Reflecting on the second Biotweeps Twitter Conference, #BTCon18

Biotweeps_Logo_cropOn the 21st and 22nd of June, 2018, Biotweeps ran its second Twitter Conference, #BTCon18. The first conference, #BTCon17, was a surprise success for us and the feedback was so positive that #BTCon18 was always going to be on the cards.

Unlike a regular conference, we didn’t have to worry about hiring a venue, caterers, or putting together a goodie bag (though we did consider making stickers, mugs, etc. available). Organising a Twitter conference means identifying a structure and finding presenters. The call for abstracts was pushed repeatedly over a couple of months and, like regular conferences, many abstracts were submitted just before the deadline – I assume to keep us on our toes!

#BTCon17 took a constant approach to timings with presenters being back-to-back. This turned out to be far from the best way to do things. This year, informed by activity data from the Biotweeps account, we decided to split the conference according to 3 land masses, using a local time zone for each, reasoning that this might draw in more presenters from those areas (we were keen to increase diversity among presenters). Unfortunately, converting to and from three different time zones led to some errors and confusion. The conference worked, and most people were in their allocated slots, but there were many emails from presenters requiring clarification before and during the conference. The presenters were all unbelievably accepting and we were so appreciative for their patience and understanding, but we know we have to do better. Next year – UTC!


In addition to using timezones, we decided to adopt a thematic approach and identified nine broad themes. We offered presenters the option of specifying up to three session themes that would be appropriate for their presentations, reasoning that if a few themes were over-subscribed (as conservation and ecology turned out to be) and some themes under-subscribed, we could still put together a varied conference. This was largely effective, though it turned out that a small number of presentations weren’t suited to their allocated themes. It would be easy to point to the submitters and say that they offered that theme as an option, but we must also acknowledge that we probably should have been more stringent in our screening.

There have been plenty of caveats and lessons learned so far about what went wrong, but what can we learn about what went right? Well, quite a lot. We organised what would in regular, non-virtual terms be described as a major international conference featuring 77 presenters from 22 countries. This represents a considerable improvement on 2017 (60 presenters from 12 countries) and we were delighted to be able to showcase science and scientists from all around the world. We’re aiming to make similar progress, next year.


Our presenters produced a total of 627 original tweets. These were re-tweeted 4,500 times! The conference had a total audience (i.e. the total number of followers across all contributors to the hashtag, without duplication) of 2,500,000. Try fitting that lot into a lecture theatre! activity

These metrics were delivered by a different company than we used last year, so we’re not able to compare engagements or ‘potential reach’ (a metric used to describe a more extended network, e.g. followers of followers, which was 12,000,000 in 2017) between years.

We produced a feedback form ( so that presenters and followers of the conference could give us their opinions of the conference and help us learn what went well and what went wrong. This information will be invaluable to helping us make #BTCon19 an even better event.

In the next section, we’ve gone through some of the feedback collected thus far to reflect and, in places, offer comment.

What was the best aspect of the conference, from your perspective?

–       “The diversity of presentations.

–       “Its global reach.”

–       “Accessibility of presenters and ease of having follow-up questions (much better than at a physical conference).

–       “The diversity of participants, and the clarity with which they presented their work over a handful of tweets.”

–       “It’s free, it doesn’t require me to fly to another country, and I could communicate with other speakers and “audience” at the comfort of my home!

What was the worst aspect of the conference, from your perspective?

–       “The tweet limit.”

–       “Limited number of slides made some presenters put up extremely busy slides to try to fit it all.”

Presenters who submitted abstracts were allowed 4 tweets over 15 minutes while invited plenary presenters were allowed 30 minutes with no tweet limit. Last year, presenters were allowed 6 tweets. However, tweet limits have since expanded from 140 characters to 280. We thought that reducing the number of tweets to 4 (still 280 extra characters compared to last year) was appropriate. We will be reconsidering this for next year, however.

–       “Lack of questions but that’s not really an issue with the conference per se.”

–       “The use of multiple time zones was confusing.”

This was the most common criticism and it’s certainly valid. We have good intentions with the three-time-zone approach, but it was flawed. Next time we’ll use UTC across-the-board.

–      “My slot was at a time that meant it was totally unseen by people in Europe and they were the main audience, and meant I couldn’t present live and interact at the time of the presentation (see unhappy presenter, above).”

This was from a presenter who was extremely unhappy and gave us scores of ‘1’ (poor) across the board. We were saddened to learn that one of the presenters had such a negative experience. We do have to balance this, however, by acknowledging that we did warn presenters that their presentation may not occur in their local time zone. As it turned out, we were able to schedule almost all presenters to a local time zone.

