Monday, 23 January 2017

Are doctoral candidates switched on to the impact of social media?

Early in 2015 I conducted a bit of research about social media use at my institution (the University of Aberdeen). It was presented at the UK Council for Graduate Education, 2nd International Conference on Developments in Doctoral Education & Training Conference in 2015.

I wrote up the findings and they were recently published in the proceedings. There are interesting papers covering all different areas of graduate training. The abstract for my paper is below and you can download the proceedings (my paper is on page 93).

Texting by Jhaymesisviphotography, on Flickr

Are doctoral candidates switched on to the impact of social media? 

Dr Heather Doran* and Dr Kenneth D. Skeldon *Corresponding author, University of Aberdeen, King’s College, Regent Walk, Old Aberdeen, AB24 3FX

It might be assumed that today’s doctoral students are aware of and active in the use of social media tools in the course of their work. Here we question whether doctoral students are really utilising these tools to effectively and responsibly strengthen and progress their work and careers.

In the rapidly evolving area of social media, support and advice is often sporadic, presented with different foci depending on whether training is delivered by individuals, institutions or funding bodies. Differing policy between these groups also causes confusion around how researchers can best use digital tools. Coupled with this, there are different approaches and guidelines on what is appropriate to be discussed online. Individual social media accounts have come under scrutiny for being ‘self-promoting’ with many opting for a research group output rather than individual accounts. However, this latter approach presents its own difficulties in building attributable voices and a corresponding audience. This landscape can be daunting for those navigating a doctorate and wishing to benefit from these digital tools.

In this paper we address some specific questions, such as whether doctoral candidates have the confidence, knowledge and responsibility to use social digital networks in the context of their work, and whether those that do not might be disadvantaged. We will present conclusions based on a local survey of social media use at the University of Aberdeen and compare these with general surveys of digital use and attitudes by researchers conducted by others across the globe (Lupton, 2014).

The local survey highlighted that uptake of social media was higher amongst research staff and Principal Investigators than early career researchers and doctoral candidates. The findings suggest that the uptake was lower in the latter group as they are unsure how to use social media effectively for their own personal development.

We will explore the value of social media to researchers and doctoral candidates and share how our analysis and evaluation has informed knowledge to steer effective engagement with the research community about social media.


Wednesday, 17 February 2016

No-one to book that trip with? Do it anyway. Traveling alone as a female is OK

Last year I was lucky enough to start a journey of exploration around the world funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. It was an incredible experience but also a little daunting, as I would be doing it alone. I’m writing this about my experiences to encourage others to take the plunge and book that trip you have always wanted to take.
Traveling has been a favourite way of spending my time for as long as I can remember. It isn’t just about the destination for me: the journey to get there is just as important. I love the space you get from reality as you embark on a journey. I don’t love everything though. I hate flying, but I didn’t want to let that stop me. If I had a choice, the train would always be the top of my list of transport options. Staring out of the window of a train has been the location where I have decided on many things in my life.
Traveling alone can be a daunting experience but I really urge everyone to try it. Even if it is a train journey to a new town. You experience a location in a completely different way to when you travel with a companion. I find you can take more things in and you get to choose what you do all of the time. Want to spend an hour staring at a painting? No problem. You also learn a lot about myself while you are alone (and on occasion talk to yourself).
I’m a fairly relaxed traveller but doing lots of planning before I stepped anywhere near a plane (I hate flying, have I mentioned that?) I made sure I had done plenty of homework to make sure I felt as comfortable as possible. The only time I did get lost was when I couldn’t get out of a 6 floor department store in Tokyo. Not the worst place to get stuck. I had some delays and a few hiccups but could rectify those as I had all the information I needed with me.
Last year I visited China, Japan, the US and Canada. Here’s what I learnt on my journey.
Where to stay?Pick a safe area and choose accommodation close to transport lines. You can use travel blogs, guides and of course online maps to find out all of this information. This is important so you don’t need to walk far, especially if you will be out in the evenings. It’s likely you will want to eat while you are travelling so try and pick accommodation close to places where you can grab food. Sometimes you might feel like you just don’t want to head out far alone and so making sure you have good food options close by is really worth it.
Obviously you can check reviews on Trip Advisor but make sure you select the ‘solo traveller’ reviews. Many lone travellers share how they felt safe/unsafe and share their experiences (and where is good to eat close by). Don’t forget to repay the favour and leave your review when you have left!
I stayed in both hotels and AirBnB and didn’t have any bad experiences. I spent a long time choosing my accomodation. Where you stay is your sanctuary and you want to prioritise feeling safe and secure when alone.
How to get around?Plot out how you are going to get to where you want to visit before you go. This might sound obvious..BUT go beyond only thinking about your flight. How will you travel from the airport to your hotel? Try and book flight and travel times that don’t involve arriving in a new location at midnight when there is likely to be fewer people around and it’s harder to orientate yourself. Load up maps and travel maps before you head out. Don’t rely on being able to access information digitally. I had everything on my phone and written down on paper.
Eating.This gets a section all to itself as eating on your own can be a real problem. I mostly tried to pick where I wanted to eat before heading out. I don’t feel self conscious about eating alone in a restaurant but if you do, try taking a book or at least your phone to mess with. This is the only downside to travelling alone — you can’t steal food from others that you eat with and therefore are limited to only trying the dishes you can eat!
I found when eating alone that people start to talk to you. I was befriended in a resturant by another lone eater, we had a great chat and she gave me some great tips on places to visit and I held a conversation with the guy making my sushi despite a huge language barrier.
No entiendoIf you are traveling somewhere with a language you don’t speak, try and learn a few basic words and customs before you go. In flight entertainment systems usually have some great guides and I always find them really interesting. Google translate and other translation apps are incredibly useful especially if you are faced with a menu you can’t decipher.
What to do if something does go wrong?
Always make sure you have your insurance details and emergency phone numbers with you at all times. Written down and on your phone. Check in with people regularly at home.

