Welcome Quartzy Ambassadors!

Today we officially launched the Quartzy Ambassador Program!  Thanks to all the scientists out there who are so excited by the efficiency Quartzy has brought to their lab that they want to help others learn about and use the site!  It’s wonderful to have their support as we continue to change how science is done.


A Tribute to Postdocs (in the form of a sonnet)


In honor of Postdoc Appreciation Week, we wrote a little poem for all you postdocs out there!


I walk many university halls
and peer inside the storied labs to see
men and women hunched over black-slate stalls
pipetting, scraping, weighing in hours wee

Between school and career security
in limbo they toil, boss always appalled
Their work began in search of verity
but now they’d sell their souls if Nature called

For years as slaves to colonies of mice
Hoping to find the same results again
A grant or two would fix them up real nice
And might allow more food than Top Ramen

Too often do their stories go untold
More often from their minds new thoughts unfold


Q&A: The Benefits of Using Twitter as a Scientist (Final Interview!)

Interviews by Daniela Hernandez (@danielaphd)

Last week, we spoke with Heather Whitney about how she uses twitter as a Physics assistant professor, and the week before that we chatted with Andrew David Thaler about his blog and his use of Twitter as it relates to his research of the deep sea. In our final installment investigating how researchers use social media, we’re chatting with Alyson Swimm, a Senior Research Specialist at Emory.

Alyson Swimm (Senior Research Specialist, Emory University)

Alyson Swimm, or @kg_science as she’s known on Twitter, is a self-described science nerd and infectious disease researcher studying “what happens when host and pathogen meet.” In her lab, they study how the microbial pathogens enterohemorrhagic E. coli, vaccinia virus, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis interact with host cells. Like many other scientists, she’s using social media to keep up with the latest research findings and upcoming meetings, to vent about experiments gone wrong, and to interact with colleagues beyond Emory University in Atlanta, where she works.

Quartzy caught up with her to chat about how she uses social tools like Twitter and virtual pinboard Pinterest. The conversation has been edited for clarity.

Q: How do you use social media to learn about and keep up with science?

AS: I like to use Twitter [to keep] up with the current literature. I try to be careful in who I follow – journals, organizations in my field, companies that deal with products that are interesting to me and try to set it up in an organized fashion where I don’t have to plow through a lot of excess stuff. Some people tend to run curator sites on certain subject matters like the microbiome or autism research. Following some of those you’ll come up with stuff you wouldn’t necessarily have found.

Since I’m more of a lab manager, it’s interesting if someone’s got a pricing deal on products you buy all the time or a new antibody you didn’t know existed.

Q: How do you organize your Twitter feed?

AS: I use Tweetdeck [a curator and posting tool] for Twitter. Tweetdeck I like because you can set up several different columns. If you make lists and you put people on lists, like journals you follow in one list and the scientists that are interesting to you in another, it separates [the content] for you so you’re not going through a big long column of hundred and hundreds of things.

Q: What kind of links do you share?

AS: If I see a paper or a link to a meeting, something that’s interesting in my field, I’ll post it. I also post some fun stuff. I love art that’s related to science, so I’ll post that so it’s not all boring, research stuff. I have occasionally asked a trouble-shooting question or if anybody knew of a method that I hadn’t done before.

Q: How did that work out?

AS: Depends. If you’ve got people following you who do the same kind of benchwork you might find something. Other people will post things like that too and then somebody might pick it up and say so-and-so is trying to find out if there’s a better way to do this and it will pass through more people. I did find out about a tissue culture, multi-well thing that I never even knew existed. That’s interesting.

Q: Did you end up using that in your research?

AS: Not yet, but I bookmarked it in case I needed something like that in the future.

Q: The fact you share science-related art is really cool. What kind of art do you share and where do you find it?

AS: I honestly find it when I’m bored. I just go on Google and type [something like] “mitochondria art” and you’d be amazed what shows up! [laughter] Because I like that stuff, I keep a Pinterest board that I just add to so I know how to get back to it in the future. There’s lots of neuroscience art, even just science illustration. That’s something I’m particularly interested in. Once a science nerd, always a science nerd, I guess.

I think people tend to think of scientists as not having a sense of humor and some of us do! If I see something funny, I share that. I don’t know who sees it out there, but sometimes somebody else will think it’s funny too. I don’t think my sense of humor is that strange anymore.

Q: Do you engage in conversations with other scientists on Twitter?

AS: Occasionally.  Usually it’s just social. Just like any social media, somebody might make a comment, and you’ll pick up on it and say, “Yeah I’ve been through that a hundred times.” There is certainly interaction between people who are still at the bench and are venting about things not working in the lab.

