Thoughts on #LiveTweeting

As a part of the Centre for Cell Imaging and a member of the Microscopy and BioImage Analysis community, I occasionally get away to conferences like the recent NEUBIAS training school and symposium in Portugal.

vessels_neubias_banner

Since having joined Twitter last year (@dn_mason), this is the second conference that I’ve been to, and as a result, was the second time I tried (with reasonable success) to Live Tweet at the conference.

Live What Now?

Going right back to basics, Twitter is a platform for broadcasting small messages (of ~140 characters). Some describe it as micro-blogging. To many, the brevity of each tweet is both it’s greatest strength and also one of the most frustrating features.

Live tweeting, is basically the act of providing a running commentary of a seminar, event or even a whole conference. All of the tweets associated with such an event can be tied together using a text-tag called a #hashtag (which starts with a hash like that last one).

You can always go back through the twitter website (or app) and see all of the tweets associated with a hashtag. For example, check out all the #NEUBIAS tweets.

OK, I get it, but why bother?

I find myself being asked this question quite a bit. So here are my three main reasons for live tweeting (in no particular order):

  1. OPEN NOTEBOOKS: Like most people these days, I have way too much paperwork. Between manuscripts, notes and admin, the last thing I need is more paper on my desk. By live tweeting, I can keep track of who presented what, and when (and, what I or the audience thought of that in the question periods/breaks). Once you get the hang of it, you can check and record links to papers and websites on the fly so you know that you’ve not made a mistake in writing down the the URL (especially important if your handwriting is less than clear). Everything is time-stamped and fully searchable so it’s easy to find that note you took six months ago (can you say the same about your regular notebooks?).
  2. ACCESSIBILITY: Plain and simple, live tweeting, gives people who aren’t at the event access to some of the ideas, thoughts and opinions that are expressed there (see endnote #1). Perhaps you’re off at another conference but want to stay abreast of the latest research, or maybe your budget doesn’t stretch to a trans-atlantic flight. Furthermore, this taps into the idea of open science. By sharing your ‘notes’ via Twitter, everyone gets interactive access to them and the community can start a conversation around them.
  3. NETWORKING: This might be a slightly broader point, but a lot of scientists use Twitter. By becoming part of the twitter ecosystem surrounding an event, you will probably find it easier to get yourself and your work known. You’re also becoming a bigger part of the community and getting involved with discussions to which you would otherwise be oblivious.

Tips for Tweeters

I am by no means a twitter expert (a twexpert?) least of all regarding live tweeting, but below are a few tips that might help you to get started:

1) Ditch the default website

2017-02-18-mason-tweets1

At least 3% of your screen here is taken up by beard.

The twitter homepage (above) may look nice but it’s really inefficient on space. Once you move to Tweetdeck, you will never look back. Tweetdeck is a very customisable app built into twitter. Compare the image above with the one below. Left to right, I have my home feed (tweets from people I follow), my notifications (people talking directly to me or interacting with my tweets) and the #NEUBIAS hashtag, all on one page.

2017-02-18-mason-tweets2

You can add as many columns as you want, so you can follow individual people, hashtags or direct messages, tailoring exactly what you see in each column (likes, retweets, follows &c)

2) Tabbed browsing

It’s fairly obvious that Twitter is a web application (see endnote #2). So you probably already have a web browser open. Learn how to use and manage tabbed browsing, so you can quickly search for websites (IE the speaker’s homepage), papers (PubMed or your equivalent repository), or relevant links that you might want to come back to later. Learn shortcuts to quickly switch between and close tabs.

3) Links and Hashtag

Does the speaker use twitter? If it’s not on their title slide, a quick search is a good way to find out:

2017-02-18-tweets2

Assuming you don’t have a ridiculously common name…

If they do, include it in your tweet. It lets them know that people are discussing their work and opens up another avenue for discussion (once they’re off the stage).

This also helps with the visibility and networking mentioned above. Same idea goes for hashtags. If the event has a tag, use it in every tweet. Also, try to hashtag topics that will expose your tweet to others who might find the content interesting. #Don’t #over #do #it #though.

