryl Lieff Benderly about my somewhat obsessive experimentation with social media for communicating science.  And then, of course, I forgot about it.  So I was exceptionally pleased when I saw the story come out today: To tweet or not to tweet? | Science Careers.  Beryl did a remarkably good job in capturing the essence of my thoughts about Tweeting, Blogging, social media, and science communication.

If you want to know what I think about how to not get overwhelmed with Twitter, how to not spend too much time on social media, and what I think abotu aboutb social media, you don’t need to wait for me to try to write my thoughts on the topic down.  Read what Beryl wrote.

Crosspost from microBEnet: Collection of papers on "The Science of Science Communication"

Crossposting this from microBEnet 

 Just got pointed to this by Sharon Strauss, the chair of the Evolution and Ecology department here at UC Davis: The Science of Science Communication II Sackler Colloquium.  This is a collection of papers from a colloquium held in Septment 2013.  Slides and videos of the talks are available online. The papers and links (copied from the PNAS site) are listed below.  There are many papers here of relevance to work done at microBEnet and are also likely of general interest to many:

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Update on Curtobacterium and Other Musings

In my first year in the Eisen lab, I was lucky to be able to participate on the Undergraduate Genome Sequencing Project in which I published the draft genome of Curtobacterium flaccumfaciens, the first of it’s genus. An important aspect of this project was blogging about what we were doing: All the successes, the failures, and everything in between, something that I was terrible at evidenced by my one maybe two blog posts. However, the longer I have been in this lab, I find the significance of social media in science, both to myself and the world, grows.

After almost a year since the paper was published, the Eisen lab received an email inquiring about my blog post on Curtobacterium and the difficulties we had with getting enough active DNA and continuing with sequencing. They wanted to know if we were having trouble with DNA extractions on the bacteria, especially since they were interested in sequencing other species of Curtobacterium and were worried if the genus was finicky. We had later found that the viability of our ligase decreased with each successive freeze-thaw causing the huge issue in DNA library prep and were able to inform them that extracting DNA and sequencing Curtobacterium should be a relatively painless process.

There were two things that stuck me as interesting when David, my supervisor on the project, informed me about the email exchange. First, that it was awesome that a blog post that I, an insignificant undergraduate, wrote was seen by other researchers and contained information (as small as it was) that could help them in their research. Second, and more abstract, that science has increasingly become more of a collaborative effort. When I originally thought about sharing in science, the infamous Koch-Pasteur rivalry quickly came to mind. Information simply wasn’t shared as readily at that time. I like to think idealistically that the idea of hoarding information to get ahead of contemporaries has become less common and science will become even more collaborative than it is now. Or the idea of charging to view more than just the Abstract will cease to exist and the number of open-access articles will continue to grow because at the root of researchers (at least originally) is the pursuit of knowledge and dissemination of information. Just some musings I had and who am I to talk? I haven’t even graduated undergrad yet and haven’t joined the race to find the richly rewarding cure to cancer.

Using Social Media to Promote Your Research (workshop)

I’ll be running a social media workshop next Friday in the Genome Center – anyone on campus is welcome to attend! Details as follows:

Using Social Media
to Promote Your Research

Friday, February 7, 2014
Room 4202, Genome Center

Many view social media as either a fun distraction, a waste of time – or both!  But social media tools can be a tremendous resource for academics seeking to share their research, find new collaborations, and ultimately advance their careers.

Attend this workshop to learn how to:

  • Use social media to share and promote your research
  • Identify appropriate audiences and avoid pitfalls
  • Choose the right platforms to help you achieve your goals

Please pre-register using this online form: http://bit.ly/1ajX6Pc (Pre-registration will help to guide the format of the workshop and the type of social media tools covered)

PDF Flyer available here

Hmm .. apparently I am not supposed to be posting about #UCDavis in "social media" (SEE UPDATE AT BOTTOM)

At the suggestion of a colleague I have been browsing through the UC Davis Policy and Procedure Manual – Chapter 310, Communications and Technology Section 40, University Communications: Publications, Graphic Standards, Marketing, and Media Relations.

