A Beginner’s Guide to Scientific Social Media

Guest post by Stephanie Yang, a Ph.D. candidate in the human genetics graduate program.

I love social media. I can spend hours scrolling through feeds on Facebook, watching stories on Instagram and sending silly pictures to friends on Snapchat. Name a social media platform, and I probably have an account.

Except for Twitter. Over the past eight years, I have neglected my poor Twitter account.  Every year or so, when someone reminded me how useful Twitter was for staying up to date with science, I would log back in; follow a couple new people; update my profile picture; obsessively check tweets for a week or two; and then promptly forget about it for another year.

A few weeks ago, I started the cycle anew. What will make this attempt different from the others? A few days ago, I attended a seminar by cell biologist Kate Bradford (@KateBradfordSci) on using Twitter for science, which taught me tricks and tips on how to find community, engage with others and curate a scientific social media presence. Armed with this new knowledge, I plan to rejoin the scientific Twitter community — and, hopefully, this time, stay engaged for more than just a couple of days.

Why should you use Twitter for science?

There a lot of reasons, it turns out. Twitter is the most widely used social media website by scientists1, making it an ideal platform for sharing research and asking for advice. Not only is Twitter a great way to network with other scientists doing similar work; some collaborations have been created through Twitter connections. Additionally, Twitter’s “reply” feature fosters conversation, allowing for many members of the community to chime in with opinions and advice.

But if Twitter is so great, why did I have so much trouble using it? One main reason was that I simply couldn’t figure out what to tweet. I had never used social media for a professional purpose before and couldn’t figure out what was fair game. And, unlike other social media posts, tweets can’t be edited, adding to the pressure. In the seminar, Kate gave some examples of things that could be tweet-worthy:

  • describing recently completed work
  • asking for scientific advice
  • celebrating fellowships
  • commenting on newly published articles

Additionally, after the forum, Kate created a new hashtag (#HopkinsTweets) for Johns Hopkins Twitter users to introduce themselves to one another, making for an easy tweet.

Another important aspect of Twitter that I had previously completely missed out on was engaging in conversation. As mentioned earlier, Twitter’s “reply” feature allows for discussions on any topic one could possibly care about — including mentorship, balancing life as a Ph.D. student, mental health, educational initiatives, and more.  No wonder I didn’t stick around on Twitter — I wasn’t being “social” on a social media platform.

Of note, Twitter does not just comprise accounts for individuals. There are accounts for organizations such as the American Society for Human Genetics (@GeneticsSociety); the National Institutes of Health (@NIH); and, of course, Johns Hopkins (@JohnsHopkins). Following a variety of different accounts can allow scientists to curate a personalized stream of information via their newsfeed.

Kate also mentioned that sharing parts of your life with Twitter is OK, even if your main purpose is to use Twitter for professional purposes. Personally, I find that I am more interested in following people on Twitter who showcase their personalities, as opposed to retweeting articles without comment. However, setting personal boundaries regarding what is shareable on a professional platform can be tricky. For those who would like to do some additional reading, Kate wrote an excellent article on the topic.

Finally, one statement from Kate comforted my anxieties about whether or not I have what it takes to become a Twitter superstar. “If you don’t like it and don’t want to use it, you’ll be OK.” Although science Twitter is definitely useful for building networks and advancing one’s scientific career, so far, it is not necessary for success. It’s good to know that even if I do completely forget about Twitter in a week or two, all is not lost.


  1. Collins, K., Shiffman, D., Rock J. “How Are Scientists Using Social Media in the Workplace?”PLOS ONE. Public Library of Science; 2016;11:e0162680.

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