More than 20 years after it came into the scene, it’s clear that social media is here to stay. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and others have become ubiquitous and, for many, are essential communication and networking tools.
One can get lost on social media and spend hours following threads and participating in debates about anything and everything. Science is very present in social media channels, and we can celebrate that constructive conversations among scientists and between scientists and nonscientists occur. These conversations advance science and support scientists in many ways. Some academics, for example, use social media to share news of books or papers that got accepted or published. It’s an opportunity to promote their groups’ work, solicit feedback from the community, or publicly commemorate significant career moments, such as securing a grant, getting a PhD, or obtaining tenure.
Often, social media is a mechanism to spread the word about job openings and career opportunities in a zero-cost way while making the search global, perhaps reaching candidates who otherwise may have been unreachable. Importantly, it is also a place to ask for help—scientific or otherwise. People turn to social media to pose scientific questions or solicit expert advice on topics that are outside their core field of study. I have personally heard of this kind of approach resulting in collaborations. But regardless of whether the connection ends in a working relationship of any kind, social media makes it easier to make contact with people you know or don’t know but are interested in meeting. Announcing on social that you are attending an event will allow others to get in touch or expect you there. And this makes those potentially awkward first in-person interactions easier.
Folks also ask for professional help of a different kind, including advice on how to persevere with a PhD, how to deal with impostor syndrome, how to overcome the fear of speaking in public, and more. And this area is where the sense of community on social media becomes strong. Social has given scientists a voice on issues that often go beyond science but that affect us as people and professionals. For example, many have publicly spoken about LGBT issues and what it means to come out in front of their students. Others have touched on what it means to be a parent and a scientist and the tension that results from the need to travel and network while balancing family responsibilities.
In recent months we have seen some touching examples of how those in the chemistry community have used social media channels to provide emotional support to others who were going through difficult life situations. A young professor and LGBT rights advocate from the UK recently lost his 39-year-old husband to cystic fibrosis. He documented his loss through social media and received many messages of condolence from people who knew him but also from many who didn’t but had been following his story. As he now cares for a young child on his own and continues his career, the messages of support and offers of help continue to pour in. Earlier this year, an academic based in northern Europe shared the heartbreak of losing the baby she was expecting. As she was in the hospital going through the pain and grief of saying goodbye to her daughter, her Twitter account received multiple messages of support and expressions of sympathy.
Another recent example is the exchanges that were catalyzed by C&EN resharing a 2016 article about fertility issues to mark National Infertility Awareness Week. We received messages from many chemists from all corners of the globe who had struggled—and who still struggle—with infertility.
With that, I’d like to refer you to page 24, where you can read our feature about the mini-universe that the chemistry community has created on Twitter.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.