15th April 2019 – Malaria Atlas Project, Big Data Institute, University of Oxford, IHME

Malaria Atlas ProjectThe Malaria Atlas Project (www.map.ox.ac.uk) is a research group within the University of Oxford. We assemble global databases on malaria risk and intervention coverage in order to develop innovative analysis methods that use those data to address critical questions. By evaluating burden, trends, and impact at fine geographical scale, we support informed decision making for malaria control at international, regional, and national scales. We are committed to open access and release all our data on a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


18th March 2019 – Lauren Callender, Queen Mary University of London

Lauren CallenderHi everyone! I’m Lauren Callender (@LozCallender_) and I’m a PhD researcher working in London. Before moving to London I completed a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Molecular Medicine at the University of Leeds. After this I decide to make the move to London and began working as a research assistant at the Institute of Child Health, UCL. Following the brief 9-month stint as a research assistant I was then awarded a 4-year MRes/PhD scholarship with the British Heat Foundation at the William Harvey Research Institute, QMUL. I’ve been there for 3 and a half years, so the finish line is now in sight (wish me luck!).

My PhD research is focused on understanding how ageing and age-related diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease affect the human immune system. I’m particularly interested in a type of immune cell known as a T cell, which is involved in the adaptive immune system. My aim is to understand how and why T cells change with age/disease, and more importantly I want to figure out how to prevent or reverse the changes with the hope to increase longevity.

In addition to my research I love sharing my passion for science through my Instagram and Twitter accounts (@LozCallender_) and my YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/sciencescribbles). Throughout my time as a PhD researcher I have dedicated a lot of time to teaching in underprivileged state schools around London. I created ScienceScribbles as a way to turn the topics I was teaching in schools into fun and interactive tutorials that could be accessed by a wider audience.

I’m really looking forward to taking over the @Biotweeps twitter account. I hope you all enjoy the content I’ll be sharing with you.

17th September 2018 – Ed Emmott, Northeastern University

Ed EmmottI’m Ed Emmott (twitter: @edemmott, web: edemmott.co.uk), a postdoc at Northeastern University in Boston MA. I moved to the US just under a year ago after a previous postdoc in the UK at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London. My background is in studying viruses, how your body defends against them, and in particular how this changes the proteins your cells make in response to infection.

I’ve mostly worked on animal viruses. In some cases these are important in themselves, for example the economic impact of chicken viruses on the poultry industry. The virus I worked on during my PhD – Avian coronavirus, also known as infectious bronchitis virus is an example of this. In other cases, when there isn’t a good way to grow a human virus, a similar animal virus can be the best way we have to study this. In my last postdoc I worked on mouse norovirus which is not a major problem for any mice which get infected, but is similar to human norovirus which causes winter vomiting disease. Norovirus is best known for outbreaks on cruise ships and sporting events.

I’m also interested in how cells make proteins and how cells respond to infection. I’m working on this in my current postdoc, where I am studying how ribosomes are altered as part of the immune response. I do lots of the above with a method called mass spectrometry, which allows me to study thousands of proteins at once. You’ll be hearing a little bit on all this and on some of the places I’ve worked during my week!

Aside from the research, I’m a strong supporter of preprints, and reproducibility in science and try to contribute to these as an ASAPbio and eLife Ambassador. Away from the science I enjoy cooking, music, good restaurants, IPA, and am fueled by ~5 coffees/day.

3rd September 2018 -Morgan Halane, POSTECH

Morgan HalaneWe all get sick 😦 While our immune system does a good job of fending off viruses, bacteria, and fungi, these tiny invaders sometimes thwart even the best defenses. Human diseases seem to get the most attention, but I am focused on the immune systems of plants. Although you have a lot in common with quinoa, there are some key differences between the immune systems of you and your favorite crop.

A little about me: I’m a D&D Wizard (formerly Druid), a first-generation #BlackAndSTEM PhD, currently conducting postdoctoral research in Dr. Kee Hoon Sohn’s lab (http://sohnlab.kr/) at POSTECH, South Korea. Originally from rural Missouri, I had no idea a decade ago that I would be doing the work that I’m doing, but every day is a new adventure and I’m loving living at the edge of the unknown, both as a scientist and as a foreigner living in Asia.

My PhD research was focused on proteins secreted from bacterial pathogens (effector proteins). My most recent paper identifies a previously uncharacterized functional domain of a well-studied effector protein (http://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1006984).

My goal for this week in Biotweeps is to have a conversation- answer questions about plants and plant immunity, engage in the debate surrounding genetically modified crops, and to learn something new! I also want to discuss things outside of my research topic, such as relocating from the US to Korea for research and switching majors from undergrad to grad (I was a Lit major in Undergrad, where I was working in a science lab while writing essays on sci-fi adaptations).

16th July 2018 – Eleanor Senior, University of Liverpool

Eleanor Senior 2Hi I’m Eleanor, I am currently a 2nd Year PhD student at the Institute of Infection and Global Health at the University of Liverpool.  My PhD is in Veterinary Parasitology, looking at the bovine parasite Tritrichomonas foetus which causes the disease bovine trichomoniasis.  This parasite is sexually transmitted between cows and bulls and can cause infertility and spontaneous abortions, which is pretty rough on the poor cows. My PhD is aiming to find vaccine candidates for this parasite so that one day we can have a long lasting working vaccine for this parasite.

Before I started my PhD I studied Biological Sciences at the University of Birmingham, where I was essentially jack of all trades looking at a range of things, such as ecology, plant biology, and microbiology.  I knew I wanted to study something microbiology related and when this PhD came up I had to do it.

My PhD is different to many in that it contains both lab based and computer based parts so I spend 50% of my time looking at parasites in the lab and 50% analysing data and doing bioinformatics and coding in the office.  I’m interested in all aspects of parasitology, microbiology and animal welfare and am keen to explore all these areas.

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 (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.


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!


25th June 2018 – Lewis Bartlett, University of Exeter & University of California Berkeley

Lewis BartlettI’m Lewis – a PhD researcher at University of Exeter, and a visiting researcher at University of California Berkeley. I’m also in collaboration with the University of Georgia (USA), Emory University (USA), and Heriot-Watt University (UK).

My work is currently focussed on better understanding the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, current declines of both domestic and wild bees, and the relationships between the two. I’m a huge bee enthusiast – and teach / certify beekeepers as part of my work. Speaking with beekeepers is a big part of what I do – and necessitates a different understanding of science communication compared to public outreach. Prior to bees and diseases, I worked on ice-age extinctions, habitat fragmentation, and arguably the world’s most ambitious ecological simulation. My research dips into a massive variety of techniques – from the field to the lab to statistics to differential equation modelling.

Doing research and holding positions in two different continents has given me a two-point perspective on the lives of PhD researchers, and the differences are pretty profound. There’s things to be learnt from all systems.

As far as non-research academic activities go, I count teaching and learning as a big part of my interests – both at the school and University levels. Comparing approaches to university teaching between Britain and the US has been an eye-opening experience. In particular, teaching quantitative skills & programming is a devotion of mine (for better or for worse!).

Understanding access, diversity, and inclusion in ecology is also a topic close to my heart (as both a first-generation, working class university graduate and a ragingly flamboyant gay man). Seeing again how these issues differ between the UK and the US is remarkable in approaches and nuance.

Expect hot-takes on bees, on diseases, on outreach, teaching, and moving around as part of academic ecology in this week’s Biotweeps coverage – probably punctuated with makeup, nail polish, and countless examples of how bees and other insects influence art & fashion.