Older generations (no offence!) still remember printing or even drawing their figures and sticking them in their manuscript before sending it off by mail to the journal. Yes by mail, not email, but also not by horse-drawn carriage, – come on people, give them a break! For those starting their scientific career now, this feels like a lifetime ago. Most of our work involves a computer, a network, email and more and more social media. Whilst these channels are certainly not praised by everyone and not everyone uses them to the same extent, it is very hard to imagine today’s neuroscience without them. Professional platforms like ResearchGate or Linkedin have found their place in science, but even more so Facebook and Twitter have become forums to share new research, advertise vacancies or simply congratulate a former colleague on published work. You can find everything from papers, figures, links or research results hot and fresh from the lab, posted to share the joy that something finally worked out. Social media can provide something to us that authors and reader of research might have missed before. It could be a key point why social media is so successful: instant feedback. Unless you are presenting at a conference you hardly encounter direct reactions to the work you are presenting. Sure, people download, read your work, and will eventually email you if they have questions, but this takes longer and your audience might phrase things differently when they use email rather than a quick post to social media. Whilst we might sometime wish people would have taken a minute to review their words before posting them, there is also something very satisfying about watching your work being shared, liked and reading positive messages. Especially in times of a global pandemic, when conferences are banished to the virtual world, social media has become even more of a research platform. Interestingly this depends less and less on your age group. Some of those who started research long before constantly being online was a thing are really efficient and up-to-date with social media and have joined the club.
Now, is this all fun and games? Probably not, if we phrase it like that. Like most developments, social media surely has disadvantages and, like everything we learn, we also need to learn how to handle it properly. What “properly” means in detail is a wide-spanning debate that is often carried out publicly on the social channels themselves. We cannot tell you what to post and what not, this quite frankly is your personal decision, as it is your profile it will appear on and your name will be the one connected with it. However, what we can put out there is a few points you might want to take into account before adding a comment, a link or a photo on your social media feet.
- Are you including anyone else other than yourself and are you sure that person is OK with that?
- Are you showing unpublished data, activities or equipment from the lab that is not specifically yours? In that case, you should double-check with your PI.
- Are you representing a society/institution/research group on the platform you are posting on? If so, consider if what you are going to share is in the best interest of the body you are representing.
- When commenting: Check what you are about to say is: Kind? Helpful? Accurate? Respectful? If not: why would you post it and is that a good idea? Maybe have a think about it first or send a personal message/email to the person you are addressing. The points mentioned above should of course still apply to an email, but if you are addressing a controversial point it might be better discussed in private.
You might say know that this sounds boring and is kind of taking away the whole point of social media. If you have to consider all these things before posting, who can still think it is an instant reaction? Well, what is more important to you? That your messege arrives in seconds or that what gets out on social media (and remains there connected to your name) displays you as an honourable researcher? Also, it is definitely still quicker than sending a letter like in the good old days!
Happy posting and take care,