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How deep social network “roots” help scientists communicate their research

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about how social networks can specifically help scientists collaborate and spread their messages more effectively. Researchers like Heather Piwowar, Alistair Dove, and Jonathan Eisen have received recognition from fellow scientists and even the international press due to their savvy use of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, and (more recently) Google+ when promoting themselves and their projects.

We’d like share with you their stories as examples of how three scientists at very different places in their careers use social networking tools to gain influence in their field.

Dr. Heather Piwowar (Postdoctoral Research Associate at Duke University, co-funded by DataONE, NESCent, and Dryad)

Courtesy of H. Piwowar

In the world of scientometrics, there are few young researchers these days making as many waves as Dr. Heather Piwowar. How do I know that? As a fellow junior researcher interested in scientometrics, I’ve found that there’s no better way to receive up-to-the-minute recommendations on interesting white papers, insider’s information on invitation-only conferences like #scifoo, and thought-provoking observations than by following Heather on two online services where I already spend a lot of time: Twitter and Google Reader.

What’s notable about Dr. Piwowar’s use of social media is that she very rarely indulges in self-promotion. Rather, she uses social media to engage other researchers: “Tweeting, blogging, friendfeeding, creating public Mendeley groups, etc. helps me find and be found by some of the most enthusiastic, engaged people in my area.  I learn what they think, what they are working on, and sometimes a bit about who they are.  They get to know me and what I do.  As a result, I do better work and my work gets more exposure.”

Piwowar also points out that social media, as an engagement and networking strategy, is strong in two areas where traditional forms of academic feedback are weak: timeliness and connecting far-flung researchers.

She notes, “Data finds data then people find people” is really true… when you start sharing information about your research passions and seeking other shared info relevant to your work, all of a sudden you find new groups of people who are about the same things you do.  Some of them turn into collaborators, and a few into friends.

Time well spent, no doubt about it.”

Blog | LinkedIn | Twitter | Mendeley

Dr. Alistair Dove (Senior Scientist at the Georgia Aquarium Research Center)

Courtesy of A. Dove

Dr. Alistair Dove, a Senior Scientist at Georgia Aquarium Research Center—the world’s largest aquarium—is what could be called a “trust agent,” imparting insights into his deep-sea research via Twitter and his blog, Deep Sea News, while engaging the public in science.

Dove explains, “If you have, say, a thousand followers on Twitter, that’s like talking to a large auditorium every time you tweet something about your science: a powerful tool indeed.  A direct line like that means the scientist can ensure that their science is accurately portrayed and that they have an opportunity to share with the public the personal passion that drives them to science in the first place.” A great side effect of all this communication with the public? If you do it well, recognition of your name and your contributions to research will increase among your colleagues, as well.

[Facebook and Twitter] are legitimate, powerful communication tools and scientific funding agencies want to see that you are considering them (and Apps, and Google Earth and all the other tools) as part of the plan for sharing science with the public.  Social media can help you get funded, help popularise your work, and help educate, entertain and inform the public, and I reckon that’s what it’s all about.

Blog | LinkedIn | Twitter

Dr. Jonathan Eisen

I believe in making it easy for people to find information and stories and such.

Courtesy of J. Eisen
Evolutionary biologist, microbiologist, and genomics researcher Dr. Jonathan Eisen prefers using social media to the traditional press release.  Eisen, a professor at the University of California, Davis explains how he went about garnering attention for his manuscript, Stalking the Fourth Domain in Metagenomic Data: Searching for, Discovering, and Interpreting Novel, Deep Branches in Marker Gene Phylogenetic Trees, using his social networks.

Eisen explains, “I emailed the paper to a few contacts who are reporters (Carl Zimmer, for example) and told them I would be posting more information about the story behind the paper on my blog.  Then I wrote the detailed background story on my blog and when the paper came out of its embargo, I made the blog post live and then emailed a bunch of people the link to the paper and the blog post.”

He continues, “I posted these links to Facebook and twitter and my blog too — and since I have been working to build up my social networks for many years this at least got the message out to a few people.   One of those fortunately was PZ Myers, who writes the Pharyngula blog, and he posted a little discussion of how I had avoided a press release and that generated enormous web attention.  This, along with the article in the Scientist and on Carl Zimmer’s blog, was enough to get some attention around the web.  I think this helped convince others to write about it, including The Economist, which wrote a story for their online and print editions.”

Eisen’s experience shows that having a well-cultivated and engaged circle of social media friends and followers can help expand the impact of your work, even if you don’t follow traditional routes to publicize it.

Blog | LinkedIn | Twitter | Mendeley

If you are interested in learning more about how to collaborate and spread your own scientific messages using social media, check out the following links:

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