Do you really want to burst your bubble?

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We all live in our bubbles. Our family bubble, our friends bubble, our work bubble. It is interesting to think how much of our life is organized around preferences. We tend to go to certain places, and we tend to meet and interact people that have the share the same preferences than we do. It is easy to get trapped on your own little bubble and not realize there is a whole world outside of it.

One of the past episodes of Invisibilia was about reality bubbles and it told the story of a young man from California that suddenly became aware of the constraints of his life and built an app to do “bubble-hopping” – and get out of his bubble (you can read/listen to it here). Although I think it is an interesting idea, I believe there are more “conventional” ways to try to break out your bubble.

So when it comes to Twitter, things are not different. Even though *in theory* all tweets are public and easily found in the internet, what you are writing is being read only by your own Twitter bubble. Basically, an echo chamber. When it comes to political views, there are basically two very separate Twitter “wings”. And both blue and red Twitter rarely talk to each other. This was the subject from a recent study published in PNAS and you can read a description of its results on this article.

political bubbles
The graph represents a depiction of messages containing moral and emotional language, and their retweet activity, across all political topics (gun control, same-sex marriage, climate change). Nodes represent a user who sent a message, and edges (lines) represent a user retweeting another user. The two large communities were shaded based on the mean ideology of each respective community (blue represents a liberal mean, red represents a conservative mean).
Brady et. al, 2017. Emotion shapes the diffusion of moralized content in social networks. PNAS 114:7313-7318.

On the paper, the authors state that emotions tend to be highly associated with moral judgments. They propose that moral and political messages with a stronger combination of moral and emotional contents would reach more people than messages with a weaker combination of moral and emotional contents. A phenomenon they called “moral contagion“. What they found in the end was that although tweets containing at least one moral-emotional word were largely retweeted, rarely those tweets made to “the other side” of the political bubble.

After I read this, I went to the list of people I follow on Twitter. It’s not as intuitive as it is on Facebook (where you can easily see how many friend in common you have with your contacts), but yes, most of the accounts I follow on Twitter are followed by a great number of “people you know”. So there I am, living in my giant Twitter liberal bubble. Although I agree that one step towards getting out of your bubble would be unfollow people that everyone else follows, the great improvement would be to follow (and engage) with people “from the other side”.

Problem is I have seen how nasty those political discussions can get on Twitter and Facebook. I am not a confrontational person. I even avoid reading convos from others when they start to fight about certain topics. I am also a very passionate person, so engaging in those types of convos would take an enormous emotional effort from my part. In order to try to be aware of my political bias, I started to include conservative news to my daily routine (yes, I read Fox News now…). I am not entirely sure if this helps anyhow, as I am constantly mesmerized by how obnoxious they are.

What I have been trying to do is to engage to the (very few) conservative people I know. I enjoy to hear their arguments and although our debates can become somewhat heated, the friendship that we have makes things easier, and I am more free to simply say “you don’t wanna go there” or simply walk away from a discussion. Yes, I know you can also create friendships on Twitter, but this is much difficult to happen if you’re not alike the other person to begin with.

Despite the fact I truly believe that communication between political bubbles is necessary if we want to live in a better world, I am not sure if I can do it. A compromise I’ve chosen is to create a (private) Twitter list of conservative accounts and read their tweets without following them. To engage with them is a totally different story, though…

What about you, dear reader, do you live in a bubble? You can determine how thick is your bubble by taking this quiz. In the meantime, let me share this post on my Twitter bubble!

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Who am I on Twitter now? (Part 2)

One of the (many) good things about blogging is that every once in awhile you see something on Twitter that reminds you of something you’ve wrote about in the past. That happened today, with @katiesci:

As a recovering academic myself, I relate so much to this. When I left academia two years ago I also felt somewhat lost in the twitterverse. And I wrote about it – you can read my post “Who am I on Twitter now?“. And because of today’s Twitter convo, I felt it would be good to address it again, more than one year after I wrote that post.

Yes, there was a period where I slowed down my twitter time, and felt like I had nothing to contribute to the conversations I’d see there. I’ve also considerably slowed down blogging during that period (in 2015 I wrote only 4 posts for the whole year!). But I believe this was part of the big changes that one undergo as we leave academia. You’ve been in that environment for so long, put so much effort and time into that, it’s tough to live a life that doesn’t involve this anymore.

