Category: Media

Can We Stop Talking About Carl Sagan?

Update #3 [Up at the top, so that hopefully people read it.] Does the title of this post make you angry? Well, you’re not alone. I continue to hear from many people who think I am downright stupid for daring to ask this question. Seeing all the backlash, I’ll be first to admit that I wish I had titled it something less provocative (even though it didn’t feel all that provocative at the time.) All I want to suggest is that we hold up some other examples of good science communicators, I don’t want to, or think that we can, erase the past. Sagan has a deity-like position for some people, and I didn’t do a very good job of explaining why that makes me feel so bad sometimes. I wanted to offer a different point of view. As was said to me on twitter, we should recognize Sagan the way we recognize Da Vinci, Einstein, Galileo – as greats. That doesn’t mean we should let that stall our ability to move forward and try to make new great things, with new great people.

Update #4 You know, the moment I had to ask my Mom (because my computer was giving me trouble and I couldn’t log into my own site – go figure) to log in to this site to respond to a comment to say that I don’t think Sagan hated women kind of made me want to give up completely. But I’ve read two thoughtful responses to my post, and I realized that the main thing I’m not saying is why I felt the need to write this in the first place. When we hold up Sagan again and again as the greatest there ever was, when we take his quotes and put them on pretty pictures that go viral, when the TV special continues to live online, when we talk again and again about how this one person inspired humanity and made people see that science is human – and all of it makes me feel nothing, I can’t help but think that perhaps I’m less than human. I joked with a friend yesterday that perhaps I’m just dead inside, but it isn’t really a joke to me. If Sagan represents all that is good, and I don’t understand it, then I can’t be good. So, if you want to know where this post was written, it was written from a place of fear and self doubt.

I am hopelessly optimistic about life to the point of near desperation to find the good in everything. So I thought, well, if I feel this way, other people must too. I warped that thinking into the blanket statements that caused so much of the trouble in this post. I know better than to publish without letting something sit so I can rethink it, and I broke my own rule, and made a mistake here. Some people have reached out to me to say they shared my feelings. So, to those people, I hope knowing you aren’t alone in not feeling so inspired makes you feel better.

My problem isn’t really with Sagan himself, and I didn’t do a good job of explaining that I take issue with the culture surrounding Sagan, with the way he is idolized as a one-and-only, with the vehemence of some of his fans. People have told me he would also promote women and diversity, which is a good thing. I do still think that other examples are needed not just to show a different approach to science communication, but to show different people to encourage other people that they can do this, even if they don’t see themselves in Sagan.

To everyone who challenged me to refine my thinking and more clearly state my point of view, you are everything I love about the Internet and I thank you for keeping your calm demeanor and engaging with me in a productive way. To everyone who called me stupid, self-absorbed, uneducated, and told me to learn my place, to learn some “respect, baby” well, I don’t particularly know what to say to you, but I hope you feel better too. To those who accused me of having no appreciation for the past, disrespecting my parents (what? – I felt so bad about that I even asked them, and they laughed at me) and wanting a world of nothing but listicles and Honey-Boo-Boo and instant gratification – that wasn’t the point I tried to make, which I admit to failing to make the first time, and I hope you’ll think again about what I’m actually asking us to do.

If what the world really needs are more and more Sagans, I guess I may be out of a job. But, I continue to think that I don’t really want to try to be anybody else, that’s the whole problem with idol worship, and I just want to try to make my own good things. Quite frankly, I don’t think we even CAN have another Sagan – it’s a very different world. I hope that in holding up other people as examples we can drive home the idea that there is more than one way to do something, more than one way to reach people, more than one way to do something good.

I also want to say that to those that called me out on categorizing Sagan based on his appearance, you’re right that I hate when it gets done to me, and as frustrating as I can get about it, it is still not right to categorize someone else that way. It wasn’t a productive way to have this conversation. If I offended you, but you kept quiet about it, you have my sincere apology too. The body of this post is largely intact, all of my flaws and all, so you can read the original below along with the other updates. I would also encourage you to read the response posts here and here.

