Social media: Self-reflection, online

Virginia Gewin writes about scientists fostering online personas for Nature. The article is well researched and discusses a variety of scenarios from a variety of online personalities.

Online media offer researchers unique ways to express their interests and goals, foster collaborations and garner invitations and opportunities. But even scientists who don’t blog or tweet have an online presence that evolves apace — with or without their intervention. Auto-generated profiles from citation databases, Wikipedia entries, even photos from college can, by virtue of a simple Google search, paint an unwanted portrait of a scientist. If unedited, that portrait can cloud a researcher’s work, mar scientific relations and even cost them potential opportunities.

Some quotes from me are also included

Many scientists also use blogs as a part of their research programmes. Craig McClain, assistant director of science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina, says that he has gleaned research ideas from writing reviews of publications, found collaborators, opened up new opportunities to write for mainstream media and even received book offers. McClain started his award-winning blog ‘Deep-Sea News’ in 2005 as a way to reach the public. “Unless you are at a place with a great media-press office, it is hard to reach the public to explain science,” he says.

McClain uses irreverent humour in his blog. In one of his posts, McClain capitalized on the public’s interest in a video being shared over the Internet that depicted a life form living in a North Carolina sewer by attempting to identify it — and to therefore dispel the notion that it was “a mysterious alien creature here to suck out our brains”. The humorous style was intentional. “The public has a very narrow view of how scientists act, look and behave, and I wanted a blog that helped dispel the staid stereotype,” says McClain. It worked. His blog gets, on average, 2,000–3,000 hits a day, a lot for an independent blog site. “If people are entertained, they come back for more,” he says.