In Japan there are designated tourist wifi hotspots so you can access your digital maps and contact people if you need to. Remember coffee shops like Starbucks and others always have wifi too so if you are in a town or city and feeling a bit disorientated head there and take some time out to get your visit back on track. The free wifi in 7/11s in Tokyo was a lifesaver for me!

Monday, 14 December 2015

My 2015 Reading List

As many people are looking for presents at this time of year I thought I would round up some of my favourite books that I read in 2015 (along with a few other favourites).

My plan was to write full reviews of all of these books but somehow it is the end of the year and I never quite managed it. This year has gone by so quickly.

If you have any suggestions of your own please add them below. I am looking for a few new reads over the holidays

So You've been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
I really enjoyed this book and the follow ups Jon has done with people who have become well known for all the wrong reasons due to exploits, mishaps and misinterpretations on social media. It starts to think about how and why people behave like they do online and it could go into a little more depth but is a great read to make you think about how mob mentality, anonymity and online behaviour in general can be a powerful tool but also a dangerous force.

How to Thrive in the Digital Age, Nick Harkaway 
A great, short, positive discussion of where we are today in the digital era. It explores a lack of control in the online environment and risk but also the huge opportunity we all have.

Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread - The Lessons from a New Science, Alex Pentland 
This is a brilliant book about how effective networks can be created. It's data and experiment led and includes evaluations of interventions that companies have put in place to provide a creative and idea rich environments. It's focused on offline rather than online networks but there is some discussion of the use of social media. The author quotes his own studies for most of the book and I would have liked to have seen more of an alternative perspective but for anyone who works with ideas and/or people this is highly recommended.

The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, Basil Mahon 
A great biography of Maxwell, it does get pretty heavy on the physics but I like that they haven't skipped on the science as often happens in books about scientists.

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Peter Hessler
I read this book while I was in China and it really helped me relate to the country and the people I was meeting. It took me a little while to get into the book at first but once the writers journey in China settles a bit it becomes really good. Even if you don't have an interest in China it is an excellent read. I want to read his follow up now.

Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries
If you like stories about people and stories about the weird things people do and get up to then you will enjoy this collection of short stories. Easy, enjoyable reading.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
If you haven't read this book yet then you need to. It's an incredible story of rapid scientific development alongside a family story of understanding. I read this book when it first came out but it is one of the most important books that I have ever read and so I wanted to include it on this list. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

PechaKucha, Androids and Line: Science Communication in Japan

The last week of my Churchill Fellowship was spent in Tokyo, Japan. I learnt an immense amount about Japan, it's attitudes to science, engagement initiatives and its use of social media ... did you know Japan has a social network called Line? No, me neither... My short trip also included a PechaKucha presentation, a debate about whether we could love robots and a meeting with the ultimate in robots, ASIMO.