4) Harness the power of images

A tweet with an attached image is more visible and easier for you and others to find later when scrolling down a timeline. I try to add images at least once per logical break, even if they’re screen grabs from a website or company logos.

2017-02-18-tweets1Get to know how to screengrab, crop, save and upload an image quickly on your platform. Most browsers can open PDFs directly so you don’t need to download and open in an external application to screen grab an interesting figure or notable schematic from a paper. Make sure you include a link (a DOI or URL) so people can put the image in context.

5) Get to know the tweeps!

As I said before, a lot of scientists use Twitter. Try to figure out who are the people tweeting at a conference and make sure to follow them to see what they’re talking about. You may find extra insight or perhaps an interesting discussion point in which you can get involved (on or off-line).

The last word…

Live tweeting is not for everyone, but hopefully I’ve given you some reasons why you might at least want to follow a conference hashtag, even if you don’t contribute. Like any community however, the more people that get involved, the more everyone benefits.

 

ENDNOTES

#1: There is a really interesting discussion around this point, which extends to recording and/or streaming a conference. The argument goes that if people can “be at a conference” from their computer why would they ever pay the flight/hotel/conference fee to go to a conference in person? To me, this argument is patently ridiculous. Attending (most) conferences is about being part of a community, and this is a 2-way interaction. Some of the most interesting discussions happen over drinks or at meals, not necessarily during the talks and question periods. I’m fully for recording and streaming talks at conferences, and I seriously doubt that this would impact attendance.

#2: Many people use Twitter on their smart phones. The one and only time I do this is if I want to take a photo and tweet it directly. Otherwise, it’s just too slow and lacking in the editing / lookup tools (eg. good tabbed browsing) and screen real-estate to make the most of tweetdeck. If you can, always use a laptop or maybe (if you’re really good with it) a tablet.

Endosymbiont talk at Loreto College, Manchester

1933404_753326041779_1024914_o

Department of Evolution, ecology and behaviour student Louise Reynolds recently gave a talk on endosymbionts and here is what she had to say:

 

‘On Thursday 21st April I visited Loreto College, Manchester to give a talk to around 60 Upper Sixth biology students about endosymbionts. Biology is a very popular option at the college, which has 1000 students taking the subject at A-level.

Endosymbionts, such as Wolbachia are commonly found in insects and other arthropods. They live within the cells of their host and are inherited through females. During my talk I spoke about different aspects of Wolbachia biology.

Wolbachia is able to manipulate the sex determination system of its host, for instance some strains of Wolbachia cause the male offspring of infected females to die. Wolbachia is currently being trialed as a form of biological pest control to halt diseases that are spread by the mosquito Aedes aegypti, such as Dengue Fever, Zika, and Chikungunya. I also spoke about my own research investigating the genetics of rapid evolutionary change in the blue moon butterfly. This butterfly is infected with a strain of Wolbachia that causes male offspring of infected female butterflies to die. The blue moon butterfly has evolved the ability to suppress male-killing so that infected butterflies are able to produce both male and female offspring.

After the talk I had some sandwiches and juice, and spoke to students interested in studying biology at university.’

Talking rodents at Liverpool Light Night and PubhD

Guest post by Nicola Davidson, PhD student in the Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool

I recently took part in two, quite different, public engagement events. The first was PubhD on 12th May. PubhD is a new event for Liverpool organised by Kat Ford. PubhD takes place in The Vines pub near Lime Street station and runs for about an hour and a half once a month. There are three speakers each night talking on a variety of topics. Apart from my talk on rodent control there was a talk from IIB’s Rebecca Donnelly on mathematical biology and Samuel Mercer on social and political science. Each speaker is given 10 minutes to present their PhD without any slides, followed by 20 minutes of questions. I really enjoyed talking without having to rely on PowerPoint. It made me really think about how to get my research across to a non-academic audience. The question session afterwards was really interesting. As my PhD is on trying to solve a practical problem (stopping non-target rodents from getting poisoned by rat poison), there were lots of ideas on how the problem could be solved. I think PubhD could be a good forum to get some fresh ideas and perspective for your research. The audience was small (~15) as the weather was too good to tempt many people indoors. However, this gave the event a nice intimate feel and I think encouraged more people to ask questions. I would highly recommend this event, especially for PhD students who want to practice communicating the premise of their thesis. You can contact Kat on pubhdliverpool@gmail.com or have a look at the twitter page @PubhD_Liverpool.