It feels like I’m committing an act of science communication sacrilege here, but I have a confession to make: Carl Sagan means absolutely nothing to me. No more than any other person from my parents 1970’s yearbooks that could rock the turtle neck/blazer combo with the best of them. There, my secret is out.

Credit: NASA JPL via Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: NASA JPL via Wikimedia Commons.

[This paragraph is edited] I’m not saying I don’t like Sagan – I’m saying Sagan has zero influence on me or what I do. To me, Sagan is a stereotypical scientist who made some show that a lot of people really liked more than 30 years ago. That show – Cosmos: A Personal Voyage -was on air nearly a decade before I was even born. The reason I bring up my own age is because I’m as old, if not older, than the prime audience for science communication. I think anyone can learn to appreciate science at any age in life, but we stand the best chance at convincing people that science is something they can understand (and even do themselves) early in life when their beliefs are not so entrenched.

So then why, WHY as science communicators do we keep going around and around among ourselves about how Sagan – who is so far outside my life experience, let alone that of people younger than me – was the greatest science communicator of all time? We keep talking about who will (or won’t) be the next Carl Sagan but I promise you, no high school kid cares about Carl Sagan let alone whether or not science communicators think he was great. [Please see Updates #1 and #2 at the bottom of this post, to address the flaw in this blanket statement.] We spend so much time and energy talking about a guy that isn’t  relevant anymore. The topics of space, the natural world, and how to communicate wonder are totally relevant to the public and to the science writing community. But, this one guy? Nope.

[This paragraph is edited] It isn’t just the age thing. I recently read Alone in a Room Full of Science Writers by Apoorva Mandavilli about the National Association of Science Writers annual meeting, and how there was a distinct lack of minorities, let alone minority women. She said:

“You can never overestimate how empowering it is to see someone who looks like you—only older and more successful. That, much more than well-meaning advice and encouragement, tells you that you can make it.”

That idea stuck with me. Role models are a great thing, and I get that Sagan inspired people to become scientists themselves. But, if we want to seriously address issues of diversity in science and science communication holding up the stereotypical scientist over and over again isn’t doing anyone any favors. I’m not trying to belittle anyone’s inspiration for pursuing science, let alone belittle Sagan himself. I respect the work Sagan did as a scientist and communicator. I respect that at the time he brought science into the mainstream in a way that hadn’t been done before. But, we need new things.

We need things that fit a modern era, things that will supplement the nerdy white dude stereotype (I mean, I generally like nerdy white dudes, you don’t have to leave, we just need other people too.) I believe that we can do better than lamenting some guy in a turtleneck as if nothing good will ever happen again. We can focus on diversity – showing men and women, of different ethnicities and backgrounds that science isn’t only for nerds.

The answer isn’t as simple as rebooting Cosmos, as FOX is doing, and sticking Neil deGrasse Tyson in front of the camera. While Tyson is far more relevant, and yes is a minority, we still need to get women, other minorities, and young people doing all kinds of science out in public view. If we want diversity we need to show people that people just like them can, and do, like science. We need everybody.

Credit ESA/Hubble & NASA via Wikimedia Commons

Credit ESA/Hubble & NASA via Wikimedia Commons

Now, I realize that instinctively we want to defend our childhood heroes. You may be sitting at your computer thinking, “but, but, you just don’t GET it, you don’t understand what a big impact Sagan had.” You are right, and that is 100% my point. I’m an admittedly nerdy, white, science communicator. If I don’t care about Sagan, do you honestly think the general public does? Science, particularly space, yes. Sagan, nope.

I sincerely hope the reboot of Cosmos starring Tyson does well, because science programming on a major television network in primetime is a good thing. I have  faith that the science will be sound, and we are in dire need of an upgrade from Mermaids and Megalodons so I think it’s great. That said, I still think it is a complete waste of our efforts to keep going on and on about WHO will be the next Sagan when we should really be talking about HOW we’re going to engage with a diverse audience about science and WHAT platforms and tools will we use to be effective. To me, those are far more productive conversations to have.

