ASMR Newsletter Extra – Social media and the Life Scientist

Most of us use some form of Social Media in our everyday life, but how might it enhance our scientific careers?  This was the subject of a workshop entitled ‘ Social Media for the Life Scientist’ held by the Australian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR) during the 2012 AHMRC in Adelaide. 

Speakers were:


Day job:

On twitter as:

Blogs at:

Sarah   Keenihan

Freelance   writer


Noby Leong

PhD student   (University of Adelaide) and blogger


Paul   Knoepfler

Stem cell   researcher (University of California) and high profile blogger


So what did each of these presenters bring to the forum?

Paul, appearing via Skype, gave a guided tour of his blog,, where he comments on high profile stem cell papers and methods, political issues that impact stem cell science, ethics, clinical trials and unregulated stem cell therapies. He also uses his blog to educate the public about stem cells. Paul said that blogging probably took over an hour of his time daily, but that the engagement it afforded with other scientists and the public was very rewarding. Asked whether he thought that his posts could ever have negative impact on his career (for example when critiquing the work of others), he indicated that he wouldn’t post something that he wouldn’t be willing to say to someone directly.  He also stated that his University had been generally supportive of his often highly political blog.

Sarah Keenihan extended the discussion about University policies on Social Media use by staff and students. She pointed out that you could be held accountable for comments made using personal social media if they are deemed to represent your University in a bad light. Sarah also fielded questions about keeping personal social media outlets separate from your professional ones.  She suggested using some forms of media such as twitter, blogs, and science forums for presenting professional views, while perhaps keeping other outlets such as personal Facebook profiles private. 

Noby Leong talked about making personal connections via twitter and blogging.  He valued the immediacy of twitter for venting the day-to-day frustrations (or triumphs) of lab-work.  Both Noby and Sarah discussed the challenges of tweeting something interesting and meaningful in 140 characters:  it takes practice to do it well. Similarly, blogs need to be kept fresh and interesting to maintain an audience.

Noby and Sarah discussed using Twitter as a networking tool.  Noby said that he found himself tweeting with people that he would never have made a connection with otherwise, and that for young investigators, tweeting is a way to break the ice that is easier than the ‘cold-calling’ approach of emails. Even at conferences, participating in twitter conversations relating to the presentations may make it easier for junior scientists to approach other delegates in person between sessions or at mixers. Sarah also suggested that once you are familiar with Twitter and want to take it a step further, you can refine your experience and make it more streamlined by:

  • Using hashtags (#) to follow specific topics;
  • Creating lists of people you follow to manage your stream;
  • Participating in organised chats, such as #onsci and #phdchat;
  • Using platforms such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck; and
  • Using Storify ( to see and create permanent archives. 

Sarah also recommended some sources of further information:



Further reading

Social Media for Marketing   Science, S. Keenihan & K. Alford

Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities. A guide for   academics and researchers, A. Mollett, D. Moran, P. Dunleavy

Training for scientists

Online social media training course for Australian scientists

Who should I follow to get started on twitter? 

  (curated account through which scientists live-tweet their daily work   activities)

  (Dr Darren Saunders, scientist at The Garvan Institute)

  (Dr Krystal Evans, scientist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute)

  (Dr Cameron Webb, scientist at Sydney University & Westmead Hospital)

  (Dr Heather Bray, science communicator/researcher at University of Adelaide)

  (community of scientists around the world ‘doing science online’)

  (Blogs Editor at Scientific American, isiting Scholar at NYU school of   journalism, organiser of ScienceOnline)

Who does science on   Facebook?

Impact of Social Sciences:   maximizing the impact of academic research  



Australian Society for Medical Research

So what were the take home messages?

  1. Blogging about science can be rewarding but also time consuming – you must decide what you want to achieve with your blog, how much time you can devote to it, and be sure it is enhancing, not overwhelming your professional life;
  2. Twitter is not just for following news and trends but is also a useful networking tool;
  3. Think before you tweet – your comments stay in the twitter-sphere;
  4. Check your University’s or relevant Institution’s social media policy before launching into it;
  5. Consider creating a boundary between your personal and your professional online presence;
  6. Social media is becoming integral to scientific communication, jump in and see what it can do for you.

Dr Robyn Meech & Dr Sarah Keenihan

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