Sci is very excited to be taking part this year in the Experimental Biology 2012 Tweetup On Monday night, where we'll all be talking about how social media has influenced us. I thought I would give this a little thought before the conference, and I tried to think about how science blogging and tweeting have influenced my career choices, my research funding, or my networking. But at first I was a little lost. After all, I do my writing behind a pseudonym, and this makes it a little hard to network. It also makes it hard to use my blog to help in my career.
But when I thought about it a bit more, I realized that in fact, my blogging has done a great deal to influence the way I think about science, and has helped me a great deal in my career. It's just been doing its work behind the scenes.
First, blogging has been a great way for me to read widely. I first started my blog as an effort to convey science to the public, and of course, to keep up on my reading of the literature. But it also allowed me to read outside of my field, and exposed me to very different ideas than I encounter in my daily life as a scientist. When you are in one laboratory, seeing the science from one angle, for years at a time, it becomes harder to see that other scientists in slightly different fields have a very different view than you do. Reading outside of my field exposes me to different ideas, and makes me think in a very different way. I now try to synthesize my own work with the big picture of the field rather that getting twisted up in the details. In addition, writing about other people's science, dissecting it carefully and looking for issues, as I would do during a Journal Club in my department, is not only good practice for reading papers with a skeptical eye, it also helps me plan my own papers and projects, trying to see the weaknesses and where they can be improved. While I get some practice with paper reviewing like this in my day to day life, my science blogging has given me far more experience.
Secondly, blogging has been good for my networking. Not because I can make a lot of connections with my pseudonym (though there have been a few). Rather, it's because blogging, and the success I have had with it, have given me the confidence to approach people when I need to. It has helped me to believe I really can do things when I put my mind to them, that I am smart, and that my ideas are worth listening to. This can mean a lot when imposter syndrome strikes.
And finally, and possibly most importantly, my involvement with social media has helped my career in the blogs and tweets that I READ. Reading blogs by academics who are in more advanced stages of their career has taught me a lot about what I really need to do to get where they are. It's taught me about the ins and outs of funding. It's alerted me to issues in publishing that many (I would say most) people in my situation have no idea of. It's given me new insights into writing papers, designing grants, and shown me the many, many avenues for PhD's that are available outside of academia. Most of the benefit I have found has been in the reading, rather than the writing.
So even if you can't write under your own name, social media can still help you in your career. Blogging and reading science is always a good learning experience that can influence your own work, and anything that can boost your confidence is always good fuel for networking! And even if you just lurk on social media, you can learn a lot, just from reading the work of other people who have been there.
But what about other people who use social media and science? What has it helped them with? To find out, you'll have to join us at the Tweetup! Hope to see you there!