The science isn’t going to stop being interesting, it isn’t going to stop being relevant – but if we can’t push our professional conversations and aspirations past Sagan, we will stop being relevant.

Bonus: I didn’t know where to include this link, but here is Hope Jahren’s Ode to Carl Sagan. You should probably read it.

Update: Well, this is easily the most talked about post I’ve ever written. Lots of feedback here and on twitter. Most prominent are the voices saying but I love Sagan, he did such good things. Rock on, I’m not saying that he didn’t. Keep your fondness for him. There are young people who find Sagan inspiring. Blanket statements like the ones I made here don’t do justice to the fact that really, what inspires you is deeply personal. To each, their own. I took a hard line stance because it feels important to me for people to feel comfortable admitting that Sagan doesn’t inspire them if he doesn’t. Again, to each their own.  So, I nod to those young people who are inspired by Sagan, you’re right that I don’t speak for you, nor do I have a right to do so. But I also nod to everyone who said this made them feel better because other role models for science and science communication are something that many of us (if not all) would benefit from. Some people feel othered by not being into Sagan – if that makes any sense. But, I’m not trying to other anyone here either. I shouldn’t dismiss the significance of what Cosmos achieved, and should have included that we can still learn from what has been successful – even if I am seriously cautious about merely trying to replicate the past without pushing further, to do better.

Update #2: I wish I could change the title of this post to “Can We Stop Talking About Carl Sagan All of the Time” but it is what it is. I’m still getting comments about how wrong I am, because Sagan means so much to so many people, so to clarify: I took a very line in the sand approach in this post. I’ve talked to a lot of people since advocating for a middle of the road approach, the “we need everybody” that I mentioned. Keep Sagan, but find a way to promote others too. His popularity speaks to the fact that his work gets through to a lot of people. My blanket statements contradict that in a way that is confusing. I should have been more careful, and written about how he doesn’t get through to some people and we do need new things to get through to the people his work doesn’t reach. I don’t want us to throw away the good work that Sagan did and never talk about it ever again as if we can’t still get value from it. Keep what worked, appreciate the value added, but I still think shifting our focus to new things is beneficial.

The SA Incubator: Helping Hatch Science Writers Since July 2011

I am a baby chicken. Not literally of course, but figuratively speaking I am a little chick of a science writer. Fledgling, if you will. Continuing with this analogy, I recently left my incubator in the journalism school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and am now out in the world looking for work as a journalist. It is tough out here for a baby chicken, and any clips and exposure you can get have tremendous value. This is why I think it is downright wonderful that Scientific American has a blog in their network dedicated to new and young science writers.

Borrowing from the blog’s about description, the SA Incubator is, “a place where we explore and highlight the work of new and young science writers and journalists, especially those who are current or recent students in specialized science, health, and environmental reporting programs in schools of journalism.”
USAGOV-USDA-ARS via Wikimedia Commons

USAGOV-USDA-ARS via Wikimedia Commons

On the SA Incubator you can find profiles of new and young science writers, links to interesting work from these science writers (and others) chosen by the blog’s editors, profiles of student run science publications, and other assorted posts on topics of interest to writers who are just getting started.

I think you would be hard pressed to find a science writer who doesn’t aspire to see their name in Scientific American. Speaking from personal experience, having a profile dedicated to you and your work on a Scientific American blog is a thrill. It was an experience that I enjoyed so much that I wanted to learn more about why a publication like Scientific American would set aside such a great space on their network for someone like me. What is in it for them?
To answer that question, I turned to the Blogfather himself, Bora Zivkovic. The SA Incubator is written by Zivkovic, who is the Blogs Editor at Scientific American, and Khalil Cassimally, community manager of Nature Education’s Scitable blog network.
How Big Can It Be?According to Zivkovic, there are a lot of reasons why the Scientific American network includes a blog about new and young science writers. One reason is the network’s size. When it launched in the summer of 2011, I remember being struck by the sheer volume of awesome that is included in Scientific American’s blog network. While it is a large network, there are still limits on how many blogs can be included. The cost, time and effort it takes to manage the network are obvious reasons why there would be a limit, but Zivkovic also pointed out that some of the value of having a network in the first place comes from it being of a limited size.

