Tips for Staying Active in the Science Community

Staying active in the scientific community decades ago was primarily run through publishers, issuing rebuttals, commentary, opinions and short discussions on different aspects of various studies. Some researchers would get together at niche conferences to discuss progress and every year or two. By today’s standards, this seems pretty slow.

Today, with the internet current hold in society, the ways of staying active in the science community are rapidly growing. From blogs, to discussion boards, preprints, twitter and so much more. It’s hard to keep of everything.

But who cares? Why bother staying active? What’s the point?

Networking with colleagues is one of the most powerful ways that you can directly shape your future, no matter what you’re career path. By making genuine human connections with people in and beyond your field, you put yourself in a position to be the first to take advantage of new opportunities as they become available.

Networking is often overlooked by many, perhaps under the impression that your work will speak for itself or maybe that they can make up for lost time later (something to do with hyperbolic discounting?). Unless your among the George Church’s, Eric Betzig’s, and the Karl Deisseroth’s of the world, never assume you publications are going to speak for you on their own. YOU need to be out there talking to people, getting their attention and maintaining a working relationship with them if you want to have the luxury of multiple opportunities down the road. And today, in the world of the internet, it’s easy to connect with the best in the world, get some name recognition, and get yourself foot in the door in your next endeavor.

Despite the necessity of staying active, there are so many avenues to pursue. By now, it seems like the options are endless. But fear not! My hope here is to bring some awareness to the most common tools you can use to stay active and relevant in a modern scientific community.

TL/DR:

Checklist of staying active in science

  • Claim profiles for indexing services:
    • ORCiD, Scopus
    • Researchgate
    • Mendeley
    • Google Scholar
  • Social Media
    • Twitter (definitely)
    • Instagram
    • Facebook (maybe)
    • LinkedIn
    • Researchgate
  • Professional Societies
    • Join Societies
      • Awesome resources to students make it pay for itself.
    • Attend conferences regularly
      • Network like a fiend
  • Personal Blog
    • Check out WordPress, Squarespace. Free-cheap

Social Media

Yeah, the newest gift of the internet age that seems to consume much of our lives. Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay for a while. And while it can easily be pitched as a sabotage for productivity, there are ample ways to use it to your advantage. From the more general platforms (Facebook, Twitter) to the more niche-targeted platforms (LinkedIn, ResearchGate), it’s a smart idea to try and have some sort of presence in each.

“But that’s so many things to keep track of!”

Yeah it is. But you don’t need to be posting on these things constantly. Once or twice a week may be all it takes. You can double-dip posts on platforms as needed. Or you may find that you can really prefer to capitalize on one. You don’t have to be a social guru to get the hang of social media. But it’s a great platform to facilitate conversation with both layperson and your academic colleagues about both your own and others ongoing work

General Platforms

These include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. Again, you by no means have to make use of all of these. These tend to have access to a more general audience. But if you did have to choose one, I seriously recommend Twitter. The academic community is bustling on twitter more than any other platform I’ve explored. It ranges from conversational, to advice, occasional straw polls, and plenty of pretty pictures. It’s an oppurtunity to connect with people over the struggles of graduate school. Check out hashtags like #PhDchat, #PhDlife, #PhD, and #scicomm to see what’s going on. Often times you can find some really useful advice.

If your work is very visual in nature, it might be worth doubling up on Instagram and Twitter. It’s easy enough to send your Instagram posts to twitter. Might as well make use of it. Facebook is tough because you rarely hit a huge audience anymore without paying for promotions, and I personally think that most of the stuff on there anymore is viral videos of dogs chasing their shadows. Your better off leveraging someone with more visibility and following on those platforms (IFLScience, SciAm, etc.) than starting something up yourself. Snapchat is interesting, but it essentially requires constant attention to use effectively…. Which isn’t the ideal platform for a preoccupied academic. Nonetheless, it’s worth keeping in mind for other scenarios. (Side note: Snapchat is starting to be used as a teaching tool to better connect with student audiences… might be something worth trying out)

Niche Platforms

These are sites like ResearchGate (Facebook for Academia), LinkedIn (Facebook for business), and sites like that. This will really depend on your line of research. If you are interested in getting your IP out for commercialization, or you plan to head into start-up land after graduation, definitely capitalize on LinkedIn. As an academic/postdoc type of person, you may be better off capitalizing on ResearchGate. The list can go on and on. There’s nothing stopping you from doing it all.

What should I post?

Literally, anything. Did you go for a hike this weekend? Post some picture, talk about how it helps you clear your head and get away from things for a bit. Did you get a paper published? Post a snippet of a figure! Give yourself some credit. Is everyone asking you what journals you look at? Or how to do a literature search? Share a good tutorial post from someone. Maybe there’s some tools that you use and others might find useful. These are all things you can post about. Get creative. Maybe some poor Photoshop will get a good laugh out of your audience. The possibilities are really endless. Just make sure that you are having fun with whatever you do.