Much of it is straightforward but much of it seems to basically be discouraging any direct social media posts or interaction with the press. See for example:

The News Service unit in University Communications is the exclusive source for developing and disseminating news about UC Davis to the general public via newspapers, radio, television, magazines, and the World Wide Web, including social media and related channels. The News Service unit determines the newsworthiness of significant developments and activities in academic research; administrative programs; accomplishments of faculty, staff, or students; events; and other campus matters. It conducts or coordinates direct contact with news media representatives, and assures that media relations are timely, accurate, comprehensive, and of broad public interest.


Generally, the news media will contact the News Service to find a source for a story. If a reporter contacts a source directly, that faculty member, staff member, or student shall notify the News Service

Hmm … so ..  when I was contacted by multiple reporters about the pepper spray incident and for my comments on it and on the handling of it by UC Davis I was supposed to notify the UC Davis News Service.  I suppose I could have done that.  But how about this – I communicate with dozens if not 100s of reporters on Twitter about all sorts of things.  Should I notify the news service about each contact?  That would actually be kind of fun.  They would block my emails very soon thereafter I am sure.
I am also wondering about the role of the News Service as the “exclusive source for developing and disseminating news” “via newspapers, radio, television, magazines, and the World Wide Web, including social media and related channels.”  So is this saying I am no longer supposed to write about UC Davis on social media?   No more blogging?  No more Twitter?  How does this jibe with all the retweets and reposts I get by official UC Davis groups/people?  
In the end I can imagine that the UC Davis administration would say this wording is not quite what they mean.  But it is there.  And technically, I am supposed to follow it.  Oh well, off to kill all my social media accounts.  Yeah, right.

UPDATE: Barry Shiller – UC Davis Communications Chief Guru has responded with clarifications that this policy is NOT intended to suppress any communications but is about coordination with the News Service

I’m replying directly and publicly as an expression of transparency, and professional respect for you.

You indeed misinterpret the policy. It was, and is, intended to optimize coordination with the media – not, as is inferred by your post, to inhibit anyone. Coordination, by the way, is as beneficial to the media as anyone. They appreciate knowing their go-to points of contact. That said, reporters contact faculty, staff and students without interference or inhibition. All the time. 

It may be that this policy fails to clarify or contemporize the distinction between “reporters” and social media content creators, including bloggers. If so, we will take a look at it; I’d welcome your input. 

But let me be clear: as you well know, many university constituents actively blog, tweet, post, opine. (I’m among them.) In this age, it is an important ingredient in telling our story. The policy is not intended to discourage that

Huffington Post picks me & two members of lab as top biologists/chemists to follow on Twitter

From here.

Good press for my lab here: Scientists On Twitter: 30 Biologists And Chemists To Follow

The list (which started out at 30 and expanded to 47) included three people from my lab: me (@phylogenomics), post doc Holly Bik (@dr_bik) and PhD student Russell Neches (@ryneches).

I like that I am the first one shown on the slideshow (though not sure if this means I am #1 on their list or just random …).

Making such lists is always a challenge and also rife with issues.  There are many many great tweeters of chemistry and biology not on the list, for example. But I think they did a pretty good job covering diverse types of people here.  Lots of women too, which was good to see.