But Twitter, as life, is not just about work, we build real relationships there! And those are too valuable to be lost. You might lose a couple of acquaintances here and there, but still, you are part of a community! And the thing is, everything changes. I am not the same person I was when I started using twitter, and neither is the sci community out there. Even if you stay in academia, you might start tweeting as a grad student, then you move to a postdoc, or a junior PI and your view of things change! And even if you don’t change, people out there do. I miss when we would set up google hangouts with tweeps and just chat about lab life while drinking wine. Or the youtube pubscience when some researchers would discuss science live on camera – mostly pseudos wearing masks to protect their IRL identity. It was fun! That doesn’t happen anymore, and it’s not because I left academia (or at least I hope I’m not being left out of those…).

Because those changes happen over a long period of time, you fail to notice them. The process of leaving academia can be long, but when it actually happens it is something abrupt, so it may take some time for you to adjust to it. Personally, I don’t really know when or how I started to feel comfortable on Twitter again. I think it was just another change that happened slowly and I wasn’t really aware of it. I know I follow more “alternative” accounts now that I did in the past. Still mostly scientists, but having a diverse TL helps.

In the end it’s mainly about sharing your thoughts, your ideas and your passion. Or to vent. And to incite discussion! Twitter is awesome (minus the trolls, of course), and I am so glad I didn’t quit. I might have lost a couple of followers in the process, but I am happy to say that I believe I’ve found my new niche and made new friends.

Life is a dynamical system, and just like math, can be affected by many variables. And if you look at life’s bifurcation diagram you’ll notice there is more than one possible steady-state in there. You may oscillate a bit transitioning from one to the other, but eventually the system (your life) will find its way to the next steady-state!

On giving up laziness for lent – #40LentPain

I grew up catholic. Although I don’t practice anymore, I still consider myself a “cafeteria catholic”, picking up only what works best for me. During many years, I’ve given up something for lent (alcohol, sweets…). Not for penance, but I still think no matter the reasons you choose to give up something, it is a good thing to reflect about your habits, realize what you might be overdoing and focus on making positive behavioral changes.

This past weekend I was at a Mardi Gras party and we started discussing. We came up with this idea, to give up laziness for lent and exercise during the 40 days! Many of us exercise regularly, but committing to do it every single day, including weekends, it’s a whole new level! That’s why I turned out to Twitter and asked for help.

So here’s the deal, overall we agreed to count either 15 minutes of strength training or 30 minutes of cardio as “exercise”. But if you joined, or decide to join, it is your challenge, and what you consider as exercise could be different. Regardless, peer-support reading the hashtag on Twitter always works for me. Personally, it is going to be tough. After my half-marathon I’ve got shin splints and was diagnosed with meralgia paresthetica. Not a big deal, it is not painful, but it is very annoying! It is a condition that gives you tingling and numbness in your thigh cause by nerve compression. Although the doctor does not know exactly why it happened, he doesn’t want me to run until we do further testing (in a month). I have all the sadz……

But one of the main possible reasons for this condition to happen is weight gain. I know I have been putting on weight over the last two years, so even though the doctor does not really believe this is the cause, it’s never a bad idea to try to improve your eating and exercise habits and lose some weight.

Thanks to all tweeps that joined the challenge! I’ve put together a Twitter list, and will follow the hashtag, for personal motivation and to show support. It is hard to give up habits, and it is even harder to build new ones. Here’s for a healthier and better US!

 

 

What’s the best way to share Science in social media?

Last week Scicurious started a discussion on Twitter about how only 24% of the US population actually uses Twitter. As Science Communication shares its content mainly through Twitter, are we really getting our voice out there?

Although roughly one-quarter of online adults (24%) use Twitter, one have to keep in mind that this number is probably even smaller among academics. In our current world of “Publish or Perish” and constant obligation to be constantly writing (and re-writing) grants, many academics just claim “who has time for that?“. Indeed, there was a piece on Academics Anonymous last year from a PhD student, advocating against academic usage of social media, claiming that scientists should not “should not have to parade ourselves on social media to please our employers or be considered enthusiastic“. Yes. There is still this view that social media is a waste of time, and in order to be a successful scientist you need to make science the center of your life:

Also, there is so much published on the internet every day, most of the readers do not reach the end of the articles. Readers can’t stay focused. According to the article’s author: “Maybe this is just our cultural lot: We live in the age of skimming. I want to finish the whole thing, I really do. I wish you would, too. Really—stop quitting! But who am I kidding. I’m busy. You’re busy. There’s always something else to read, watch, play, or eat.”