One of the coolest things about the Scientific American network is the diversity of writers and topics. If the network got any bigger, it would be difficult for the average person to read all of the posts. If the number of posts becomes daunting, the reader’s habits will change from browsing to more targeted reading. “Instead of at least occasionally checking out all of the bloggers they only focus on their favorites (some readers always will, but at least some don’t) – thus the ‘network effect’ for bloggers is diminished,” said Zivkovic.
What does that mean for the SA Incubator? There simply isn’t space for everyone to have their own blog on the network. Therefore, creating a blog that includes a lot of work by a lot of people is a way to increase the number of voices in the network without it becoming completely overwhelming. It also gives Scientific American a chance to bring new members into the family of bloggers without diluting the existing community too much. According to Zivkovic, this helps maintain a balance between keeping the network fresh and diverse while still keeping it coherent and friendly. For the new and young science writers it is difficult to compete with more seasoned bloggers for a space in the regular network. The SA Incubator gives new and young writers a space where they can participate and be seen and heard without taxing the network.
For new and young science writers, the SA Incubator is also a way to have a presence in the network without having to take on the full responsibility of having your own blog. Zivkovic explained the juggling act new and young writers perform: “Many of the youngest writers are still in school, too busy with class assignments, or are in internships, or are too busy breaking into freelancing to be able to blog with regular frequency.” The SA Incubator gives these writers the opportunity to get noticed without adding to the stress and demands of finding your way as a journalist.
Getting Over The Wall, and Getting A Job
Another reason to include a blog for new and young science writers is because the job we do is so important, but so competitive and difficult to break into. There is a big difference between a general reporter and a science writer; the more skilled science writers we have out there, the better. When I think of science writers I admire and the good work that they do; good to me meaning factual, nuanced, interesting and true; I’m inspired and intimidated. Inspired because I really believe science writers can make a huge difference in helping people understand and appreciate science, and intimidated because the bar has been set very high. The more people we have out there combating the bad science coverage by debunking, clarifying, and explaining, the better.
When journalists talk about this we tend to refer to it as the Push vs. Pull strategy. Essentially, it is the idea that if the general public isn’t drawn to science stories on their own (pull) perhaps we can bring the science stories to them wherever they are (push). To be able to be able to pull people into places where they can access science content and also push out science content everywhere we can, we need a large well trained work force. Increasing the profile of new and young science writers and helping them get the opportunity to do this job is the value of the SA Incubator.
According to Zivkovic, helping get new and young science writers hired is part of the joy of running a blog like the SA Incubator. If you are looking to hire a science writer, you can find them at Scientific American on the blogs homepage, in the weekly linkfests, in the ScienceOnline interviews, on the Guest Blog and on the Incubator. As Zivkovic said, “Hire away! Let the good young writers infiltrate the media giants and transform them from within.”
For Zivkovic, giving new and young science writers a hand really is about community. To understand why, he recommended reading and watching Robert Krulwich’s commencement speech to the Berkeley Journalism School’s Class of 2011, which I too recommend. Krulwich talks about how to get over the wall that new writers face. The wall is what separates you from the journalists who actually get to do what you want to do.
Zivkovic isn’t a trained writer, but he started blogging about science back in 2004 anyway. He was invited to a blogging network in 2006. His job as Blogs Editor at Scientific American? Yeah, safe to say his blogging had something to do with that. This success story is something he attributes to the science blogging community. Blogging is what got Zivkovic over the wall, and now he is running the SA Incubator to help people like me figure out a way to pull themselves up over that same wall.
“These people became my community, my second family. It is that community that helped me every step of the way. They cheered me on. They hit my PayPal button when I was jobless. They pushed for me to get hired. They keep coming to ScienceOnline, they hug me at tweetups, they submit posts to Open Laboratory, they say Yes when I invite them to join the SciAm blog network, they were there for me all along and helped me climb over the wall. It’s payback time. It is now my turn to help others climb that wall, too.”
That is why he gets to be the Blogfather.
We’re In This TogetherAs if that isn’t enough, Zivkovic mentioned one other reason why he thinks the SA Incubator has value for the Scientific American blogs network, the concept of horizontal loyalty. Horizontal loyalty is a phrase borrowed from the Krulwich talk I mentioned earlier (seriously, go read it…after you finish this.) It is making something of yourself alongside people who are also trying to make something of themselves. Do it together. Make something. Be something. For Zivkovic, this is very much a part of why the SA Incubator exists.