Academic Indexing

These platforms are responsible for giving credit to authors where it’s due. It’s less about recordkeeping, and more about making it easier to find a particular persons work. For example, someone pulls up your paper on Web of Science, they can click on your hyperlinked-name and it will lead them to a page where they can see all of your work published work. Especially when you are looking at academic jobs, it makes everyone’s life easier to see where you have published, how often you are cited, what impact you have on the scientific community all in one place.

The drawback is that there’s more than one way to do this. I recommend getting a handle on the following:

  • Claim your Google Scholar Profile (You need a published conference proceeding/publication before you can claim.)
  • Claim your ORCiD Number (You need at least a published conference proceedings/publication before to claim.)
  • Claim a Scopus number (you need to have a peer reviewed publication before you can claim this)
  • Build a ResearchGate profile linked to all of these items.
  • If you use Mendeley as a citation manager, build your profile and link all your accounts to it.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but this covers most of the ways that the big databases index authors and can attribute credit to you where it’s due. A list on your CV is nice, but a list of links electronically is much more powerful in this day and age.

Professional Societies

There are a number of professional societies out there for virtually every line of work. They can be as big as tens of thousands of people or as small as a few dozen researchers. These societies are your tickets to networking and a host of tools and perks that can help you further your career. Often times, most of these societies host conferences as a forum to bring together the research communities greatest minds together to discuss. These are things you should take advantage of, especially as a student when memberships are CHEAP (free to $50 a year).

Membership

Membership to conferences come with many perks that you might not immediately notice. For a couple of examples, society membership gives you a chance to apply for travel scholarships to present your work at a conference (up to $1500 in some cases, more on that later), discounted conference registration, and much more. You’re sub-$50 membership can pay for itself ten-times over in this situation. Additionally, there are often a plethora of online tools (e.g. online conferences, webinars on particular techniques, featured research spotlights, publication access). There are dozens of perks to having memberships to professional societies. Capitalize on your memberships that you take on. You will be glad that you did.

Conferences

Conferences are some of the best ways to network with top people (or soon-to-be top people) in different fields of research. They could potentially be your next employer or PI. Having the opportunity to initiate and build these relationships is important to furthering your career beyond graduate school. Maybe you want a really personable postdoc advisor. Maybe you want to join a young startup, and perhaps someone you met at the conference is looking for someone qualified to take the reins on the Chief Scientific Officer position. These kinds of connections not become worth your income plus the skills you acquire over the next however many years your working with them. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF NETWORKING. Get out there and talk to people. If you need to, read books on how to network effectively with people. It will pay off one day.

Beyond networking, conferences are a great place to get advice, feedback, and new perspective on your work. This sort of stuff can really help propel your research, foster new avenues of work and bring you to your goals much quicker. I often find myself really excited to get back to the lab after a conference. It can be a real eye-opening experience.

If you can swing going to a conference each year, do it. It will be worth it.

Personal Website / Blogging

Kind of like what I am doing here, blogging is a great way to jot down your thoughts or even answer frequent questions you get with long or difficult answers. Spending 15-30 minutes writing a blog post on how to get an RSS feed working will help 15 or 20 people get one set up faster than you can ever teach them. Over years, this can become an invaluable tool.

Personally, I use this platform to just write about the stuff I have already done or figured out. You do not have to go out of your way to learn a crap load of new stuff. Blogs are opinionated in nature. Anyone reading them is usually looking for a perspective on something, not the end-all be-all truth. And I’m a firm believer in exploring as many perspective as you can before coming to a conclusion. Blogs make this easier.

I also like to use this platform to feature any pretty pictures I end up taking. Microscopy is very visual in nature. It’s hard to pass up a good opportunity to share a pretty picture of biology. This also give you an opportunity to talk about your ‘craft’ so to speak, how you find joy in the things that you are doing. This makes it a sort of therapeutic outlet for me as well. A blog has the power to reach as many as millions of people. If you can help yourself while helping other people, might as well make it happen, right?

You can also use your blog to feature guest posts from colleagues on topics that they may be better suited to talk about than you. Maybe a new paper came out that’s really cool that you want to write a review on. Maybe you’re already making one for you institution’s journal club, why not post it on your website? Perhaps you found a cool new article or tool to use. You can share these posts on social media to get some clicks and attention, build an audience, and help some other people out. Blogs can be taken a number of different directions. And it’s really easy (and cheap) to set up a website in as little as 30 minutes with things like WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, or Shopify.

Curious about a blog? Give it a shot. Definitely not necessary, but absolutely useful as an outlet for your creativity.

Conclusion

There are so many ways to stay active in the scientific community. The Science-Communications (#scicomm) community is bustling on the internet. Join the conversation! Get out there and network. Go to conferences, meet new people, stay active in your societies, get your paper references linked appropriately. All of these things can have an impact on your future. While it may not be clear immediately, trust that in due time you will be glad you did it.

Are there other ways that you prefer to get involved in the scientific community? Are there some important platforms worth mentioning here? Leave me a comment or shoot me a tweet.

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