Anyway – thanks to Rebecca Searles and her advisor Jason Goldman for compiling the list and making my lab look pretty good …

Full list:

  1. @phylogenomics
  2. @NerdyChristie
  3. @nparmalee
  4. @biochembelle
  5. @kejames
  6. @DrBondar
  7. @kzelnio
  8. @girlscientist
  9. @MiriamGoldste
  10. @modernscientist
  11. @PolymerPhD
  12. @toraks
  13. @RichardDawkins
  14. @nuin
  15. @DrRubidium
  16. @mitpostdoc
  17. @Evolutionistrue
  18. @ChemicalBiology
  19. @WhySharksMatter
  20. @Aur_ora
  21. @ChemistPD
  22. @dgmacarthur
  23. @DNLee5
  24. @aetiology
  25. @Myrmecos
  26. @thisischristina
  27. @deborahblum
  28. @SeeArrOh
  29. @carmendrahl
  30. @Dr_Bik
  31. @TCNoel
  32. @nssampson
  33. @sciencegeist
  34. @SFriedScientist
  35. @kg_science
  36. @JATetro
  37. @JacquelynGill
  38. @Katie_PhD
  39. @D_Aldridge
  40. @JohnFBruno
  41. @ScientistMags
  42. @jtotheizzoe
  43. @MayaPlass
  44. @scimomof2
  45. @DrTwittenheimer
  46. @leonidkruglyak
  47. @ryneches

Social Networks and Scientists: Chronicle for Higher Education Article

Quick post here.

There is a new article in the Chronicle for Higher Education in which I am quoted: Social Networks for Academics Proliferate, Despite Some Scholars’ Doubts

The article discusses many connected topics relating to the use of social media by scientists – though it does not make clear how everything is connected perhaps.  Anyway the author talked to me about Mendeley and various uses of Mendeley and I told her about an effort to create a Mendeley collection of my father’s papers.  The article also discussed LinkedIn, Academia.Edu, Twitter and other social media systems.

Some quotes

Jonathan A. Eisen, a professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of California at Davis, used Mendeley to distribute the research papers that his father, Howard J. Eisen, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, published before he died, in 1987. After struggling to free papers locked behind pay walls, Jonathan Eisen compiled the articles and posted nearly all of them on a Mendeley page he had created for his father. 

Mr. Eisen, a self-described “obsessed open-access advocate,” described the impact in a blog post last year: “Thanks to the social features of Mendeley, more and more people will see and have access to those papers, thus ensuring that they do not wallow in never-never land but continue to have some potential impact on science and society.”

Perhaps most important from my point of view – I love the picture of me taken by Max Whittaker.

Quick Tip: if you want someone to share job ads, announcements, etc, send links to web sites not attachments

OK I have had it. I have had it with people who send me job ads and meeting announcements and other things they want me to “share” with colleagues or students. I got six such requests today – two for job ads, two for course announcements and two for meeting announcements.

But this rant may not be what you think. I am not annoyed that they want me to share something. I actually like doing this. What I am annoyed with is how people do this. 95% of the time people send these email requests with an attachment and expect me to forward this on to all who might be interested. And much of the time these attachments are big files, sometimes written in programs that only some people can open.

Does this work some of the time? Sure. Do I sometimes forward these on? Sure. But that approach is so 2005. Here in 2010 there are better ways than email blasts to people who mostly just click delete. In my opinion, the best way to get someone to share something like this is to post your announcement on the web somewhere and then send people a link to the web site. Include a brief summary in the email you send around and if people want more information they can go to the web site. Not only does this save some bandwidth and not clutter up peoples email servers, but it also allows those of us who share via Twitter and Friendfeed and Facebook and so on to more easily send the announcement around. I am sure many people prefer the attachments, but I for one get 50+ attachments a day, almost all of which do not get looked at.

UPDATE 9/23/2012
So – the post above was written two years ago, almost to the day.  And not much has changed.  Excepted perhaps the way people share links (I mention Friendfeed above — I guess I that could be replaced by Google+).

What is an easy way to post a document and then send people a link?  There are many ways to do this including

  • Post as a Google Doc/Presentation in Google Drive and send the link
  • Upload to Dropbox or another such site and, well, share the link
  • Post as a blog post (if you have a blog) or friggin start a blog and post it there
And of course many many other ways.  But please please please stop sending all these files around.  For a while I was posting them to my blog (I can autopost by forwarding email messages to the right address).  But I am sick of doing this for other people and am going to stop.