So it is tough. You gotta be creative, concise, and you have a limited audience. Yes, there are other forms of social media out there. The Pew research study also showed that 79% of internet users uses Facebook, remaining the most popular social media platform, beating Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn (all with around 30% of users).

I totally agree with that! In the case of social media, it is always easier to communicate to your peers. Your network is always kind of bias, and because of that, somewhat limited. But I do believe it is more about the audience and the content. There is no way anyone can possibly reach everybody, even if you cover all different platforms. So you need to define your goals, your audience, and aim for it.

Personally, I am a fan of blogging. Last year I wrote a blog post advocating that scientists should write more blog posts. When I talked about it on Twitter, several people replied that they have been blogging less because no one reads it. And now with the recently added feature to thread tweets together, people are writing “mini-blog posts” on Twitter. However, unlike twitter, blog posts will show up on internet searches.When people want to look for information, what do they usually do? They google it! So if your main goal is to reach the general public about your current science, you may want to start writing something “googleable”.

But this is my personal take on that. What’s yours? Do you have a special strategy to reach more people?

Twitter vs blogging: why ‘OR’ when it could be ‘AND’?

 

We all love Twitter. Ok, not everyone loves Twitter, but I’m talking to YOU! The reason why you’re reading this post is probably because you clicked on a link that was shared through Twitter. So either you follow me, or someone that you follow RT it.

Twitter is great for so many things. What I like about it the most is the ability for instant communication –  it makes conversation and interaction so much easier! There’s a lot you can say in 140 characters. Did you read some interesting article? Click on the Twitter share button, and boom! Your followers can see the article’s title along with a link to read it, if they want. Twitter made our lives easier including a ‘RT with comment’ feature, which is great when you want to make a personal comment to a tweet.

A while back, Twitter started to group tweets that are part of a single conversation, to make it easier to follow along. Recently, this feature was extended so one can reply to your own tweet and create a thread. I personally like the idea of Twitter threads, specially when there’s a time-lapse between tweets and you want your followers to see the correlation. Also, sometimes it’s really impossible to say everything you want in 140 characters.

 

THIS! Twitter threads are good, but why are people not putting them on a blog post anymore? I see more and more twitter threads on Twitter. In number and in length. Yes, it is easier to write a thread, and it’s somehow easier to grab the attention of your reader for a longer period of time. But I feel like people are over-using this feature, and lots of those long twitter threads could be easily turned into a blog post.

 

So people are not reading blogs anymore. Why is that? Is it really Twitter that’s slowly killing blogging? When I joined Twitter back in 2013, Google Reader was still around, and it made my life so much easier re: following and reading blogs. The service was discontinued shortly after, and I believe this was the ‘beginning of the end’.  Or maybe RSS was already on its deathbed and the discontinuation of Google Reader was an inevitable consequence of what was already happening.

I named my blog “Science Reverie – Because I love being a scientist and talking about it”. I confess that I have never blogged constantly. Partially because I use my blog to vent about professional problems/dilemmas, but mainly because my pseudo didn’t allow me to share a lot about my specific research (when I was still in academia). But in a world where science is hidden behind paywalls, how can we make science available to everyone?

Social media is important for science communication. But not only Twitter! Despite the fact that the tweet is also in the internet forever, it is much harder to find a specific tweet in the internet than a blog post. Blogging is important not only for dissemination of science, but also in between peers. When I was applying for jobs, I can’t name the number of blog posts I read regarding tips to write a cover letter or how to tailor your CV/resume. Academics keep complaining that they live in an ivory tower, but then they don’t do anything to expand their horizons. Some institutions are trying to combine research and teaching with the local community, allowing discussion and engagement. But what place better to do that than the internet?

One can argue ‘why write if no one bothers to read?’

If everyone stops writing, people won’t have what to read.

Blogging is essential for science outreach! It is one of the easiest ways for scientists to publish their science and make it available globally. It improves your writing skills. It is fun and can bring fulfillment to your life. It is your space, where you can share your research, your points of view about a specific subject, or simply vent. Setting up a blog requires some work in the beginning, but blogging is easy and fast to publish afterwards. We need to expand science, not keep hiding it. We can’t let blogging die.

If you do have a blog, please, keep it up!

If you don’t, consider creating one – for the sake of SCIENCE!

How are things going? 1 year post-academia update

I know I’ve been way too negligent with this blog. I think about cool things to write about all the time, but either they don’t seem that cool anymore after a while, or I don’t take the time to write about them. But on July 1st I celebrated one year working outside academia, and a lot of people has been asking me: how are you doing? How things are working for you?

