Why you should tweet for us

In response to a few queries we’ve had over the past while about how people can become @RealScientists curators, how we in Team RS go about selecting potential curators, and general advice-seeking about the tweeting of science, we’ve decided to write a Thing about tweeting as a scientist, and tweeting as a RealScientist.

Firstly, as a scientist, why should you tweet?

Yeah, why should I tweet?

Because there’s no better way of communicating directly with the end-users of your research – the people who paid for it, one way or another.

But how can you say anything meaningful in 140 characters?

Practice! Just give it a go.

But I don’t have anything to say!

You seem to manage when you’re asked to write a grant or a paper, don’t you? Or when your parents or family or mates down the pub ask for the once-over-lightly version of your project?

But but but can’t you get fired for tweeting stuff?

Only if you’re breaking the cardinal rule of the internet: ‘don’t be a dick’. General rule is, even if you’re nominally anonymous, it’s a public forum and you need to stand beside everything you say. Hiding behind some form of anonymous sockpuppet is no guarantee of safety. Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, or have published in the paper with your name beside it. Don’t call your boss a clueless gurning muppet, even if he IS, and everyone in the office says so. That’s not necessarily peer-reviewed data.

How do I get started? @MCeeP, one of our star admins, has written and illustrated a great post on his blog Errant Science on how to get started on Twitter  – the logistics of creating an account, finding followers, finding your ‘Twitter voice’ and starting conversations – titled ‘What is Twitter? – A crash course.’ A recommended read for all. Multiple thumbs up.

In terms of how to tweet as a scientist, there’s actually some good resources out there to help – Christie Wilcox aka @NerdyChristie of Scientific American’s Science Sushi wrote a tremendous multi-part series about the whys, wherefors, hows, dos and don’ts of science tweeting: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 2.5 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5. Also, Tweet Your Science has been putting together a repository of academic resources on tweeting science, as well as running events and establishing databases of active science twitterers. There’s no right or wrong way (the above ‘don’t be a dick’ rule notwithstanding) to twitter about science (or about anything). Take time to find your own voice and you will find your own audience.

So how do we go about picking curators for RealScientists? Well, it’s fair to say we (meaning the RealScientists admin and moderator team, aka the @RealSciMods) don’t see ourselves as gatekeepers – it might seem ironic given the name of the project but we don’t sit in judgement on what is ‘proper’ science or who is a ‘real’ scientist. By and large, the people who nominate themselves for curation know whether they’re scientists or not. Generally, we aim for people who are doing active research – although we’ve had and will continue to have science communicators, educators, policy makers and so forth – because that’s what we feel our followers are interested in hearing about, that’s where the ‘unmet need’ is in terms of whose voices are heard. Despite half our team being science communicators, we are supporters of the idea that one day professional science communicators might not be necessary, if all researchers could be citizen science communicators in their own right. Of course, that’s not feasible right now, but our hope is to showcase best practice in that area.

As a guide, most of our curators have been postgraduate students (PhD/MSc), postdocs or beyond, but that doesn’t preclude. We’re fairly agnostic in terms of speciality – most of our team are molecular biologists by background, but we’ve probably had more astronomers through the account than anything else – and welcome all denominations. We do tweak the scheduling in order to get a good ‘mix’ of specialities – also to try and tie in with potential curators’ field work or conference trips. We also do a bit of ‘due diligence’ around what sort of stuff a potential curator tweets in their own timeline, how they interact with people and so forth – we’re not shy of engaging with controversial subjects in the science sphere, but we do require them to be engaged with in a rational, non-confrontational way (i.e. without abusing people.) We understand that people who are scientists or into science aren’t necessarily tweeting about science 24/7, and we keep that in mind when assessing potential curators’ tweeting output.

At any given moment we’re usually booked up for a few months in advance, although occasionally earlier vacancies appear, so if you do have some cool field trips or conference junkets lined up that you think would be fun to live-tweet for RS, be sure to sign up well ahead of time and let us know about these things when you do. Nominating yourself as a curator is easy – just fill out our curator form (click here) and that will queue you up on our prospective curator list.

That’s it! Good luck, and good tweeting.

@theotherdrsmith for the RS Team.

For more from the RealScientists admins and mods, follow us on Twitter (@RealSciMods).

For more about the RealScientists admins and mods, check out ‘About @RealScientists’.