Tokyo was incredible. I completely fell in love with its chaos, speed and the people.

During my week I went along to the PechaKucha nights and spoke about my Fellowship and my journey in science communication. You can watch it below. If you don't know what PechaKucha is, you have 20 images and 20 seconds to talk about each one. It's a challenge but great fun.

The night was really enjoyable and there was about 250 people there. I really enjoy running the PechaKucha nights in Aberdeen so it was fantastic to meet with the founders and organisers of the nights. It's amazing that PechaKucha nights now run in over 800 cities around the world. All the PechaKucha team have been great to chat to via email and they were just as great in person. The other talks from the night were really fantastic too so you should check them out.

ASIMO and how the Earthquake changed how Japan interacts with science

I was privileged to meet with staff from Miraikan, Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Also, the home of ASIMO.

I learnt how after the 2011 Earthquake the centre was closed due to some damage and during this time the team started to think about how they could still interact with the public without a physical science centre. They set up a Facebook and a website to gather science questions from the public and the sites were inundated with queries. Responses were created by the science communicators and scientists who they approached to answer questions. This dialogue seems to be ingrained within Miraikan as there are an unlimited number of opportunities to share your own views on science and our lives.

The team at Miraikan, Tomonori Hayakawa, Yuko Okayama and Chiharu Yamada from the science communication, office of International Affairs and Public Relation sections.

The exhibits include the science and scientists too, you can participate in real experiments. My favourite exhibit was about the future of data and technology, Anagura: "It is a research laboratory for sharing people's information and turning the connections into a powerful force for humankind."

The Anagura exhibition, the round projections on the floor followed you as you moved around and interacted with the stands.

I got a little excited about the shop...

Could we fall in love with an android?

My first few days in Tokyo were spent at Tokyo Tech with Professor Kayoko Nohara and found out more about her work into research into translation and science communication. They have run a number of science cafe's but created a new, more interactive format that fuses art and science in a 'creative cafe'. These Creative Cafe's involve the audience in the event and sound like a fantastic exploration of science beyond the lab and lecture format.

I also met with Professor Tom Hope at Tokyo Tech and was lucky enough to attend his 'Think Aloud' session where I debated whether we could ever fall in love with androids and what it means to be human and the concept of love with students who are practicing their English skills and discussing science and societal issues at the same time.

The students also chatted to me about how they use social media (Facebook, Twitter and Line). Line is a little like Whatsapp and WeChat but is used to plan social events and connect with others of similar interests. It's also popular because it's 'stickers' which include dancing rabbits and other things..

How many graduates from your university have traveled to space?

Later in the week I met with the public relations team at the University of Tokyo. They have developed a bilingual digital resource to connect people with the UToyko Research. Discussing with them I learnt what happens when one of the Professors you work with is awarded the Nobel Prize, how the general community in Japan is pretty interested in science and technology and is also trusting of science and scientists. GMO's, climate change, vaccines are not topics of 'debate' in Japan.

We had a great discussion with a wider group of staff about interactions via social media and the challenges of having to ensure that both English and Japanese translations are included. Many manage not one, but two social media sites that are the same but differ in their language. It's also challenging because the descriptors and language used for a Japanese audience aren't always what they would like to host in English.

They had a great shop on their beautiful campus too. The shop sold not only University of Tokyo branded goods but objects, items and information about spin out companies from the University and their own branded Sake, created from a strain of yeast they thought was destroyed but was found in the university archives many years later.

The University of Tokyo campus

Participating in an experiment looking at walking styles at Miraikan

See you soon Japan!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Science, China and why we should all take notice of WeChat.

I spent last week in Shanghai exploring the use of social media to communicate science as part of my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship.

I had an extremely busy week and was lucky enough to meet with researchers in science communication, representatives from Nature and the Royal Society of Chemistry in Shanghai. Who all gave me extremely valuable insights into science communication and social media in China.

