Sometimes I forget that not everyone who sees my tweets has had access to my entire back catalog of online ramblings. I did a poll a while ago and discovered that many of my Twitter followers don’t know Squishy Cow, or haven’t seen my Lego videos. Both are some of my favourite science things I’ve done online, and (not coincidentally) both contain a heavy dose of silliness.
So, even though my current pinned tweet is a link to an equally silly piece of scicomm, I shouldn’t be surprised when people who see my tweets in their timeline, don’t immediately place them in the context of “me”.
When I reacted to the Guardian piece that’s doing the rounds, I considered it a given that everyone would know that I obviously love non-serious pursuits and scicomm and I think that everyone else who loves it should also do it. It didn’t always get understood that way. People thought I was saying that scientists shouldn’t do scicomm.
Squishy Cow: “Hahahaha!”
Squishy Cow: “Why would they think YOU of all people don’t think scientists should do comms?”
Eva: “Because they don’t know who I am. Worse, Squishy, they don’t even know YOU.”
Squishy Cow: “BUT I WAS IN A SCIENCE BOOK! I HAVE A FASHIONABLE HAT!”
Eva: “Your hat came free with a smoothie bottle. I never even took the label off.”
Squishy Cow: “I am offended and wish to retreat from the rest of this post.”
Eva: “Fine, I’ll continue without you.”
So, yeah, please do comms! All I’m saying is that this anonymous academic is not alone, and that there are other people like them who just want to focus on research. They should be able to do that if they want to, just like how I was able to decide not to do research anymore and instead focus only on scicomm.
It’s a pretty measured opinion, I think, and it’s very much in line with how I usually talk about science and science communication. The entire MySciCareer site is based on the philosophy that everyone is different.
I have worked with enough scientists in the past years to know that some love putting all their spare time into side projects or education and others just want to do one job and that job is research. Haven’t we all had at least one professor in undergrad who clearly didn’t want to teach but “had to”? That’s those people. They do great research – but nothing else. It’s fine. Part of science communication is to recognise that and to work with them. Show interest in their work. Think about their work. Communicate it for them where needed, but leave them work if they don’t want to get involved themselves. Don’t force them. These are never going to be the people who do cool demos at science fairs and they’re not the people who chat on Twitter.
Instead, people who do chat on Twitter are obviously biased about that article. Just because you (and I) don’t want to be… let’s just say it for what we think it is, boring, doesn’t mean that others don’t want to live a very uniform work life (or keep work and fun completely separate). No amount of #seriousacademic tweets is going to convince them otherwise. If anything, it’s alienating.
People do occasionally change their minds. I met a Cambridge professor a few years ago who was very skeptical about the idea of using blogs to talk about science. He believed that being online during work hours would distract his students from research. A few years later he now has his own blog and is active on Twitter. Nobody pressured him. He was just shown the possibilities and realized the potential on his own.
Many others don’t change their minds. Or they try Twitter because they see people use it, and then realize it’s not for them after all. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. The only important thing is to make sure people are aware of all the tools that are available to them, and that they know what their colleagues are using. Then it’s their choice to join or not.
Sure, don’t make fun of people who do want to use Twitter and other social media tools, but likewise, don’t make fun of people who DON’T.
Squishy Cow: “Are you done?”
Squishy Cow: “Can you post some of my pictures on Twitter now? It would be very on brand.”
Eva: “You know what? I think I might…”