My Fellow Tweeps-To-Be

Last week, I was honored to be a part of the Franklin Women event, “Making social media work for your career.” I had a really great evening; it was wonderful to be surrounded by such supportive, motivated and intelligent women. Thank you to everyone who came, and to the inspirational Dr Melina Georgousakis for inviting me to be a part of it.


Though we did address a number of platforms on the night, Twitter was more or less the headlining act. A number of attendees either signed up for an account or sent their first tweet that very night, as a result of being inspired by the discussions (Shout out to @mrsxandra @magda_ellis @Brigid_Og @bhonah025 and @kamilla_marzec to name a few!).

While I’m excited to be spreading the good word, I’m also aware that merely joining Twitter does not a tweep make (tweep (n) regular user and enjoyer of Twitter). A billion users who tried Twitter have never come back. This is due in part to (what I believe to be) some shortcomings of the platform, as well as people not really knowing HOW to make the most out of their account.

I’m a natural problem solver (see: PhD student), as well as a bit of a bossy pants, so I’m here to provide you with a solution. A short(ish) primer on how to make the most of your brand spanking new (or plain neglected) Twitter account.

Twitter Terminology

#            The hashtag is a way to label your tweet. If you are tweeting about a TV show, conference, hobby etc and include a relevant #hashtag, it means that someone searching for relevant tweets can find yours easily. It’s also how a topic can start to “Trend”: if millions of people are talking about marriage equality (Hooray!), then the relevant #hashtag, #LoveWins may well start to Trend. Oh look!


Follow         If you follow someone, their tweets will appear in your feed (feed = flow of tweets as seen on your home page).

@          @ represents the start of someone’s Twitter handle (I’m @cfawarren), and it’s also a way to send a tweet to someone (“Hey @cfawarren, I found this picture of a guinea-pig in a sombrero, thought you might enjoy!”). They will receive a notification of your tweet. Using @handle means that only the person you are tweeting and their followers will be able to see the tweet.

.@         Using .@ instead of @ means that your tweet can be seen by anyone (but only the person you are tweeting will get a notification). Using @ or .@ is often referred to in digital and non-digital conversation as “pinging” (“Did you see @cfawarren was pinging me pictures of guinea pigs all day AGAIN today?!”).

Retweet              (square arrows) If you retweet a tweet, it means it will appear in all of your follower’s newsfeeds.

Favourite            (star) If you favourite a tweet, the tweeter will get a notification. It’s the Twitter equivalent of a Facebook “like”. It basically says, “I approve!”, but with minimal actual effort. Favourited tweets will also get put in your Favourites List (on your profile page). It can be useful for marking things to read later.


Lists       You can compile your followers into lists, then look at the feed for each list separately. One of the reasons some people don’t like Twitter is that it moves too fast. If you follow a few actual friends as well as a couple of hundred scientists, science news sources and guinea pig breeders, chances are you will never actually see any of your friends’ tweets unless they are pinging you specifically. By putting your friends IRL (in real life) into a list, you can make sure you see everything they have to say. Unfortunetely, building lists in Twitter is a pain in the balls (very fiddly, not streamlined at all) so it’s best to add people into the relevant list as you follow them. This is best practise…but I don’t do it because I’m impatient. If you already have a load of tweeps you’d like to organise into lists, I’d recommend doing it in Hootsuite (though still not perfect).

DM        Sending a DM (direct message) to someone means that only they can see it. It’s a private conversation.


Building Your Twitter Experience

Twitter is a way to personalise the internet. Millions of articles are posted online every day: with Twitter, you can increase the chances that you’ll see the ones which are relevant to you. And it will facilitate discussions with others about topics YOU care about. From experience, you are way less likely to get trolled on Twitter than you are on a message board (but the risk is definitely still there!). Twitter is a way to connect with people with similar interests to you, and to access information about your interests. But you have to establish your follows and followers first. Here’s some tips on getting started and speeding up the process:

-Use lists             You can build your own lists (as mentioned previously) in order to organise your tweeps. You can also subscribe to other people’s lists. Once you subscribe to someone’s list, all of the tweets from tweeps on that list will appear in your feed. You can still unfollow an individual from a list you are subscribed to, don’t worry, it’s not an all or nothing system. This is a quick way to make your news feed interesting. I have several science-y lists you are welcome to subscribe to.

-Write a bio       You can’t expect people to follow you if they don’t know who you are. Use the bio feature to write a few words about yourself. Think about the kind of people you want to connect with and why: if they read your bio, do you think they’d find YOU of interest? I generally don’t follow back people without a bio because I don’t know who they are: I generally assume it’s a spammer.

-Have a display pic         Fair enough if you don’t want your face attached to your profile. Pick a picture of your pet guinea pig, a plant, a test tube, whatever. Just make sure it’s not the sodding egg. That egg screams, “I never use this account so don’t bother following me” and also “SPAM SPAM SPAM”.



-Have a personality        Try not to be too sterile when it comes to tweeting. I like to obide by “The Grandma Rule” (if you wouldn’t say it in front of your Grandma, don’t say it on the internet), and also “The Cocktail Party Rule” (if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face in front of a room full of people, don’t say it on the internet – thanks @StartupShelley). But that doesn’t mean you have to be a robot. Express your opinions, your loves, your hates, yourself! The connections you make will be way more valuable, you’ll enjoy it more and you’ll help make scientists look like actual humans.

All set? Got the lingo down and a couple of interesting followers? Great! Let’s go! Tweet away! Oh wait…

What to Tweet

A few suggestions…

-Be inspired by some trending hashtags               You might notice that your newsfeed will become inundated with recurring hashtags or themes from time to time. Remember #GirlsWithToys and #distractinglysexy ? These were great hashtags because they were accessible, fun and they were promoting an important message about women in science. Keep your eyes peeled for another opportunity like this, I’m sure it won’t be long before another one comes along.

