This week, I'll be talking about Twitter (Pic via Tweepi)

On Monday I discussed some of the reasons why I think you should sign up for Twitter, and why it is a useful tool.

Encouraging scientists to use social media isn’t a new idea. In response to my last post, friend of the blog @muddybrown (you may remember him from the graduate school roundtable) pointed out a series by Scientific American writer Christie Wilcox (@nerdychristie). It’s a four part series, but definitely worth a read for another perspective on social media and science (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

Today, I’ll be continuing that discussion, but focusing on two other aspects of Twitter: How it can be used to get information that you wouldn’t otherwise, and how it can be used at conferences.

So let’s get started shall we?

Reason #2: It’s a great way to get information you otherwise wouldn’t

You can use Twitter in many different ways. You can use it socially, posting funny comments, videos and pictures, or academically, posting links to interesting news articles and journal articles. Alternatively, you can use it similarly to an RSS reader or news crawler. If you follow organizations and individuals you find interesting, when they post links to new content, you will see it on your Twitter feed. Suddenly, you have a whole host of information being presented to you, and it’s been filtered by people for accuracy and quality.

It’s also useful as a networking tool. I’ve had the privilege of “meeting” some really cool people on Twitter, both academics and non-academics. In fact, I met Jonathan Smith through Twitter, and that was how the interview series started. It’s exposed me to a whole host of science bloggers and Epidemiologists I would never have met otherwise.

Reason #3: At conferences, Twitter is invaluable for stimulating discussion and finding out what is happening in other sessions

This is one of the best reasons to join Twitter in my opinion.

Twitter is being used extensively at conferences. While some conferences have yet to embrace it, others are encouraging the use of social media, even going as far as “hiring” bloggers to cover the events; the National Obesity Summit was covered by Travis and Peter of Obesity Panacea, and the Society for Neuroscience conference was covered by a host of bloggers, including friends of the blog Neurobytes. Using Twitter, you can join conversations with other delegates, as well as organize meetings and events around the conference schedules – referred to as “Tweetups!” It’s a great way to meet new people. Christian Sinclair at KevinMD agrees, and provides other reasons.

But here’s my favourite part. Even if you’re not at the conference, you can still be involved. Using Twitter, you can follow conferences in real time by using the conference hashtag (such as #con11, #sfn11, #scio12). Delegates write short comments and quote speakers, and discussions stem from there, and you can ask for clarification, ask questions, offer opinions and thoughts and still be involved in the conference.


Consider this: The 2nd National Obesity Summit in Montreal had approximately 800 delegates. Of those delegates, only a handful tweeted. Approximately 500 tweets used the #con11 hashtag, and those tweets reached upwards of 80,000 people. While the conference had enough people to fill a large lecture hall, those tweets reached enough people to fill the Rogers Centre in Toronto AND have people waiting outside.

The Rogers Centre can seat approximately 70,000. Tweets from the 2nd National Obesity Summit reached 80,000.

Especially for graduate students who may not have the time or funds to go, this is a great way to remain involved and learn about new research in your area.

Ed. Note: Twitter only keeps the most recent Tweets saved. So the #con11 tag is no longer active as the conference was in May 2011, and if you’re coming here from the future, 1) some of those tags may no longer work and 2) do we have flying cars yet?

Similarly, you can use Twitter to cover any live event. The Golden Globes used the #goldenglobes hashtag, and people commented live as the event unfolded. The Canadian leaders debate used the #cdnpoli and #db8 tags. As the event is going on, people are voicing opinions, challenging what the speakers are saying, and posting quotes from the event. It’s a great way to get other perspectives on an event, and discuss it with others who are interested and passionate about what is going on.

This can be completely self-driven however. While conferences may not want to cover the event using social media, as long as delegates have a common hashtag, you can still tweet through the conference. This highlights the beauty of social media – it can be completely grassroots.

Come back Friday for the final part of this series.

For a guide about how to set up a twitter account, I’d recommend the following links for a handy “how-to”: WikihowCNetBrent Ozar’s FAQ, as well as Travis Saunders’ post about Twitter etiquette. If you’re wondering who to follow, I’d recommend checking out these lists: Colby Vorland’s list of Nutritional and Health Science peopleHealth Scientists, Shelley Wallingford’s list of Epidemiologists,  Sara Caldwell’s Science-y Folk, RenuShenu’s Public Health Tweeple, Melonie Fullick’s PhDChat and Liz Ditz’s MedSocialMedia.