I wrote a blogpost about six months ago about how things were going back then: “There’s life after academia: 6 months update“. Things changed a bit in the following 6 months. In fact, work started to become much easier than in the beginning. I acquired experience on how to talk to professors in order to understand their research and their equipment needs, make quotes, and everything else involved in the process. I actually feel like I know what I’m talking about! (most of the time, at least). Of course, I still need help, but things are much easier now.

On one hand this is pretty amazing, but on the other hand I must confess that I started to feel a little bored. I work mainly from home, and I started to miss human interaction. I’m on the phone about 4+ hours per day, but this is definitely not the same as interacting with people, physically. I’m a people person, after all!

So I started to “force myself” to go out more often. Visit more professors, interact more with people that were not really planning to buy any equipment from me, but people that are worth meeting (and that are willing to meet me, of course!). I also started some side projects. My old PI asked if I could share some tips with the graduate student that is still in the “lab”. I’ve been acting as a consultant, helping the GS with guidance and suggestions mainly. And it’s great to have an excuse to go to campus, so I can still visit other labs once I’m there. Although it feels really good to help and to share your knowledge, amazingly this didn’t make me miss academia, or made me want to come back. I’m happy where I am now!

I also came back to be more active on Twitter. After my crisis of not knowing who I was on Twitter after my career move, (you can read more about it here) I think I finally found my new place there and feel comfortable tweeting again. I’ve lost some followers, but gained lots of new ones! I’m still mediating our #DiversityJC once a month with Emily And Ian. This Diversity journal club reads literature & holds Twitter discussions relevant to #diversityinSTEM every 3rd Friday of the month (for more info, take a look at our blog). I must confess that at some point I thought about giving this up, but now I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s really gratifying to make part of it.

And now we are about to launch our Recovery Academic Podcast, along with Amanda and Ian. This project required a little more work and preparation, but now that things are ready to go, it’s super fun to record the episodes. It feels like we are having a beer among friends and discussing that “there’s sunshine outside the ivory tower”. I’m super excited about it! All those things make me busy, and by being busy I don’t have time to feel bored anymore – and life goes on 😊.

“If you leave, you failed”

So you know I left academia about one year ago and started working in biotech, selling analytical equipment to researchers in and out academia. It was a painful process, and at first I didn’t really want to leave – but life just lead me to expand the horizons on my job search and now I’m really happy with my job.

A big part of my job is to visit customers, and in the academic world, professors that currently own or that may be interested in purchasing our equipment. And even though I still live in the same city where I used to be a postdoc I’ve never really taken the time to visit my former University. At first, I thought that I didn’t know exactly what to say or how to behave, so I rather go to my first visits with a more experienced sales fellow. So that’s what I did, and it was great! If felt so good to be in an academic environment again, and to talk to professors about research, grants, etc. I felt I could really contribute to this, because I understand the complexity in academia in a different way that someone that has never been there. Professors also like the idea to deal with a Ph.D., not as a status thing, but also as a peer thing.

But still, I didn’t go to visit my University. I thought “I’m still to raw into this whole biotech thing, I need to learn more about the instruments and the applications before I go there”. So I did it. Went to trainings, attended to a lot of webinars. Talked to professors, made quotes, learned with all the specialists that help me to put together an instrument. After my vacation I felt like I was ready (or let’s say as ready as one can be) and I literally had no excuse not to go there. I had a business lunch with a staff scientist from my University and he pointed me in the directions I should move there. He’s been at the University for many years, and I’ve known him for a long time. He is one of those people professors seek for advice regarding instrument’s purchases. So after we talked, I made a few appointments and scheduled today to be “former University visit day”.

From the moment I woke up, I was feeling weird. It took me forever to find a good outfit. I didn’t want to look too dressed up. But couldn’t look too casual. Should I bring brochures? OMG, everything was a big problem and a huge decision to make. But still, I couldn’t understand why I was feeling that way. So I asked Twitter about it, and @sennoma nailed it:

EXACTLY! The reason I never really went for a campus visit at my former University was because of that little voice in my head. Everybody there knows me as a postdoc. No matter how successful and happy I am with my job now, but showing up as a sales person now seems to me like a fail. I tried to have a deep breath and just enjoy doing what I do best: smiling and networking with people. Half of the day passed and so far, so good. Met some old professors that seemed genuinely happy for me moving on. Met new professors that were very kind to me. Gotta come back to my afternoon appointments, but despite all this, little voice is still in my head. I hope that this will eventually get better and go away.