Elevator pitching          Here’s one I’d like to think most academics are capable of. Tweet about your research! Try and make it as accessible as possible without being patronising. Get your “science sound bites” (another thanks to @StartupShelley !) out there. It’s a rhetoric I’ve heard several times at sci-comm events, but it’s true: the internet is a vacuum. If you don’t get in there and put actual science into the arena, there’s an endless supply of pseudoscientists waiting to make their contribution instead. Tweeting about your research also builds your personal “brand”. Wanky, I know. But if you put yourself out there as the expert that you are, people will recognise it. Importantly, journalists will recognise it. Future employers will notice it. Potential collaborators will recognise it.

-Share what you’re reading                      What interesting news or topical pieces have you read recently? What was your take on it? Did it remind you of anyone who might appreciate it? Ping, hashtag and retweet away! A lot of articles will have a “Twitter share” button already on the page.

-What are you doing this weekend?       Easy as.

-Join in with a conversation        Talk to your friends. Talk to strangers. Talk to (potential) mentors. If you can see people are having a conversation about something that interests you, jump in!

-Conferences     Find out the official hashtag for a conference or event, and use it to tweet your ideas and interpretations of presentations. Use it to find new tweep friends IRL! Use it to engage with people who aren’t at the conference but who want to know more. Use it to ask presenters questions if you’re feeling shy.

Twitter has helped me to build my confidence and my networks. It’s helped with my research and training. It’s helped me to connect with mentors. It’s helped me build my reputation. It’s helped me secure a number of invaluable opportunities (some of which I actually got paid for!).

Last but not least: it’s fun! Give it a go and let me know how you get on.

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Self Monitoring

After last week’s post (which had been dwelling in various parts of my brain for a while, they just took a while to find each other), I thought it would be interesting to have an ’emotional brain vs functional brain’ de-brief at the end of each workday this week.

In devoting attention to monitor these two major contributors to my productivity and well-being, I’m hoping to develop more control over them…


I decided to knuckle down and teach myself some maths/ stats, as I have had some preliminary data sitting around for a while, but have not been quite sure how to approach it. After my blog post from Sunday, the concept of not letting my emotions deter me from my goal was at the forefront of my mind. The day went slowly, and it was hard to stay focussed when I started to find things difficult…but, as my twitter feed suggested, I felt pretty good by the end of it:


After getting my head around the basic concepts of Kaplan-Meier on Monday, I thought I should attempt to streamline the process (I had been going step-by-step in excel), and start to introduce a few more challenges.  This did not go so well. I guess because my aim was to ‘go faster’ than the day before. I let the failure get to me; I am starting to feel the time pressures of approaching conferences, and it’s a real concern that I won’t get any data. My slow learning completely fed into this fear.


I headed back into the lab to repeat some Real-Time experiments. I am optimising primers at the moment, and the next step from getting i) product and ii) a reasonable melt-curve from the Real-Time is to run it on a gel to ensure there is just ONE product. After this, I will extract the cDNA from the gel and send it off for sequencing. After this, I have to make sure the efficiency of the primer conditions is optimal. I had got my Real-Times working before but my standard deviations were terrible. I figured it was worth another attempt to get them behaving a bit better. Unfortunately, our Real-Time machine had broken. This made me stressed. I managed to sneak onto the other machine. After about 3 hours of prep and run time, I got my results back and…the run had completely failed. I had used the wrong cDNA samples. This made me stressed. Even though I had finally managed to find the right equipment and get the appropriate training for it in order to execute the next steps of optimisation earlier that morning…it was fast dawning on me that that “next” step was much further away that I had anticipated. This made me stressed. I realised that, to move forwards, I had to go backwards; I needed better quality cDNA from a different source. Just so I could run ANOTHER Real-Time. Just so I could check the product on the gel. Just so I could continue troubleshooting with temperatures and cycles. Before I could even think about getting actual data. This made me stressed. To summarise:


Unfortunately, I couldn’t head back into the lab as I had a two day biostatistics course. As you can imagine, I was not excited about this. While the course was challenging, it wasn’t too much of a bash on my mood as it seemed as though everyone else was struggling too. The teacher was patient, and I felt confident that, with time and energy, I could probably figure out what I needed to. I didn’t panic too much when I didn’t know what was going on. In the afternoon, I did some demonstrating in the undergraduate biomed labs. This was  a lot of fun. Some of the other sessions have been quite stressful as I haven’t taken the class before (as a student or a teacher), and I didn’t know where stuff was or how to answer some of the questions regarding the methodologies. THIS session, however, was way better. The students were wrapping up their work and getting ready to write their assignments. I was actually able to help people, and they seemed genuinely grateful for my time. I was in my nice genetics comfort zone, and I was helping students learn…


More biostatistics. Unfortunately, this session moved faster than the previous one. Stupidly, whenever I started to struggle, I would get easily distracted and tweet about it.

Then I would get well and truly lost as the class moved on without me. I got upset at times. When my friend offered to help me, I truly believed there was nothing he could do…I was stupid, after all. But I reminded myself that this is how my emotional brain always responds to struggles, and had to really push myself to not sulk (seriously.) and just accept his help. He was a really patient teacher, and guided me through the methods…I did understand after all. I was pretty proud that I had managed to ‘talk myself down’ from my default panic mode. In summary however, there was so much information in those session, I know I am going to have to sit and study for a long time before any of it becomes second nature to me. This realisation once more fed into my fear that I am running out of time.

I am at home now, with a headache and still feeling pretty stressed. I think this was a useful exercise though, and I think I have made some progress in controlling my emotional brain. Although, keeping on track with this sort of monitoring will be hard to keep on top of, I’m sure. I just need willpower and time!