Posted on 09/03/2013 at 08:40:00 AM by Student BloggerBy Colby Vorland
The mainstream view of Twitter may be one of celebrities and brands, and before I joined this is how I considered it as well. But there is an active and growing community of science-based professionals- researchers, practitioners, students- who make Twitter a unique experience and useful tool for getting relevant research or news. Here is my perspective as a graduate student of how Twitter has been beneficial to my involvement in the field of nutritional science. I've also included a number of other viewpoints from professionals who use it effectively.
● Interact with Experts
Both direct and passive interactions with experts make Twitter great. Simply following a carefully selected group of people will provide a filtered list of hot-off-the-press research and news articles. 140 characters is about perfect for a link and a paper/news article title or short summary, which makes scanning for those of interest very efficient.
Importantly, Twitter has helped me refine my ability to judge credibility and detect pseudoscience. I am now often prepared to respond to questions when I am asked because I am aware what health claims that the public is exposed to. It has also dramatically broadened my familiarity with other food-related and unrelated fields. Learning how research is approached in other disciplines lends a unique perspective to apply to nutritional issues.
● Follow Conferences
Posting to a Twitter hashtag (#example) allows many people to contribute to an ongoing conversation/topic. Some professional conference attendees append the hashtag to tweets about conference talks or events and anyone can get a live summary. As an example, the annual multidisciplinary conference Experimental Biology that includes a large nutritional science representation had many people posting to #EB2013. This is a great benefit to others, and as a graduate student who couldn't attend, it was very useful to learn what various experts are saying.
● Gather Data
Twitter can be used to gather data, and it is an endless source of it. As an example, I wrote a program to gather all tweets that contained the aforementioned #EB2013 tag and performed some basic analysis and even could extract photos taken at the conference. This can also be used to dig into and attempt to summarize topics such as activism over California's Proposition 37 (genetically modified food labeling) political issue last year.
Don't Just Take My Word...
I asked a number of people who I find essential to follow on Twitter what they like (or dislike) about Twitter. Here are part of their responses:
Larry Parnell, Ph.D., Computational Biology (Nutritional Genomics) at Tufts University (@larry_parnell):
“In short, being connected on Twitter is kind of like being at coffee break at a conference - all the buzz and energy from the newest and latest mixed with thoughts, insight and opinions that influence where I will go next with my research."
Mark Haub, Ph.D., Department Head of the Department of Human Nutrition at Kansas State University (@MarkHaub_KSU):
“I use twitter almost exclusively due to the speed of staying in tune with professional issues. I then use the 'hot topics' for class discussions. A key point of this is to illustrate to the students that what we discuss in class is pertinent to what they will experience in the profession.”
John Coupland, Ph.D., Professor of Food Science at Penn State University (@JohnNCoupland):
“My first motivation to get involved in twitter was that as a professor at a public university the taxpayers deserved to know what I was doing with their money! I also felt the public conversation around food issues is better if more experts were willing to engage around their field of expertise.”
Michael Müller, Ph.D., Chair of Nutrition, Metabolism, & Genomics in the Division of Human Nutrition at Wageningen University (@nutrigenomics):
“In the last 4 years I extensively used twitter for dissemination of new insights in molecular nutrition, fruitful interactions with other scientists and staying up to date on the most recent trends in the area of nutrition, health, genomics and quantify yourself technologies.”
Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., CCFP, Founder and Medical Director of the Bariatric Medical Institute (@YoniFreedhoff):
“Providing you put some thought into whose tweets you follow Twitter becomes in a sense a peer-reviewed curator of all that's current in what interests you.”
David Despain, M.S., Science and Health Writer (featured on ASN's blog) (@daviddespain):
“I use Twitter to report and keep up with news on nutrition and health, build up interest and discussion, capture commentary and insight, and bring attention to important voices on specific health-related topics.”
Also be sure to read the thoughts on Twitter and social media from Drs. Miriam Ryan and Michael Gibney from this ASN interview, and Ph.D. candidate Atif Kukaswadia's 5 reasons why scientists should use Twitter.
Twitter isn't for everyone, but try it- you might be surprised at its utility.