For the Nature Methods June editorial, we asked scientists on twitter about how and why they use the platform with the survey questions shared below. We got ninety-nine responses in under a week from a diverse group of scientists (thank you!). As a companion to the editorial, we share some of our team members' answers to the survey questions (@rita_strack and @madhuramukho) along with some thoughtful answers from our respondents.
If anyone reading would like to share their thoughts or answers to the survey with me (for future editorials!), please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. What is your current position?
@rita_strack Senior editor, Nature Methods
@madhuramukho Associate editor, Nature Methods
2. What is your field of research?
@rita_strack I was a biochemist and molecular biologist who spent a lot of time on microscopes.
3. How long have you been on twitter?
@rita_strack Five years already!
@madhuramukho Technically since 2011, but I have been active only since 2019
4. Do you blend your personal/professional twitter activities or keep them separate? Why?
@rita_strack I think of my twitter as work related, as most of the people I follow and who follow me are from the scientific community. Nevertheless, I frequently post about things that are unrelated to science. I have met many people who say they feel they really know me through twitter, and I think that’s true!
@madhuramukho I blend them because it is a lot of work/commitment to manage two accounts.
@_amelie_rocks Blend, mainly because I’ve never been good at keeping them separated. Also because I feel like I am one “whole” person, and to some extent my personal experiences shape my scientific decisions and perspectives.
@HeaneyLM I try to make my twitter account focus around 70-80% related to professional aspects of my daily life, however I do use the same account to relate to personal use. I think this is important as it allows people to see you as a person, and not just somebody working in a lab/office.
5. What attracts you to science twitter?
@rita_strack Like so many people, twitter helps me keep up to date with the latest research. I also love that it acts as a filter for the most exciting preprints in the areas I handle. It goes much beyond that for me, though. I like to know what the pain points in the scientific community are. I want to know exciting trends. I want to see what papers strike a chord with people. Twitter gives me access to all of this information. Beyond this, it has been wonderful to get a bigger sense of the personalities and real lives of scientists and, in turn, to let people get to know me.
@madhuramukho Quick way to get easy updates on what kind of research people are doing in different fields. It is (mostly) free from hateful bile that is pervasive everywhere on the internet.
@Quizzomaniac Scientific Twitter is becoming a one-stop solution to find multiple things: new publications, job vacancies, and conference alerts. It also serves as a great place to reach out to senior scientists and many of them do respond to tweets as well!
@adam_k_glaser Science Twitter is great to 1) stay up to date on the latest developments in my field and others, 2) learn from and ask questions of others within these fields, and 3) share, engage, and comment on the latest work from myself and others. Building on 3), Science Twitter is an amazing open platform to share open-access pre-prints of our latest research and get feedback from others.
@AndrewGYork The impact of my work is my definition of success. Dissemination of results is a critical ingredient in achieving impact. If a task is critical to my success, I prefer to have complete control of that task. I expected twitter to be one component of that solution, but it turns out, it solves almost all my dissemination needs, almost entirely singlehanded. I can communicate bidirectionally, rapidly and productively, with a huge, diverse, relevant audience of fellow scientists, almost immediately. This is exactly what the internet was supposed to be used for.
@daniellejmai I enjoy the positive aspects of science twitter: celebrating accomplishments, learning about new ideas, thinking about how to make my own work more impactful or more interdisciplinary. I also find it helpful to maintain perspective of the hard parts of science (failed experiments, inevitable rejections, difficult interpersonal situations) as a reminder that we should all be in this together as scientists, as well as to guide my own trainees through their good and bad times.
@jlbanal The occasional hivemind science questions were what got me into twitter in the first place. Reading the personal/professional tweets from “rockstar”-level scientists definitely forced me to maintain my twitter account. You can’t get that from any social media platform. It’s a great platform to have a peek behind the curtain on their lives and thoughts about science or social issues.
@wiebkejahr In the beginning, it was the speed with which Twitter beat citation alerts (see #7) - and that’s still the bread and butter.
The caviar: From time to time, there is an extremely interesting, in depth technical discussion, providing also the historical context to understand why certain opinions prevailed, or why different “schools” emerged. This is hard to find even at conferences, because the people you’d need for that don’t happen to be in the same room.
6. How often do you check twitter or how many hours per week would you guess you spend on it?
@rita_strack During the work week I spend probably an hour per day on twitter, off and on. I tend to use twitter as sort of a palate cleanser in between work duties. There are certainly days where I’m so busy I don’t check in on twitter, and days when I’m more engaged, usually when something I’ve posted is found interesting/controversial.
