22nd October 2018 – Katherine Raines, Univeristy of Stirling

Katherine RainesI have recently finished my PhD at the University of Stirling. My PhD investigated the effects of low dose chronic ionising radiation to bumblebees as part of the NERC Radioactivity and the Environment (RATE) programme.

My fieldwork involves visits to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and laboratory-based experiments to gain understanding as to what has happened to the wildlife over 30 years post-accident. The focus of my research has been at looking at life history endpoints in bumblebees such as reproduction and lifespan to understand if radiation dose rates found at Chernobyl cause damage to invertebrates. A development during my research resulted in a focus on the interactions between parasite infection and radiation dose rate both in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and in the laboratory.

Presently, I am preparing for my PhD viva and trying to put together a meta-analysis of the data on effects of radiation from research that we have undertaken during the programme on a range of different species.

I am just about to start a NERC knowledge exchange fellowship for the RATE programme. Pulling together all the research from across the wide-ranging programme and making it available for users such as regulators and governments. This research ranges from the physics and geology relating to the planning of the Geological Disposal Facility for high-level radioactive waste which has been proposed for the UK, the chemistry of how radionuclides move in the environment and in particular into human food chains and the biology of effects of radiation to wildlife.

Outside of academia, I love gardening, dressmaking and keeping two stepchildren off the Xbox by running around in the Scottish outdoors.

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1st October 2018 – Vanessa Pirotta, Macquarie University

Vanessa PirottaVanessa Pirotta is a conservation biologist and science communicator who has recently completed her PhD at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Her research focused on identifying conservation gaps for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). Vanessa investigated the types of anthropogenic and natural threats faced by cetaceans and other marine megafauna (e.g. large fish such as sharks and manta rays, marine turtles, pinnipeds, sirenians and large seabirds). Her work also highlights the use of citizen science for marine mammal monitoring.

Vanessa’s most well-known research involves the use of emerging technologies such as drones for marine megafauna conservation. She collaborated with industry experts to develop custom-built, waterproof drones to collect whale snot (visible plume of spray) from large whales. This device uses a remotely operated flip-lid petri dish to minimise sample contamination from air and sea water. Lung microbiota collected from this research was used to provide a non-invasive assessment of whale health.

Vanessa completed her Master of Research (MRes) in 2014 where she investigated the effects of underwater construction and whale alarms upon migrating humpback whales off Sydney, Australia. Vanessa has a Bachelor of Science from the Australian National University where she majored in Zoology and Evolution and Ecology. Before entering into academia, Vanessa worked in marine turtle rehabilitation and as a zookeeper.

Vanessa has a wealth of experience in marine fieldwork and is a qualified coxswain (vessel operator), naturalist and marine mammal observer. She has worked in a variety of challenging remote locations around Australia and the South Pacific. Last year, Vanessa spent 51 days on a research voyage down to the Sabrina coast off East Antarctica. During this time, she saw her very first aurora.

Vanessa is extremely excited to host Biotweeps and will feature a diverse range of interesting work from biologists around the world.

6th August 2018 – Alexander Georgiev & Ann-Sophie Warkentin, Bangor University

Jointly hosted by:

Alexander GeorgievDr Alexander Georgiev
Lecturer, School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University
Twitter: @alexvgeorgiev
Website: alexandergeorgiev.co.uk

I am a primatologist interested in behavioural ecology, physiology and conservation. I am particularly keen on understanding the great variation of reproductive strategies seen among primates, both within and between species. Two key questions I am beginning to address in my ongoing work are: (1) How anthropogenic disturbance affects the physiology and health of primates living in human-modified habitat; and (2) Whether that in turn influences their reproductive performance and, by implication, the long-term survival of their populations.

I have studied the energetics of male reproductive effort in chimpanzees in Uganda, and have also worked with wild bonobos in the DRC, free-ranging rhesus macaques in Puerto Rico and data on human life history and reproduction from Cebu, in the Philippines. I am now in the process of establishing a long-term field study of the endemic and endangered Zanzibar red colobus at Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, Zanzibar. This week on Biotweeps my student (Ann-Sophie Warkentin) and I will be tweeting live from Jozani Forest and the surrounding agricultural fields about our work with these fascinating colobines! Join us to find out more about the challenges of starting a new study involving multiple groups of similar-looking individual monkeys. And more.

Ann-Sophie Warkentin_2Ann-Sophie Warkentin
MScRes student, School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University
Twitter: @ASWarkentin

I’m a MScRes student in Biological Sciences at Bangor University after having just completed my BSc in Zoology with Animal Behaviour also at Bangor. I’m interested in ecology, especially behavioural ecology and anthropogenic disturbance. My undergraduate dissertation examined the ecology of small mammals using camera traps. I’m originally from Germany and decided to study in the UK due to the more specialised degrees and modules offered there. Through one of these modules in third year, I got more interested in primatology and got in contact with my current supervisor to talk about potential MSc projects.

During my fieldwork this summer, I am collecting data on activity budgets and ranging behaviour of Zanzibar red colobus to investigate potential effects of tourism on the colobus at our study site. Because the monkeys at Jozani are very well habituated, they are frequently visited by tourist groups of different sizes and compositions and I am interested to see if the behaviour of these tourists affect the colobus’ behaviour and ranging patterns. This is my first real experience with fieldwork and I’m excited about the opportunities and experiences that come with it. During the week of co-hosting Biotweeps, I’m hoping to provide an insight into what fieldwork can look like at a pre-PhD level and I will talk about how I got to be here in the first place.

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!

Themes

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.

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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 (https://goo.gl/forms/UX0wUFMmhLghYkfu1) 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.

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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!

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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.

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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 (gomamn.org) 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 kevinburgio.com and follow him on Twitter @KRBurgio. His CV can be found here: K.R. Burgio CV.