Suggested improvements

–      “There must have been some logic behind 4/5 slides per presenter, but I found it pretty low number. Something along 10 slides would be better.

–      “Tweets should be unlimited within our time block.

We consider 10 slides is probably excessive. The point is to reduce presentations to easy-to-digest chunks. 4 ‘content’ slides are certainly too few, though. 1 cover slide and 6 content slides might be more appropriate.

–       “Perhaps ensure that presenters can present in their own time zone?

This would be ideal, but is dependant on a) having sufficient local presenters for a given theme, and b) preferential abstract selection based on location. The first is certainly feasible, the second might not be the best way to select scientific abstracts. The alternative is to forego themes and just group people by location, which may be an option.

–     “Could all presenters be given a 30-minute slot to do with as they please? I am not sure why there needs to be a difference between invited and contributing presenters. I recognise that condensing to just 4 slides is part of the challenge, and that I may not have used my allocated slots as well as I could/should have, but I felt frustrated that I had 20 minutes in which I was expecting to give further elaborations, examples, comments, etc., but had nobody interact with me and so was unable to do so. It seemed a waste of that time.

Just as in a regular conference, sometimes there are no questions. There’s little we can do about that, I’m afraid. 30 minutes to do with as you please is not an attractive option to us, though, as it would be a considerable deviation from the idea of reducing work to bite-sized chunks (similarly, you do not get 30 minutes free-rein at a regular conference). Regular conferences have plenary sessions from invited speakers and shorter presentations from submitted abstracts. We attempted to follow the same system.

–     “I would like to see plenary speakers limit their tweets. Regular presentations were 5 tweets, 15 minutes. Why not double that for plenary speakers? 10 tweets, 30 minutes, instead of, “Whatever you want.”

We completely agree. That, or something similar, will be implemented for next year.

–     “Fewer emails with information, try and put everything relevant into one email at confirmation/scheduling, and one follow-up reminder in the days before the conference, anything else should be emergencies only.”

Absolutely right. The number of emails sent close to the conference were a manifestation of unforeseen issues which were coming to light. Almost all of these were to do with timing issues. This will be rectified for next year and communication will be streamlined.

–     “Have a moderator per session (perhaps someone presenting in that session) to make sure people present at the right time, perhaps introduce talks, and ask questions.

Moderators were sought, but none were found. Volunteers will be welcomed, next year.

–     “Some topics are obviously more popular than the others. So why not have more of them and less of the others (e.g., if there were fewer abstracts of that sort) than to force a balance? I was put in a science communication symposium when my abstract only has a distance link to it. The ecology sessions were obviously very popular in this case.”

The conference schedule did in fact have more of some topics than others. We assume, based on the scheduling of their talk, that the presenter chose ‘science communication’ as a potential option. We distributed presentations according to the options given.

–     “Be much better organised and professional. Have a really clear conference timetable available, widely publicised in advance. Consider scale, timings allocated, dilution effect. Better to do it well, have fewer people, and make it much easier for people to find presenters they wanted to see.

Ouch! It was not possible to publicise a timetable before the abstract deadline as we did not know how many abstracts we would get, for each theme, nor where presenters would be based (re: time zones). The schedule and abstracts were linked in all emails and media as soon as they were ready. But! This person does make some good points and we will look to improve our timings and publicity and will look into an interactive website for the schedule and abstracts.


We’ll end, if you’ll indulge us, with some of the testimonials which were left on the surveys. Thanks once again to everyone for participating. We hope to see you next year for #BTCon19.

Overall a great conference! I was surprised at how much work it was to prepare my “slides” and really made me think about my content. The online format made the conference accessible to so many.

Although I did not have many interactions during/after my presentation, I found it really fun and interesting to go through the process of preparing the slides. Thinking in Twitter format requires you to really streamline and condense and hone, which is excellent practice. At other conferences, I have been put into sections with people whose research is not interesting/relevant to me, but here the organisation was much better and I learned a lot from the other presenters in my ‘session’ — plus it was much easier to catch up on content that I had missed when it was first presented!”

#BTCon18 as much a “real” conference as any conference that you packed up a poster tube and got on a plane to attend!

BTCon18 was the most unique conference I’ve been a part of, both in terms of the diversity of presentations and the clarity with which ideas and research can be presented when you’re forced to cut away every possible bit of fat.”

I love how you are promoting scicomm, I am from Guatemala, science is not a priority in third-world countries and it can be difficult to attend congresses or other science events , so for me being able to get to know what other people around the world are doing, in real time and without the need to go to another country is just amazing, this is the first time I’ve heard and participate (as an spectator ) and I look forward to more scicomm events.

I had an absolute blast with BTcon18- got to interact with many researchers and learned lots from outside my field. I enjoyed the challenge of breaking my science down to simple statements. It was great!



