Gut me loose: thanks and farewell Helen Dockrell

Helen Dockrell (@helen_reading) joined Real Scientists in November and is a PhD student of Computational Biology at Flinders University in South Australia. Helen uses computational biology to research the intestines, and tweeted us through a number of topics including coding, microbiomes, and the fascinating ways your gut “tastes” food during digestion.

Even thesis writing is exciting in time lapse!

And when the research topic is guts, it’s only a matter of time before the poo tweets begin

Helen graciously responded to our curator exit interview, and you can read her answers below.


In general terms, how did you find your week as a curator?

Exhilarating, tiring, rewarding, fun!

It can be a shock talking to so many. Did you find the sudden rush of interactions (good and bad) daunting?      

Absolutely. With no experience of talking to so large an audience, I was surprised by the speed of it. I think I was expecting more of a delay between tweeting and hearing back from people. I got used to it quickly, though – you get a feel for the ebb and flow of views and comments. Waking up in the morning to the “99+” notifications sign was exciting but intimidating! I wasn’t expecting so many people to follow my personal account, either.

What were the highlights? Were there any lowlights?

I was so pleased that people felt free to ask questions and respond to topics with their thoughts. That happened much more often than I was anticipating, and it was great! It’s a tough choice, but I’m going to say my standout interaction of the week was an analogy for coding that I hadn’t encountered previously, tweeted to me by @_steegs, who said “As one who did not grow up with computers, I found an analogy. Knitting. Can make all items with knit and purl”. How fantastic is that?

In terms of lowlights, I found it difficult on some days to fit it all in, but I expected that. There were also some times when people asked questions or made statements that would have required a lengthy discussion to address, so I had to leave their questions/statements largely unaddressed. This was a little frustrating, but it’s the nature of any sort of live chat.

Is there anything you wanted to get out of / do on the RS account that you didn’t manage to fit in?

There were quite a few plans I made that didn’t get executed because I wanted to address the questions people had or the angle they wanted to take in following up information I was tweeting. That’s great, though – so good to have that interaction.

Did you have a plan? If so, did you stick to it?

When I first organised my week curating, I thought I would plan every day’s tweets out in detail so that I could make sure I could fit it all into the tiny character allotment. Then I wound up writing thesis chapters and having no spare time. Instead, I planned a theme for each tweeting day and wrote down a couple of ideas for the theme on the morning of that day. This worked out well, and improved my tweeting confidence greatly – so glad I didn’t plan it more, or I would still think it was impossible to quickly explain myself in a few tweets!

Do you have any tips or advice for future RS curators?

Set aside blocks of time to tweet, so that you can respond to people and have a conversation, but also so you can set boundaries during the day. It’s a constant stream of notifications – don’t try to check them constantly.

I think the daily theme worked well because I could respond to people whilst keeping the conversations on track. If someone asked an off-topic question, I could respond to them with the day we’d be talking about it, which people liked.


Thanks once again Helen from all of us here at RealScientists HQ. If you missed anything from her week, the tweets are all collated at the following link.


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