“It is not so much about helping new writers get jobs in old media companies (though that helps pay bills for a little while). It is about helping them find each other, build relationships, build friendships, build start-ups, build a whole new science writing ecosystem that will automatically do both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ and reach everyone and displace bad science reporting from the most visible areas of the media, while providing them with a living,” says Zivkovic. “This requires a lot of them, but they need to know each other and work together toward that goal.”
So there you have it. The SA Incubator: Helping Hatch Science Writers Since July 2011. Creating a community for those of us who so badly want to be out there working alongside the more established writers to tell what I think are some of the most important stories there are. I was truly humbled to be counted among so many great science writers and be given a space on the SA Incubator. I wrote this post because I’m grateful for the chance to be included, but also because I really believe having a space for new and young science writers to connect and promote themselves is important. Baby chickens (and baby science writers too) all have to start somewhere.
Now, if you are a fellow fledgling science writer I know what you are thinking. You are thinking how can I get in on this? You can start by following, subscribing, etc. on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. You can start commenting on the blogs in the Scientific American network (Zivkovic reads all the comments.) You can also go the direct route and just introduce yourself. Send an email, pitch to the Guest Blog, or send Zivkovic a link to some of your work. A direct message on Twitter would work too; you can find him @BoraZ.

The Farting Dinosaur Debacle

While I know everyone in the science writing community is tuned into this story, I can bet that among my personal friends and family I am the only one who has “farting dinosaurs” as an item on their to-do list. While the science media machine has given us plenty of “say what now?” moments I found this story and how it has been handled and covered in the media face palm worthy enough to warrant a closer look.

Did Dinosaurs Fart Themselves to Death?

What the paper concludes is that the amount of methane released would have impacted climate. From the press release on this story: “Sauropod dinosaurs could in principle have produced enough of the greenhouse gas methane to warm the climate many millions of years ago, at a time when the Earth was warm and wet.” What about that says dinosaurs died from farting? There has been plenty of media attention for this story, and certainly some more even keeled coverage that actually bases the headline on the climate conclusions. Some examples include Never Stand Behind a Dinosaur on Climate Central, Dinosaur Farts May Have Caused Prehistoric Warming on RedOrbit or It’s A Gas: Dinosaur Flatulence May Have Warmed Earth on Yahoo/Reuters.The quick answer is no. Was a paper released regarding dinosaur farts? You bet (In the journal Cell Biology.) Did it conclude that farting led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs? No. Of course with the headline potential a story like this poses how could some in the media resist, truly?

Apatosaurus louisae at the Carnegie Museum via Wikimedia Commons

Apatosaurus louisae at the Carnegie Museum via Wikimedia Commons

To draw conclusions about extinction and death when the topic of the paper is actually the amount of methane dinosaurs may have contributed to the atmosphere and thus climate change is misleading. In the media there has been the Fox News of it all whose headline “Dinosaurs ‘gassed’ themselves into extinction, British scientists say” goes right for the good stuff regardless of the paper’s conclusions. There has also been the necessary debunking on blogs like PZ Myers’ Pharyngula with “the reports of dinosaurs dying of farts are greatly exaggerated.”