21-22 June 2018 – The second Biotweeps Twitter Conference, #BTCon18

Biotweeps_Logo_cropThe first Biotweeps Twitter Conference, #BTCon17, brought together 60 presenters from 12 countries, from across the biological sciences. The conference was extremely successful, engaging 1,200 people and with an estimated global audience of 22 million people (see our Nature Communications article, here).

The conference returns this year as BTCon18, split over two days between the 21-22 of June, 2018. It will feature invited presenters as well as plenty of presentations selected from submitted abstracts. Presenters will be using the hashtag #BTCon18, which can also be used to track participants, throughout. The main @Biotweeps Twitter account will also be re-tweeting presentations.

The schedule and all abstracts can be found on the #BTCon18 website! 

 The programme consists of presentations from invited experts, as well as those from people who successfully submitted abstracts. Presentations will be scheduled in one of three time-zone regions each day:

  • Session 1: 1700 – 2100 BIOT (British Indian Ocean Time; GMT +6; CST +12)

  • Session 2: 1700 – 2100 GMT (Greenwich Meridian Time; BIOT -6; CST +6)

  • Session 3: 1700 – 2100 CST (Central Standard Time; GMT -6; BIOT -12)

The conference has nine broad themes – conservation, ecology, genetics, health\disease, interdisciplinary, molecular\micro, palaeo, science communication and technology. All sessions will be collected as Twitter Moments so that you even if you’re unable to follow the conference live, you can catch up later.

You can follow the conference by following the hashtag #BTCon18 and we encourage you to take part by asking questions (don’t forget to use the hashtag!). We look forward to talking to you.


30th April 2018 – Auriel Fournier, Mississippi State University

Auriel Fournier_18Dr. Auriel Fournier is a postdoctoral researcher at Mississippi State University where she works as a part of the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network ( using structured decision making to inform conservation decision making in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Auriel received her PhD from the Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Arkansas in 2017 where she completed her dissertation studying the autumn migration ecology of rails. She is passionate about wetlands, birds and trying to understand their migration while making the conservation and scientific communities more diverse.

2nd April 2018 – Kevin Burgio, University of Connecticut

Kevin BurgioKevin R. Burgio is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut. He is currently collaborating with researchers from a variety of disciplines, including: ecology, journalism, education, and communications to create effective science communication training, as well as the tools needed to evaluate the effectiveness of training in an NSF-funded project.

When not working on science communication, he is an integrative ecologist and conservation biologist with a range of interests and received his PhD from the University of Connecticut in 2017. He is most interested in the mechanisms of species range limitations and how disturbance (climate change and habitat fragmentation) influences species distribution patterns and extinction processes. With a better understanding of how species adapt and move when responding disturbance, he hopes to help bridge the divide between ecological theory and on-the-ground conservation in order to make the best possible decisions not just for now, but for the future as well. Though he focuses on parrots, he has published on a wide variety of topics and taxonomic groups, ranging from bats, Tasmanian tigers, parasites, to the extinct Carolina parakeet.

In addition to research, he is a first-generation college student, a military veteran, a single father, and a member of the LGBT+ community. In his spare time, he listens to punk music (and created the #punkinSTEM hashtag), restores vintage furniture and cookware, plays with his cat, and has an exotic plant & orchid collection. You can visit his website and follow him on Twitter @KRBurgio. His CV can be found here: K.R. Burgio CV.

24th July 2017 – Cat Hobaiter, University of St Andrews & Kirsty Graham, University of York

Hi Biotweeps!

Catherine Hobatier.pngCat (@nakedprimate)

I’ve been a field primatologist with the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews for the past 12-years. Much of that time has been spent living and working with the chimpanzees at the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda, but I’ve also worked with baboons and gorillas, and at other sites across Africa.

These days I’m a full time lecturer, but I still get to spend around 5-months a year in the field. My main area of research is ape communication – in particular gestures; but I moonlight on other topics including social learning, tool use, and life history. Much of my work takes a comparative perspective on cognition – looking at the behaviour of modern species of apes (including us) for areas of similarity and distinction that might give us clues about its evolutionary origins.

Around 6-years ago I started the habituation of a new chimpanzee community in Budongo – the Waibira group – with over 30 independent males (10-15 being typical) it’s a whole new world of fun/data collection chaos! This summer I’m piloting a gesture project with the mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, which is where I’ll be tweeting from during our Biotweeps week (apologies in advance for some *very* excited tweets/unnecessarily frequent pictures of infant gorilla floof).

Outside of my day job I’m the VP for Communications for the International Primatological Society and if I’m really not working you can usually find me trying to climb up something (mountains, rocks, trees), or with a nice cup of tea and the world service on the radio.