Welcome to Shanghai!

The majority of my time was spent at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which is a well established institution in China. I visited researcher Dr Yi Mou who has written a number of papers about the use of social media for health messaging and its uptake by academics on a professional basis in China.

Yi Mou also translated some interesting findings from science communication surveys in China that have been conducted over the past number of years.

Me, Dr Li Mou and Dr Nainan Wen from Nanjing University where I also visited

I was incredibly lucky to meet with a group of people who were so accommodating. China is an interesting place and I was a little apprehensive about how I would navigate around but actually it was pretty simple. The subway in Shanghai is so easy to use and despite no access to google maps I didn't get lost once (this is unusual).

In China, access to websites and social media platforms is limited. There isn't a lack of social networks to choose from as many platforms created in China have materialised. These include but aren't limited to Weibo (which is a public discussion forum limited by characters, similar to Twitter) and WeChat (which is an interesting mix of Facebook and WhatsApp where you can post publicly and interact in groups or one-to-one). I found out about another bunch too that work in interesting ways but I will save those for another post.

The uptake of these platforms in China is huge, although the use of Weibo has declined rapidly recently due the shift of people to the WeChat platform and due to issues with the shutting down of accounts and deleted posts.

A number of studies have been conducted on science communication on Weibo. As it is an open platform like Twitter the data is easily available. The public were found to ask questions of science and want to know more, GMO is a hot topic in China, but there are very few scientists engaged in communication with these audiences*.

Social media in China is monitored and managed so participants are wary of what they share online. WeChat involves a lot of private messaging and closed group discussion but these posts are also monitored.

Speaking to students at Nanjing University about why scientists might interact on social media

When it comes to social media and smartphone applications China is SWITCHED ON. Comments like, "In China everyone wants everything fast" and "everyone wants to feel part of something" highlighted to me just how attached China is to social media. The constant notification sound from WeChat that you could hear 24/7 confirmed this, and it is still ringing in my ears.

WeChat is HUGE. A statistic that I was told is that 90% of China's population that have access to the internet use WeChat (trying to find a source for this, if anyone can please let me know), that is a lot of people. For some more informed but slightly outdated stats see this post.

It's good to note that this rise in popularity of WeChat isn't only because other networks are blocked as these can be accessed pretty easily via a VPN. Facebook and Twitter accounts are visibly advertised on business cards and other promotional material in China but WeChat is most definitely China's favourite network.

Everyone is on WeChat and because of this pretty much all communication goes through WeChat. From department meetings and university announcements to communicating with your mum everything takes place via WeChat. I saw it in action when a International Student's networking night by the communication school at Shanghai Jiao Tong University was arranged via WeChat.

When it comes to science on WeChat. There are some scientists that blog and have some influential pages, sharing popular science updates and comments. These are very much the minority and tend to be high profile scientists, but they do attract big numbers of followers. Beyond the public face of the WeChat superstar scientists, specialist discussions about areas of research also take place in closed groups (which can include up to and over 500 people). These chats are global, with scientists located everywhere contributing to discussion.

The closed groups are great for scientific discussion and collaboration but create a problem in that unless you know they are there you can be excluded from conversations. They are monitored too of course.

Beautiful colours on the Nanjing University campus

The way people use WeChat and how it works is incredibly interesting. We should take note because many of the apps more common to us in the US and the UK will be moving in this direction soon if Mark Zuckerberg has his way. A comment over dinner highlighted one key difference between WeChat and Facebook, "it's interesting because Facebook TELLS you what you want, whereas on WeChat it's easy and you create what you want".  The premise is that people can give you access to information faster than an internet search ever can. You can ask in a group, "can anyone tell me where to find xxx" and the answer is with you instantly. This is something that people have realised and use Twitter for too; answers, experts and papers are only a question away if you are in the right group.

You can pay for goods, donate money and pay for articles (recently it's started prompting people to 'thank' people for a good post with money) via WeChat. You can book appointments, flights, anything and everything. This has created an interesting shift where people no longer visit websites or use email. No other app offers this amount of functionality. I constantly have to shift between apps and networks to do what I want. Not on WeChat.

All the great suff aside, it's not without its problems, as messages can get missed (many people are in multiple groups). People I spoke to wondered if it was being overused and relied upon too much. Will people switch off to the constant updates?