Q: How do you think that changes how science moves along?

AS: When you’re busy all day — even though there are scientists all around you — you don’t necessarily walk next door. It just gives you an outlet for finding more people who can relate to what you do all day.  If you go home and complain about the autoclave being broken all day, nobody else cares. Somebody else who’s in a lab would be like, “Oh my gosh, I know that would totally screw up your day.” People are just trying to find people with the same interests.

Q: Do you interact with the people in your lab via Twitter?

AS: I haven’t asked around, but I’m probably the only in my lab on Twitter right now. I don’t use it as a social tool to interact with people I could interact with by walking down the hall. It tends to be people at other universities or research institutes.


Q&A: The Benefits of Using Twitter as a Scientist (Second of three interviews)

Interviews by Daniela Hernandez (@danielaphd)

Last week we caught up with Andrew David Thaler about his blog and his use of Twitter as it relates to his research of the deep sea. In this is the second of three installments, we chatted with Heather Whitney, an assistant professor at Wheaton College. Check back next week for the remaining interview!


Heather Whitney (Asst. Prof. Physics, Wheaton College)

Heather Whitney, A.K.A. @hbarw on Twitter, loves food, technology and physics. She’s a physics assistant professor at Wheaton College, a liberal arts college in Illinois, where she lectures undergraduates about the physics of music, among other topics. Whitney is also a contributor to ProfHacker, a blog on the Chronicle of Higher Education website, where she writes about the intersection of teaching and technology. Quartzy caught up with her to pick her brain about how she uses social media.

Q: Do you use social media to get input from other scientists about experimental design?
HW:Unfortunately, no. I do not know any other people in my basic science field, medical physics, that talk about research design on Twitter [but] I do get a lot of input from fellow physics teachers about pedagogy, through Twitter.

Q: What kind of links are you sharing on social media?
HW: Usually articles related to teaching physics and updates related to my research field.

Q: Do you use Twitter or other social media to find out about or keep up with funding news?
HW: RSS feeds can be helpful for that, depending upon the funding agency.

Q: How do you use social media to prepare for conferences?
 HW: I use Twitter to arrange “tweetups” – meetings between fellow professors that are on Twitter, and to report on interesting sessions.

Q: Do you use social media to engage with other scientists? What about the general public?
 HW: I don’t really engage with other pure scientists on Twitter, because there don’t seem to be many from my field there. I have a protected account, so I guess I’d have to say I’m not engaging with the general public really. Part of that is because I’m not sure how my activity on Twitter would be viewed for purposes of promotion and tenure.

Q: Who are your favorite people to follow and why?
 HW: @arundquist – a focal point person for physics profs – great to connect with him and other people about teaching physics well

Q&A: The Benefits of Using Twitter as a Scientist (First of three interviews)

Interviews by Daniela Hernandez (@danielaphd)

Scientists are communicators who tell stories about nature based on observable and reproducible evidence.  The most successful scientists are able to adjust how they tell these stories depending on their audience, and they’re able to convey why their findings are important.  As social media becomes increasingly pervasive, more scientists are taking note.  Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and the like, represent new ways to tell these stories.  They also allow researchers to stay abreast of new information, whether it’s the findings of colleagues, funding opportunities, conference deadlines or talks, etc.

Twitter in particular represents a controversial entity among scientists, primarily due to the brevity of the posts.  We’ve found that many investigators don’t understand the value it provides, or even how to use it.  We therefore talked with some scientists who use Twitter to investigate how and why they use the site. This is the first of three installments. Check back each week for the remaining interviews.


Andrew David Thaler (Postdoctoral Fellow, Duke University Marine Lab)

Andrew David Thaler — or @sfriedscientist as he’s known on Twitter — studies population and conservation genetics of the deep sea. He’s one of a growing list of scientists who are active on social media. Thaler uses social media to alert people about the issues he is passionate about, among them deep-sea hydrothermal vent endemic invertebrates and backyard farming. He knows the merits of social media well, and is quick to say that tools like Twitter and Facebook work because they make communicating easier.

“Any tool that’s going to make conversation easier people are going to use,” he told Quartzy. He has some tips for people just starting out on social networks, along with insights about how Twitter is helping make scientists more accessible to the public.  The conversation has been edited for clarity.

Q: How do you use Twitter and social media to keep up with science?
ADT: I follow the scientists that I like to talk to and see what they’re publishing. It’s all conversationally driven, so it’s about following the right people. I use Twitter just to update everyone following me on whatever is going on in my life and what events I’m doing and stuff like that.

Q: How often do you tweet?
ADT: Daily. An average of 5-20 tweets a day.