@madhuramukho I check it intermittently through the day but usually do not spend longer than an hour daily
@ewjwallace I check twitter a few times a day, and I use the StayFocusd blocker on my browser to make sure that I spend less than 20mins a day on distracting websites (twitter, facebook, etc).
7. Do you use twitter as a primary news source or source for literature updates? Has it replaced reading ToCs or browsing journal websites?
@rita_strack I still read ToCs religiously, but I will say that the most exciting papers out at a given time in my areas of expertise have likely shown up in my twitter feed already.
@madhuramukho No, if there is something interesting I see on twitter, I usually use the link to the journal/look it up on pubmed
@EBraselmann For me it has not replaced literature search, because not everything that's relevant is promoted on twitter, so I try to not get biased towards literature that is heavily promoted.
@ysozeki Absolutely it’s my primary news source as well as literature updates together with Google scholar alerts.
8. Have you ever crowd-sourced an answer to a scientific problem on twitter? Did you get a good answer?
@rita_strack I try to connect people to good answers, and I love to RT when I see a question posted. I like to think I have facilitated good answers.
@sigwartae No. But I think this is a useful forum for people who do not work at big institutions. I have been based at large research-oriented institutions for my whole career, and that comes with privileged access to literature (paywalls) and to ideas, through having a big built in network of excellent colleagues and through having the name recognition (personal and/or institutional) that opens doors. As a social space, Twitter lessens some of those barriers.
There is a generational or a cultural divide here, too. If I have a question, I ask a colleague for advice; someone in my department, or someone I know through a scientific society, or to an email list targeted to a particular specialist group. I do that, because I am looking for expert answers from people I trust. For other people, their first instinct is to crowd source that question to social media. You might get more answers, but you also get a lot of nonsense wrong answers. Networks outside of social media provide the foundation of trust.
@ haesleinhuepf That’s my major use-case for twitter. As a computer scientist in biology I use twitter to find out what kind of tools and algorithms the biology community needs. If a screenshot of a software prototype gets 100 likes, I consider continuing working on it. If it gets 3 likes, it’s more likely that I drop it.
9. Have you ever gotten or job or hired someone through twitter?
@madhuramukho Yes! At Nature Methods, thanks to [Rita’s] tweet :-)
@toettch I’ve been told by a postdoc candidate that they found out about my lab via Twitter. I made the hire after an in-person interview though :-)
10. Has twitter made you a better scientist?
@rita_strack Twitter has made me a better editor. It has made me more thoughtful, more aware of pain points in the community, and more able to exist (from my vantage) within the community as opposed adjacent to it. I wish I had been on twitter when I was at the bench.
@madhuramukho Yes, it has definitely broadened the scope of the science I was exposed to otherwise
@adam_k_glaser Yes, I believe so. Prior to actively participating in Twitter, I was less open with my research. Not posting pre-prints or sharing any updates other than conferences. Now I am much more open with my research, which I think makes me a better scientist.
@aa_cieslak Twitter has emerged as a promising platform for my professional development. In addition to regular scientific literature review, I am learning how to communicate efficiently, engage with scientific community and interact directly with other Twitter users.
@daniellejmai I think it’s made me a more compassionate scientist, and I do hope that it’s helped me think more outside of the box in my own work. I can’t tell how much impact it’s had on my technical abilities.
@jlbanal I think so. It forced me how to think about how to say things clearly and succinctly.
11. Do you think twitter has helped you grow your scientific network?
@rita_strack Absolutely. I wouldn’t have believed how much so before I joined.
@madhuramukho Yes! Helps find reviewers/helps reviewers find me.
@Caroline_Bartma DEFINITELY. I would say the majority of scientists that I know (other than those at institutions I’ve worked at) are from Twitter. I meet people at every conference based on twitter interactions.
@Sas_K_ia Yes, it is way easier to follow a scientist without directly having to talk to the person. This is very helpful as a new PhD student. Most often, the scientists directly start following back without even knowing you personally. When you then meet them in person, it is way easier to talk to them without being afraid/scared. For example using LinkedIn would be way harder because it would directly start a two-way connection instead of the one-way connection of twitter.
12. Have you formed successful collaborations as a result of knowing someone through twitter?
@rita_strack I have recruited papers through twitter, so if you think of my work with authors in a collaborative spirit, then yes.
@madhuramukho Not research collaborations, but after I posted about joining Nature Methods, a lot of students contacted me about how I got there/ would I provide feedback on their CVs etc.