WeChat isn't just contained within China. Anyone wanting to do business or interact easily with those in China quickly realises how useful WeChat is for collaboration and its use outside China is increasing.

Me in Nanjing University campus
No matter where content comes from the content on WeChat is still monitored which will prevent many from signing up but I think in the future we may all find ourselves shifting to a service that allows us to do everything we need to without clicking on a website.

The rise of messaging vs broadcast social media platforms may cause a bit of a problem for science communication. Conversations will take place within distinct groups of interest and between those 'in the know' rather than on open platforms like Twitter where everyone can pile in and see the conversation taking place or the content that is shared.

The popularity of messaging may mean that conversations become more closed in the future rather than more open, despite us having the technology and ability to hold open discussion. This makes me feel a little worried about the rise of messaging.

*This information was taken from the Blue Book of Science Communication in China.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Social media networks are becoming more like real life, not less

This week there's been a higher than normal amount of discussion around to the topic of 'the death of social media', well, there has been on my social media networks. And that links to what I want to talk about in this post.

The Atlantic published a piece yesterday on 'The Decay of Twitter' which followed the announcement that Twitter was running at a financial loss. Today, Essena O'Neill announced that she is quitting Instagram because social media 'isn't real life'.  I've found the discussions around both of these really interesting but many discussions about social media often assume a couple of points that I think should be thought about further and these haven't really been addressed in commentary that I have seen.

1) Everyone should be using the same social network

Obviously for a social network to be a social network it needs users and for business (like Twitter) additional users is a sign that they are doing well. But as a user of a network does more users mean that it is a better network to use? Many people use multiple networks because they offer different functionality. Some people like images, others like reading or connecting with videos and this need can shift depending on what content people are looking to find.

2) Everyone uses social media networks in the same way

The Essena O'Neill story made me think more about how people use networks. Not everyone uses social media to broadcast their perfect life or to broadcast at all. Members of patient and other support groups use social media to communicate and help each other. People going through difficult periods of their life use social media to connect. Other use social media to communicate with friends, family and with others with shared interests like sport, or science. Not all Instagram accounts exist to promote unachievable beauty goals, some exist to inspire curiosity in science and to share moments of real life.

3) The way we use social media changes and that's natural

As we age, change jobs, location, interests and friendship groups the way we interact online with others changes to reflect this. It's natural really, so is it newsworthy?

The problem is that as in our 'offline life',  our online life is dominated by information from sources we choose to visit or recommendations from friends and connections. There's an increasingly diverse set of social networks, tools and functions and these open up the what we interact with or what we read in news and commentary but these are limited by who we choose to connect with. Because of this we see a skewed view of the overall picture.

Social media is certainly not dying a death. The number of people interacting on social networks is growing but the field is diversifying and becoming more reflective of different interests and ways people prefer to connect to each other. For me, I love soaking up information from different accounts and hearing from people I wouldn't be able to connect without social media. Far from consuming everything social media is valuable and offers a great amount of opportunity to explore, learn and connect.

Just a note...

I want you to help me (and researcher Paige Brown Jarreau ) to understand more about who reads this blog and other blogs related to science. 

You will also get FREE science art from Paige's Photography for participating, as well as a chance to win a t-shirt and other perks! It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find the survey here:

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Updates from Hapsci and a call for help!

Next month (November) I will be continuing my Churchill Fellowship with a trip to Shanghai and to Tokyo. As you can imagine I am very excited about taking this trip. 

I will be meeting with a number of interesting people including two research groups that focus on science communication in China and in Japan.It's going to be a new experience for me and I'm looking forward to the trip. But before I head on my way I wanted see if there are any particular questions people wonder about science and science communication in China and Japan from my blog readers. 

It would be great if you could tell me if you interact/follow any great science focused accounts that are based in China or Japan. I would be interested to know if there are any particular pages or accounts that people really love.

I also want you to help me (and researcher Paige Brown Jarreau ) to understand more about who reads this blog and other blogs related to science. 

You will also get FREE science art from Paige's Photography for participating, as well as a chance to win a t-shirt and other perks! It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find the survey here:

Thanks for helping me out! 

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