Kirsty Graham.jpgKirsty (@kirstyegraham)

I’m basically a younger, taller version of Cat (we both have bizarre multinational accents and love rock climbing) who does the same research but with bonobos, the chimpanzee’s sexy cousin. I just finished my PhD at the University of St Andrews looking at how bonobos use gestures, what the gestures mean, and how their gestures compare to those used by chimpanzees.

At the beginning of this month, I started a postdoc at the University of York, UK. So while Cat will be tweeting from the field (note to Cat: NEVER apologise about pictures of infant gorilla floof), I will be tweeting from my office plotting my next fieldwork at Tangkoko, Indonesia, in January. From bonobos to Sulawesi crested macaques!

Last week, we launched an online experiment testing human understanding of great ape gestures. Cat and I found that bonobos and chimpanzees share most of their gestures and gesture meanings, and we want to know whether untrained humans give the same responses to the gestures as a bonobo or chimpanzee would.

So that’s us! We’re really looking forward to a Biotweeps week full of primate facts, fieldwork stories, online experiments, and gorilla floof!

3rd July 2017 – Lauren Diepenbrock, North Carolina State University, Entomological Society of America

Lauren DiepenbrockI am an insect ecologist working in integrated pest management as a postdoctoral research scholar at North Carolina State University. This basically means that I study the ecology of insect pests and incorporate that into management programs to help growers produce healthy crops. At NC State, I study a challenging invasive vinegar fly, spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii), a nearly worldwide pest that impacts small fruit crops (cherry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, etc.). I also manage a multi-institutional Specialty Crops Research Initiative grant working with researchers all over the United States on coordinated research addressing the management of spotted wing drosophila.

Prior to my postdoc position, I did a Master’s at Florida State University where I studied the seasonal natural history of trap-jaw ants (Odontomachus brunneus) in North Florida with Dr. Walter Tschinkel. I consider myself very fortunate for this opportunity to observe these organisms and learn about their unique behaviors. The observational skills that I learned during this work have been helpful both in my PhD and postdoctoral research.

I did my doctoral research with Dr. Deborah Finke at the University of Missouri. For my dissertation, I looked at the impacts of resources, historical land use, and invasive species on native lady beetle communities in tallgrass habitats in Missouri. Tallgrass prairie was once the predominant land cover for much of this region and has, over time, been converted to agricultural land. I wanted to understand how changes in land use and the restoration of some lands to tallgrass prairie impacted insect communities, and I chose to focus on lady beetles because of recent studies documenting negative impacts of invasive lady beetles (e.g. Harmonia axyridis, Coccinella septempunctata) on native species. One of our major findings is that grasslands (native or agricultural) are really important for promoting the persistence of native lady beetles.

During my week on BioTweeps, I’ll talk about natural history, insect ecology, beneficial and pest insects, integrated pest management, and ongoing research.  There will likely be random cat pictures, discussion of experiences from grad school and beyond, how to make the most out of interesting opportunities along the way, the hunt for a faculty position… and anything else that is of interest at the time. I’m happy to answer whatever insect questions that I can and refer those that I cannot answer to people who can.

12th June 2017 – Angela Watkins, Welsh Government

Angela WatkinsHi Biotweeps!

I’m currently a civil servant with the Welsh Government, working as Biodiversity Policy Officer in our Land, Nature and Forestry team. I’ve been a civil servant for the last nearly 3 years after having completed my PhD at the University of Southampton in 2014. My role mainly involves developing and delivering biodiversity and nature policy and evidence across Wales and supporting others to do the same.  I’ll hopefully be able to share a bit of insight into what this means during my week ‘(wo)manning’ the Biotweeps account.

A bit of background about me: My PhD was in the field of computational ecology, but I actually completed an integrated PhD as part of the Institute of Complex Systems Simulation, so I don’t have an easy answer when people ask me what my PhD is in! Normally depending on the questioner I’ll either say ecology, or complexity and ecology. In a nutshell, my research involved using complex systems theory to develop a model(s) that could test questions about the relationship between landscape ecology (i.e. connectivity) and species persistence and movement in that landscape. To make this sound cooler, I essentially studied the way that jaguars moved around a fragmented habitat in central Belize. I’ll explain a bit more about this too if you are interested!

My main research interests lie in landscape ecology and resilience, (but will broaden to agent-based modelling, conservation, population ecology) but I am keen to link this with real, direct, on the ground policy decisions and implementation. How can we use our theoretical knowledge to deliver real change in terms of conserving and enhancing our biodiversity?

I’m also a wife and mother of two young girls aged (almost) 5 and 15 months, a passionate feminist and promoter of #womeninscience, naturally. Normally I can be found on twitter @ecologywatkins.