Another interesting aspect of this story is the fact that is was subject to an embargo break. For the non-journalists among us an embargo is when journalists are informed about a story but asked to hold it for one reason or another. This is a common practice and in general journalists tend to abide by it, but not always. Often in science journalism the story is embargoed until the release of the paper in whatever journal it is being published. For more on this embargo break, check out the blog EmbargoWatch which does a consistently good job of keeping track of such story breaks.

Am I Science?

Scientists don’t really wear white lab coats. They usually don’t stand in front of old cabinets full of glass jars and beakers containing a rainbow of colored liquids. Unless someone has had an unfortunate bunsen burner accident it is unlikely that there is smoke wafting through the lab, or beakers bubbling over with a frothy white foam. If these images are what come to mind when you think of scientist, you need an update. It isn’t your fault, either.

Taking pictures or video to accompany my stories, I’ve had to ask myself how can I make a shot look more…sciencey? In the media we do a great disservice to scientists every time we stick them in the white coat peering into a microscope. Not that scientists don’t peer into microscopes, they do. But the stereotype has been allowed to run roughshod over every scientific discipline to the point where people barely recognize scientists who don’t fit the stereotype. Most scientists don’t fit the stereotype. But I’ve still dragged interviewees around a building until I find a suitable science looking backdrop. We all do it, and we need to stop.

Could you name a scientist? Seriously, do you know one? Heard of one? A single one? Can you name anyone actively engaged in research in the United States or around the globe? Do you realize that billions of your tax dollars pay for research, and you may very well not be able to name a single scientist other than your local meteorologist, or if you’re lucky (and a child of my generation) Bill Nye the Science Guy? I’m not trying to scold anyone here. I’m also not playing high and mighty. I can’t really name any importance finance and economic people, and they are important. So please don’t take this as me preaching. All of us could stand to be a little more aware of the fields we don’t work in directly. I’m plugging science and scientists here because, well, thats what I do. If someone wants to school me in finance, please do. I could use the lessons.

Anyway, I realize that not everyone loves science, but a huge chunk of money is devoted to research each year, don’t you want to know who gets it? The name Francis Collins should mean something to you. It may or may not, but for those who don’t know he is the Director of the National Institutes of Health. The NIH is the largest research funding organization in the United States. It has a fiscal year 2012 budget of more than $31 billion. But the people that are actually getting this money are largely out of the public eye. Why is that? I don’t have an answer exactly, but I can promise you it isn’t because scientists are boring.

We need to change the way we think about scientists. This is already happening in the science community itself where there are a lot of scientists who don’t want to be seen as lame. Even Collins has participated in some stereotype busting by posing for a magazine spread with Joe Perry from the band Aerosmith a few years back (Collins does play guitar himself) for a project called Rock Stars of Science. But even the best intentioned stereotype busting isn’t going to go anywhere if the only people paying attention to it are other scientists, science writers, and members of the public who already like science. We need to get the message to the people who still picture Doc Brown from Back to the Future when they think of a scientist. That being said, there are a lot of people involved with and working on correcting the stereotype. I wanted to take a moment to bring your attention to just one example, called I Am Science.

I Am Science started as a hashtag on Twitter (#iamscience). First suggested by marine biologist and science writer Kevin Zelnio, the hashtag was used to mark stories shared by scientists about the path they took to attaining their careers. It became obvious immediately that scientists are a wonderfully diverse group, finding their passion by any number of different paths. Scientists are people too. People with different backgrounds, and different interests. Sometimes wildly different interests, doing very different things but all of it is still science. They are all science.