The second event I took part in (on 13th May) was Liverpool Light Night. This was a much bigger event and was directed more towards families. Light Night is a one-night arts & culture festival. The University opened several venues for this event, and I was stationed in the Guild. The event ran from 5pm to 9pm. There were around 150 people coming through the Guild in that time. I was in charge of a stand based on my research group’s work on rodent control. I had two posters: one on rodent control and the other on rodent species in the UK. I also had videos of some wild rodents, a demonstration of a rat bait station and a make your own mouse book mark for children. I made plenty of bookmarks with children, and some adults too! As well as learning about rodents from my stand, attendees could visit other stands where they could have an ice cream made from liquid nitrogen, power a solar car with a lamp and learn how to fight cancer. It was a really good opportunity to talk to people about the realities of rodent control and try to convince them that rats aren’t that bad. Overall I really enjoyed taking part in this event, especially getting the chance to inspire children with the kind of research we are doing at Liverpool.

 

34th Bolton Brownies’ Science Investigator Badge

The Brownies are a guiding group for girls aged 7-10. They complete challenges and activities in order to earn badges, and one badge they can do is their Science Investigator badge. To get this badge, the girls must complete three science or engineering based challenges and get a visit from a Scientist or Engineer. Last week, I visited the 34th Bolton Brownies to help them finish their badge. After the group had sung the Brownie welcome song, I put on my lab coat and safety goggles to tell the girls a little bit about what I do as a scientist and the importance of scientists and engineers in our
society.

brownie_circle

Explaining the importance of Science and Engineering

I then helped the group with the final challenge needed to complete their badge – bridge building! Armed with bags of spaghetti and marshmallows and a help sheet from bexscience.co.uk, the Brownies set about building a bridge that could span a 25cm gap. It proved to be quite a tricky challenge as the gap was slightly longer than the length of a piece of spaghetti, meaning that we needed to join two pieces together to get the length. However, I think the hardest thing for some of the girls was resisting eating the building materials!

bridge_supplies

Materials for bridge building

After 40 minutes, we had three bridges waiting to be tested. To test the bridges, a girl from each group donned a hi vis vest and a hard hat (safety first with our budding engineers!). Weights were gently placed on the bridges until they collapsed. One bridge had suffered a collision with a Brownie during construction and so could only hold 200g when tested. The other two bridges managed to hold 800g and 1200g, quite an impressive feat for spaghetti and marshmallow constructions!

After a quick clean up, the girls were all awarded their well-deserved Science Investigator badge. To thank me for my help, I was also awarded one which will take pride of place on my lab coat! The girls seemed to really enjoy making (and breaking) their bridges and some of them were really keen to tell me about the vinegar volcano they had made the week before. The Science Investigator badge seems like a really good way to introduce science and engineering to young girls, allowing them to participate in a hands on way that isn’t always possible in a classroom. I was honoured to have been asked to help with this badge and I look forward to any opportunities to help other Brownie units to complete it!

badge

My badge

The Quest for Immortality @merseysci with @jpsenescence

Guest post by João Pedro de Magalhães, Senior Lecturer in the Institute for Integrative Biology

Pedro Sci BarJP Scibar

Liverpool SciBar is literally science in a bar (or pub).  It takes place in the first floor of the Ship & Mitre.  I gave a presentation on ageing and potential implications to society of retarding human ageing.  There were ~25 people in attendance (the maximum capacity is 30), so it was a good house.  The audience was a mix of young and old, University students and non-experts, men and women.  There were loads of excellent questions, from concerns about the implications of longevity therapies, to questions about diet and health, and even questions about what is possible to learn nowadays about ourselves from genetic testing.  (As an example, I told of how my dislike of coriander has a genetic basis.)  My presentation ended up being almost an extended discussion, which made it thoroughly enjoyable.