@guijacquemet Yes. I started several collaborations, thanks to Twitter. For instance, I started working with Ricardo Henriques and his team via twitter. We have now worked on three papers together (1 published, once accepted and one preprint). Still, we have not met in person yet. I started another collaboration via twitter today.
@haesleinhuepf Yes, many. I’m a tool maker. Much less people would know of me and the tools I build without twitter.
13. What is the best thing that has happened to you because you use twitter?
@rita_strack This is a tough one! I feel like twitter really enriches my life, but I have a hard time pinpointing the best thing that it’s done for me. I will say that, even in trying times, there will be one or more tweets that make me laugh out loud every day.
@_amelie_rocks Reconnecting with other scientists I know from previous stages (PhD, PD) that are in different fields and scattered across the world, so we wouldn’t have much of an exchange otherwise - including learning about their science in an accessible way!
@benjaminbarad I have gotten to know people in my field that I otherwise wouldn’t, because I haven’t gone to too many conferences. It gave me a chance to have a voice when I was starting out in science. In particular, when I got my first paper out (in Nature Methods!) it gave me a chance to let people know about what it was and how to use it when my lab had not published in the field before and was not very well connected with other labs in the field.
@mnemoniko I’m much more aware of large scale community issues that others struggle with (that I’m privileged in) because some scientists are using twitter quite effectively to share their struggles. Think diversity and inclusion from many different perspectives, and related resources.
14. Have you dealt with any negatives because of twitter? Have you been trolled?
@rita_strack I certainly have had uncomfortable interactions with people on twitter, but I don’t think I’ve been trolled, and I’ve only had to block two accounts. I don’t like to block people. I’d rather have a conversation. I will even let other people have the last word—I can live with that.
@madhuramukho No thankfully.
@alesitoide I live in Argentina. The party that governed the country between 2016-2020 cut science funding and also put up a strong social media campaign against scientists receiving public funding. It was a difficult time and most of us were attacked by trolls at one point or another, especially when we protested the funding cuts. Sometimes it was really discouraging.
@geobellward Only when I said something without thinking. No trolling yet. Yet, I know that Twitter can be a wretched world not too much farther away, particularly in discussions on broad scientific topics where I have seen people say terrible and/or inaccurate things. So, I mostly discuss and share my scientific interests with other scientists on my professional account, which makes my version of science Twitter particularly wholesome.
15. What are some potential pitfalls of being active on twitter?
@rita_strack I think the biggest pitfall is saying something that can get taken out of context and used against you. I tweet as myself, but it’s clearly interwoven with my work, and this can lead to tension. I think it’s important to carefully self-edit what one tweets and think of how readers from different viewpoints will engage with the tweet. And if the choice is between tweeting something snarky/mean or nothing at all, I will choose nothing at all. The last thing twitter needs is more negativity, imho.
Also, I tweet a lot about academic publishing. A lot of people have very strong views on this topic, and it can be stressful to get into intense discussions about this in such a public sphere.
@madhuramukho The danger of someone disagreeing with you and it blowing up. It can also be a major time sink.
@wiebkejahr It’s a high noise environment. There’s immensely useful stuff, but it takes a while to find it among all the cat content. Suddenly, you have gone down that wormhole and two hours have passed. If you’re lucky, you have skimmed four interesting papers marginally related to your research in these two hours :-)
@ian_mellis Echo chamber effects. Being misinterpreted.
@HeaneyLM You could annoy somebody with something you say, and also it can be a bit addictive and you keep checking hoping for new things to read. Also, people begin to post tweets that are directed at getting likes and not necessarily what they truly want to say – this is sad, but it is the ‘popular culture’ aspect of science twitter.
16. What other social media platforms do you use to talk about science?
@ritastrack None, except facebook where I always tell people to wear masks and keep up with sheltering in place. I am on LinkedIn, but I don’t use it much.
@madhuramukho None, although I do use LinkedIn from time to time to check what biotech companies are posting about. But I am quite infrequent there.
17. Are you a member of an underrepresented demographic? If so do you feel supported by your twitter community?
@rita_strack Not for this reason. I will say it has helped me become more aware of issues other groups are facing, and that’s a good thing. I’ve also gotten a lot of great resources on conscious and unconscious bias through twitter.
@madhuramukho Wouldn’t say Indians are underrepresented. As women, it is easy to get your voice drowned out especially if you’re junior/ less well known person. Also an easier target for trolls.
18. How has your use of twitter changed since the coronavirus pandemic started?
@rita_strack Not much. It does help me keep track of the status of different vaccines in development, which I like.
@madhuramukho Yes I spend more time on twitter, especially on the News feature since it has live updates on the pandemic.