I like I Am Science because it started with a Tweet, because it reflects the desire for scientists to try to share who they are failures and struggles included, and because it shatters the crazy mad scientist stereotype. To learn more about I Am Science read this wonderful post by Zelnio on Deep Sea News, check out the Tumblr he created to store all the tweets, if you are so inclined support I Am Science on Kickstarter (they’ve reached their goal, but can still use donations!) and watch this video.

The video was created by Mindy Weisberger and uses the song “Wicked Twisted Road” by Reckless Kelly. I hope all of this has inspired you to learn more about scientists. Look up people researching in the areas you find most interesting. Read their books. Attend their speeches or talks. Bust some stereotypes.

On Being A Social Media Ninja: Tips From Mark Schaefer

We live in the future. While I’m still waiting for my hover car, there are many other examples I could give you about the amazing technical advances that make me feel like we have tremendous opportunities at our finger tips, if we just know how to harness their power. One of the ways I think we are already living in the future is with the power of social media, particularly Twitter and blogging. While I’m relatively active on Twitter and try to keep this blog up to date and interesting, my skills in this arena are far from the super stealth ninja moves of many of the people who have seized the opportunities to network and build an audience through social media.

taotwitterThis semester I am taking a life sciences communication class on social media. I recently had an opportunity to learn from one such social media ninja, when my class interviewed Mark Schaefer (@markwshaefer) over Skype. Schaefer, who was recently named by Forbes to a list of the top 50 social media influencers and named by Tweetsmarter as Twitter user of the year for 2011, is a successful marketing consultant, professor and author. For my class we read his book, the Tao of Twitter, and then got to ask him questions about how to make the most of the Internet, and get our foot in the door in social media.

The main thing I took away from talking with Schaefer is the importance of having substantial content that supports the online persona you build for yourself. It is one thing to just be active on Twitter and networking, but if you don’t have content to support what you claim to stand for, you aren’t going to reach a significant level of interaction. He said people that really have the power on the Internet are the ones that have content that they are creating and moving through the system, which I feel like I’ve definitely witnessed in the science writing community on Twitter. The core of my Twitter experience thus far has been reading blogs, and sharing links to interesting blog posts written by others.

Another thing Schaefer shared that I found interesting was that there is value in blogging even if you don’t have a high number of followers (that you know about at least, because as I’ve said over and over again I don’t know where the hits on this blog come from). I am winding down my time here at UW, and am starting to look for a job. I thought he really made a great point when he said that a good blog can be a great selling point in an interview, and can make an interview last much longer so a potential employer gets a better sense of your skills and ability. He said that even if you don’t have many people reading your blog, you can still show a potential employer or colleagues what you can do, what you can write, how you think, and what you are passionate about. I knew that employers would see my blog, but I hadn’t really considered what a great opportunity (or shortcoming, depending on how you see it) the blog could be.

A few other tips I took away from Shaefer include:

  • You have to figure out what you offer, then you can figure out how best to try to communicate and network online.
  • Show your whole social media footprint in one place, link to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn so employers can easily see what you do.
  • Twitter is a global experience so you should be culturally sensitive, and remember that even on an individual level customers may consume social media in different ways.
  • Find your own originality and your own voice, don’t try to just mimic what you see other people doing online.
  • Show critical interest in things that are important to you, be a part of something you actually care about.
  • Commenting on other people’s blogs is one of the best ways to get involved in a community online.
  • The best Twitter profiles will tell what a person wants to gain. You have to put up what you are after so that people can offer genuine helpfulness (I already made this change!)
  • Personal connections turn into business connections, so including some personal tweets can be seriously useful.

I started this post by talking about how we are already living in the future. I can’t think of a better example of that then the fact that I got to discuss how to improve my involvement in social media by Skyping with one of the most effective Twitter users out there right now. This is the way of the future, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to talk to someone like Schaefer. My goal for this semester (aside from being a ninja) is to comment on other blogs which is something I never do, and really know that I should in an attempt to improve commenting and interaction here on Science Decoded and on Twitter. I need to start talking to people, rather than just talking AT the Internet. It would also be nice to, you know, find a job. Think I can do it?