Adventures in (nano)science – Nuffield Research Placements

Nuffield Research Placements (previously Nuffield Science Bursaries) provide over 1,000 students each year with the opportunity to work alongside professional scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. Raphael Levy’s group has hosted students last summer and this summer. 

Last year we hosted Katie and Liam; this year we hosted Yasmin and Jack. You can find out more about what they did in the lab by looking at the Storify of their tweets:

Katie and Liam; Adventures in nano(science) [1]

Yasmin and Jack: Adventures in nano(science) [2]

Yasmin and Jack in the lab; summer 2015

The Smallpeice Trust Residential Courses

The Smallpeice Trust Residential Courses

The Smallpeice Trust is a charitable organisation that promotes science and engineering through the delivery of hands-on workshops and residential courses for secondary school pupils. Over the summer, I volunteered as a supervisor at 4 residential courses run by The Smallpeice Trust. Each course is hosted by a different University and everyone involved stays in the University’s halls of residence. This gives the students a glimpse into life as an undergraduate. During the day, the students participate in practical workshops run by engineers or university lecturers and attend careers talks by sponsoring companies. In the evenings, social activities are planned for the students and on the final evening, there is a formal dinner where the students are encouraged to interact with senior engineers from the sponsoring companies.

Smallpeice_nametag

The first course I attended was in April and was hosted by the University of Durham. This course, ‘Step into STEM’, was designed to give local year 10 students insight into general science and engineering based careers. Over the 3 days, the students had to work in groups of 5 or 6 to complete two workshops, the first of which was run by the National Nuclear Laboratory. The students were challenged to build a centrifuge out of Mechano that could separate out ‘nuclear waste’ (a mix of oil, sand, and water).  The second workshop was run by Jaguar Land Rover and had the students building a lightweight and durable car out of plastic sheeting, balsa wood, and a 9 volt battery.

Durham_Car

My attempt at a durable and lightweight vehicle

The second course I attended was ‘Cyber Security with Electronics’ at the University of Portsmouth.  This course was aimed at year 9 and 10 students with an interest in computer science and electrical engineering. Two organisations designed and ran the course, GCHQ and QinetiQ. To set the scene, the students were split into groups of 5 or 6 and asked to ‘infiltrate a terrorist ship’. The first challenge was to hack into a cluster of raspberry pis and required some programming knowledge. The second challenge was to use a printed circuit board and soldering to create an alarm that sounds when a light beam is broken. This was much easier for students who had previous experience soldering. Finally, breadboard circuit boards were used to build a robotic buggy that could follow a black line on a white surface. The three very different challenges meant that most students had at least one challenge with which they could fully engage.

Third up was ‘Supercomputing in Engineering’ at the University of Southampton. This was the smallest course I attended with only 22 year 12 students split into teams of 3 or 4. As the students were older, the course was run slightly differently with the day activities being run by staff from the University’s Aeronautical Engineering department. Lectures on aeronautical engineering were complimented with workshops that included building computers, modelling aeroplane wings and weather balloon flight paths, and programming and app developing.

Southampton_lecture

An Aeronautics lecture at the University of Southampton

Finally, I attended a ‘Girls in Engineering’ course at the University of Bristol. This was a heavily subsidised course for girls in year 8 or 9 that aimed to encourage the study of STEM subjects at a higher level. There were 97 participants and 4 outside companies running workshops, Lloyds Registry, Selex, National Nuclear Laboratory, and Babcock. The Lloyds Registry challenge was to build a boat out of wood and an air propeller. Selex challenged the girls to add a series of sensors onto a remote control car. The National Nuclear Laboratory required the students to build a centrifuge that could separate an oil-water-sand mix. And finally, the Babcock challenge was to build a crane out of bamboo and rope.

at_Bristol_evening

The Smallpeice Trust booked @Bristol for an evening activity, something we all enjoyed!

Overall, working as a supervisor was rewarding but tiring work. During the day, a supervisor has the opportunity to engage with the students and the challenges set, but in the evening you are also responsible for making sure that the students get to bed on time.