@ScienceEmilyK I'm not sure if this was possible or widespread before the pandemic, but I am now aware of virtual dissertations! I've watched two people defend their thesis just from logging onto twitter, seeing the link, and having the time to watch their talk. As someone who's been out of research/academics for over a year, but is starting to consider re-entering the field for graduate school, it's a great way to refresh my memory and get ideas for my own future research. Plus, I love just learning about current science and listening to people talk about something they're passionate about.
19. What could Nature Methods do to serve the community more through our use of twitter?
@rita_strack Hmm, a lot! I hope this is a topic for a future editorial, so I will just leave this brief as a teaser.
@schmidt_lab Hm, good question. I like how NatureEcoEvo engages with the community on twitter and provides lots of info beyond their own content. So much, that I follow them even though it’s not my field. But that’s probably easier for a more focused journal. A great trend in methods development is that people are embracing open and DIY platforms such as RaspberryPIs, 3D-printing, … Perhaps Nature Methods can help lowering the entry barrier for people who think that this requires years of training to do?
@wth_laura Post more recommendations about publishing, writing tips, inspire and engage with young scientists
20. What tips do you have for using twitter effectively to promote a career in science?
@rita_strack Twitter gives you as much as you put into it. If you work to build your network, participate in conversations, and make yourself known, it will yield dividends.
@alesitoide Also I think it's really useful for women or minorities to find some representation, to identify with researchers and get some inspiration and encouragement to follow scientific careers. I think they should also feel needed. We don't talk a lot about the importance of diverse standpoints but it is my opinion that it does benefit science. Sharing experiences through social media can help change the notion that science is a white-hetero-cis-male pursuit.
@Caroline_Bartma People will follow you if you provide a ‘service’ that people on twitter want- read a paper and explain it succinctly, or do a thread about a historic scientist, or give tips for people in different career stages, or just tell jokes. Simply retweeting papers is fine and useful but may not result in a lot of interactions with new people or followers.
@dsquintana I wrote a free e-book on this very topic – t4scientists.com
@basktastic Use handles, hashtags, include nice pictures. I think that the 280 per tweet character limit makes you think carefully about what is the most important part of a paper you want to summarize. We usually give 30-60 min seminars, so learning how to be effective at nano-sized communication is a valuable skill. Who knows when you might get stuck in an elevator (or a Zoom room) with somebody important? You’ll probably be better at the 30-second sound bite about your science.
@cpsoni_74 Extend your reach by following more people from your community, share your knowledge, communicate ideas, always aim to have constructive discussions, and treat everyone with respect.
@toettch My advice to other scientists is: Learn how to tweet about your papers! With selected data images. Tell back-stories. Support and raise up your colleagues with cool data. Showcase others’ papers, not just your own.
And some don’ts: Don’t try to assert “rules” for the community (e.g. telling people “don’t make this mistake” is usually ill-advised). Don’t assume your path through science or point of view is the only good one.
21. Anything else you’d like to share?
@rita_strack Another huge thanks to everyone who participated in the survey. I was truly humbled by how many people took the time to help us out, and I hope that our series of editorials on science and social media ultimately benefit you all.
@and_schwarz In my opinion, Twitter increasingly takes over the essential role of informal communication with the scientific community, a role that traditionally conferences and visiting institutions played. If these increase in the future, either as a result of the current pandemic or to reduce air travel, this role will become even more important in the future.
@Harvard_CBI I’ve found Linked in to be more useful than Twitter. Less personal hype. Also, I’ve found it to be better for distributing content as you reach industry as well as academics. I find my twitter bubble is very academic-centric.
@Nikic_Lab Not related to twitter only and I am not sure if this makes sense, but I have been thinking a lot about how we discuss published papers and how journals communicate with their audience. Would it be possible that e.g. Nature Methods activates comment section and allows comments from different platforms (e.g. nature account, twitter, research gate, facebook). Altmetrics partially gives an overview of the attention that any given paper gets, but I still have a feeling that information gets dispersed a lot. Especially on twitter. If one could easily link all the comments on the respective paper to the original publication (on the journal website), that might be useful.
@WilsonAdams_I've also started a microscopy journal club through Twitter with some success. Better engagement than I expected. And it's a great networking/learning opportunity for everyone, since there's a lot of good discussion. It's been great so far. Turns out there's a lot of optics nerds out there alone in their research group with their interests. It's been fun to set up an outlet for that. https://biologists.us11.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=5b7ac8df5c4dcca24c796339a&id=d0fb185a7e