Communicating Science Online: Getting Started and the ‘Dos and Don’ts’
By Beth Webb
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot about disease management, the importance of vaccines, public health initiatives and science communication. In the U.K., during the first lockdown when labs closed, I felt like I had lost my identity. A huge part of me took pride in being a scientist, and I felt truly lost without being in the lab. Admittedly, I thought my lab experience was what made me a scientist, and in fact I couldn’t be more wrong.
I was so frustrated with how scientists were perceived in the media. I felt communicating science quickly became a huge part of our duty as scientists. This urge to communicate made me think: what’s the point in working so hard if not to share and educate?
Therefore, to keep me somewhat sane during this turbulent period, I started a blog. I had no plan or idea what this could be, but the blog gave me something to do. Writing the blog allowed me to share my thoughts and experiences as a first-generation Ph.D. student studying through a pandemic. It was very cathartic. I then pursued writing about science. My first bit of ‘real’ #SciComm was a blog post about COVID-19 and platelets. I was so nervous to post, but the piece was well received and spurred me to write more posts including an entire blog series all about blood. I promoted my blog on Instagram, and that’s where it all changed for me. I found a community of scientists and Ph.D. students that really helped me during a challenging time.
I offered tips and advice for prospective Ph.D. students, whilst having fun, sharing relatable academic content, and communicating science. I was afforded the opportunity to partner with brands to promote products and charities to share their mission. Starting this blog led me to amazing opportunities such as giving talks, being a guest of multiple podcasts, and co-hosting for the ‘Probably Platelets’ podcast presented by The Platelet Society.
I am grateful that I pushed myself past my comfort zone and started communicating science and my experience online. I am a better scientist, and the experience helped me gain confidence and improve my communication skills. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner!
If you’re on the fence about communicating science online, go for it! I’ve compiled some useful tips below to help you get started:
The impact of science communication
The aim of science communication is to inform, educate, enhance public health initiatives, build trust between the public and scientists, as well as humanise scientists, and inspire the next generation of scientists. Communicating science to the public is extremely important and is fast becoming our duty as scientists. Just know that however you communicate science, it will have impact.
Who benefits from science communication?
The public, your institute, you as the scientist, affiliated societies and funders.
Why is communicating science online important?
It’s accessible and free. As scientists, we know that paywalls limit access to science resources, so using your own website or social media can be a great way to share science for free! Using social media can reach a wider audience from different backgrounds, and the content you share remains online as a reference.
How to get started?
· Decide the platform to use. If you want a long-form content then consider a blog or YouTube channel. Whereas, if you want shorter more accessible content consider Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok.
· Create an account. I suggest a separate account from a personal account to communicate your science.
· Decide on content. Have you just published an article? Then why not give an overview of the research findings. Have you just been accepted/rejected for a grant? Share your experience and give some tips and advice about the process involved. The possibilities are endless!
· Start sharing!
The dos and don’ts
· Be social: it’s called social media for a reason. Engage and connect with people.
· Show personality
· Get creative
· Credit others
· Copy others
· Use jargon
· Patronize your audience
Beth Webb is a Ph.D. student attending her first ISTH Congress this year. Follow her as she documents her #ISTH2022 experience on Instagram @_bethology or on TikTok @_bethology.