Q: Do you have any advice for people just starting out?
ADT: You have to invest some time. Find a few bigger names on Twitter and see who they follow, see who they retweet. Your network tends to grow naturally from there. There’s no easy “do this” and then Twitter will be great. It’s a process.

Q: Who do you follow?
ADT: At this point, most of the people I follow are my friends and colleagues – people I’ve met in person either through the big ScienceOnline conference that happens every year or people I already know. It’s the same as having a conversation you have with anyone you know from work.

Q: Do you discuss experiments or to troubleshoot protocols?
ADT: Yes, of course. If there is an issue I’m having in the lab, and there’s someone I follow on Twitter that has the [pertinent] skillset, I’ll ask them. It’s not really different from asking someone I know down the hall or someone I know through email.  It’s sending them a message.

Q:  Is there an advantage of doing it through Twitter versus sending an email?
ADT: It’s easier to reach people sometimes. These are just networks. Twitter is not some magical thing that’s better or worse than having a conversation. Some of my friends are more active on Twitter and more easy to get a hold of there. Some are more active through Facebook or email or some of the other social networks. You just use the tool that’s best for reaching a certain person.

Q:  Do you use it to reach out to potential students or staff?
ADT: No. I don’t do any advertising on Twitter. I use regular advertising boards for that.

Q:  Do you use social media to connect with colleagues at conferences?
ADT:  It depends on the conference. There has to be a critical mass of Twitter users at a conference for it to be useful, but it’s really good for coordinating large groups of people. If a conference is using a hashtag, you can collect everyone who’s paying attention to that hashtag and say hey, we’re going down to this restaurant if anyone wants to join us. It’s a good way of coordinating actions of large groups of people without sending out thousands and thousands of text messages.

Q:  Do you think social media is changing the way the public views scientists?
ADT: I think it’s making scientists more accessible. Twitter seems to be a less formal medium so people are more willing to shoot a message to a scientist they know on Twitter and ask them questions they normally wouldn’t if they had to contact them by phone, email or letter. I talk a lot about deep-sea conservation on Twitter and interact with lots of people who aren’t scientists through that. Because it’s an issue that lots of people haven’t heard of, I’m usually the first point of contact for questions about that issue.

Q:  Do you have Twitter Q&A’s for your followers to ask you questions?
ADT:  Not really. I don’t like the structured Twitter Q&A’s. I’d just rather talk to people when they have questions.

Q:  What’s the most interesting piece of science-related content you’ve shared on social?
ADT:  I really like expedition-style tweeting. So Twitter is really good if you’re out in the field. This February I was out on a research cruise in the Caymans, and we were continuously posting content from that cruise –pictures of the deep sea and updates about the research. We started posting pictures of garbage that we were finding in the sea floor at 5,000 meters. We got a lot of people following us from that. People were really surprised that in these places where no one had ever been before there was already trash there.

Q:  What kind of responses did you get?
ADT:  People who directly follow me had seen the stuff I post, so they weren’t as surprised, but it got retweeted a lot and spread around and we got contacted by a lot of journalists. It got picked up by a lot of major news outlets so that was a case where the stuff we were doing kind of bled over to the mainstream media, which was nice to see.

Q:  Do you think that’s easier because of social?
ADT: It’s hard to tell. We reach out to journalists through social media and regular networks too. I don’t know if it’s easier or if it’s harder because there’s more information being dumped at them.

Q: How do you use your blog network to let other people?
ADT: I don’t blog about my own research. I’m more interested in getting people aware of basic issues of the deep sea. My research is a little too specialized at the moment so my blog doesn’t really feature my research too much.

Q: Apart deep-sea issues, what other stuff do you share?
ADT: I do a lot of backyard farming. I talk to people about how to set up backyard farms and how to manage small livestock.

Q:  What kind of tips do you give them?
ADT: Sometimes just very basic stuff like how to build a chicken coop, how to set up a fence, how to raise chicken from eggs, how to take care of goats. We do small scale gardening too, but our yard isn’t that big.

Q:  How do you set up a chicken coop?
ADT: Well, there’s an instructions set on my blog! There are directions and CAD files on how to build it. There’s not a simple process, but if you’ve got a circular saw and a good drill, and a nice free weekend, it’s not too hard to put together.

Q: Anything else you want to add?
ADT: Tools like Facebook, Twitter and all the different social media, they’re just new tools for communicating. What happens on them is really not different from how we talk to people in regular life too. People seem to think it’s that Twitter is an internet tool that makes it cool, and really it’s because it facilitates good conversation. [That’s] why these things are useful and why people like them and use them. I think the technology is secondary to that.