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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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.

8th May 2017 – Vicki Tough, Sylvana Alta Ltd

Vicki ToughForest canopies provide some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet. They offer huge potential for research and exploration; however, accessing the high canopy continues to be an obstacle for scientists and researchers wishing to work in these areas. For the last nine years I have worked as a professional climber and abseiler, organising, leading and participating in research expeditions around the world. My focus is on canopy science and the technical methods required to reach high into the treetops.

My increasing interest in the these environments and their flora and fauna was first sparked during the remote rainforest research I undertook in the Ecuadorian Amazon during my Zoology degree at The University of Glasgow. Once graduated, I began work as a tree climbing instructor and industrial abseiler, switching between the botanical and concrete jungles of the world; learning how ropes and rigging can be used to experience, work and explore places at height. Working in these contrasting environments has given me an appreciation and understanding of a range of technical rigging solutions, as well as the importance of teamwork in often challenging conditions.

My current interests lie predominantly within forests, working to develop canopy research projects and assisting scientists in working at height in the tree tops. Advancements in equipment and technical knowledge over the past fifty years have opened up opportunities not only to access, but also to work safely and efficiently in these environments. I aim to bridge the gap between scientific research and working at height by combining these disciplines to develop successful climbing practices for research in forests around the world.

During my curatorial week I will be sharing tales of tree climbing expeditions whilst detailing the highs and lows of practical fieldwork in the treetops. For more information about the work I’m involved in, please take a look at my website www.sylvanaalta.com.  I look forward to talking with you all!

24th April 2017 – Danielle Gilroy, Operation Wallacea

Danielle GilroyI am a terrestrial research and operations officer at Operation Wallacea, based in the UK with offices worldwide, and carrying out conservation research in 15 different countries. I oversee of all the forest-based research and am also the Senior Scientist for our largest forest site, Cusuco National Park in Honduras. My main research interests are centred in evolutionary biology and using a combination of molecular and ecological tools to investigate how evolution shapes diversity in populations. I have always strived to carry out research with real conservation applications and I am helping Operation Wallacea’s sister charity, the Operation Wallacea Trust, to make use of our large spatial and temporal datasets from sites around the world to lever funds to best establish conservation practice and work towards protecting particularly vulnerable and highly biodiverse ecosystems.

My PhD at the University of East Anglia focussed on a particular conservation success story, the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). This endemic island passerine was once down to just 25 individuals on a single island in the Seychelles archipelago in the 1980s, but has since recovered due to a combination of science research integrated with effective island management. There are now over 3000 birds across five islands, 115 times what it was over three decades ago and importantly, we have learnt a lot by using this species as a model of evolutionary study. My thesis looked at the causes and consequences of functional variation within the bottlenecked source population of Seychelles warbler. I investigated how variation at genes critical in innate immune defence could influence individual fitness and a bird’s ability to fight disease, mainly avian malaria, and considered the long-term viability of the species by assessing its genetic health and predicting future changes under natural selection.

During my week, I will focus on our work at Operation Wallacea and present to you our ongoing conservation research across our many terrestrial and marine sites. I will also talk about the importance of molecular ecology as a relatively new and quickly-growing field and as an ornithologist, will no doubt mention birds at every opportunity I can. On a similar note, I will no doubt mention my rescue staffy dog Tia who often accompanies me on my birding adventures.

30th January 2017 – Naima Montacer Hill, EnviroAdventures.com

naima-jeannetteNaima Jeannette is a passionate conservationist at heart. She currently teaches Environmental Biology at a community college in Dallas, Texas and freelance writes for various newspapers, magazines and online outlets. Naima has a Master of Science degree in Biology, with a focus on Wildlife, and completed a research thesis project on ringtails in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, located in the panhandle of Texas. Throughout her career she has been in the field as a scientist and environmental educator, and now focuses on being the communicative bridge between scientists and the general public. 

Here’s the real deal:

I grew up with a sense of wonder for the outdoors, so much so my first word was, “outside.” I never lost my enthusiasm for wildlife and wild spaces and grew my career following my passion. I’ve worked as a zookeeper, wildlife field research leader, teacher naturalist, environmental educator and in all of these roles I wanted to increase my knowledge and help others understand our connection to the natural world. It wasn’t until I started a blog that I found an outlet where I could reach people through written words. This inspired me to look toward science communication as an outlet to educate people about science and encourage everyone to practice conservation in their every day lives. My writing gives me the opportunity to meet and discuss conservation issues with scientists, private land owners, government employees, elected officials, and various community members. It is exciting to discover knew knowledge and translate often complicated science into easy to understand content every one can understand. 

I love everything outdoors from kayaking to hiking and am always up for a travel adventure with my two pups and husband. Let’s chat on Twitter, follow me @naimajeannette

14th November 2016 – Indicators and Assessments Research Unit, Institute of Zoology (ZSL)

zslUnderstanding how biodiversity responds to ecosystem change is critical for effective conservation. From the behaviour and dynamics of individuals and populations to the global distribution and extinction risk of species, our research focuses on the challenges of monitoring biodiversity across these different scales.
zsl_davidMonday 14th November DAVID JACOBY @DJacoby_Marine

My research seeks to use electronic tracking devices and network analyses of animal movements to understand connectivity and grouping behaviour in ecological communities. I’m interested in how aggregation, collective movement and social interactions can fundamentally impact the persistence and vulnerability of a species, helping us to mitigate against threats. Most of my research is within the marine environment where I study the dynamics and drivers of social networks in apex marine predators such as sharks. I also have a soft spot for freshwater eels.
zsl_lpiTuesday 15th November THE LIVING PLANET INDEX @LPI_Science

The Living Planet Index (LPI) is a measure of the state of global biodiversity based on population trends of vertebrates from around the world. The Living Planet Database (LPD ) currently holds over 18,000 population time-series for more than 3,600 mammal, bird, fish, reptile and amphibian species. A small team of four is currently working on the upkeep and updates of the database and on all related analyses. The latest Living Planet Report was released at the end of October with new LPI results showing there has been an average decline of 58% in vertebrate populations between 1970 and 2012. Follow our Biotweeps takeover for an in-depth look at the report and updates on the rest of our work.
zsl_robinWednesday 16th November ROBIN FREEMAN @Robin_Freeman

I’m the Head of the Indicators and Assessments Unit. My research spans many disciplines from understanding the status and trends of global biodiversity, the creation of new kinds of technology for monitoring and tracking animals in the wild, to remote fieldwork utilising those technologies and new methods for analysing and interpreting the data we are now able to collect.
zsl_nrlThursday 17th November NATIONAL RED LIST @NationalRedList

The National Red List Project collates the conservation status of species across a large number of taxonomic groups, much like the internationally recognised IUCN Red List, but on a regional or national scale. This means that the red lists can be readily incorporated into national biodiversity strategies and action plans and can inform local or national conservation, development and planning processes. Here in Indicators & Assessments, 220,411 species assessments from 161 countries and regions worldwide have been uploaded to our database. We recently received a huge influx of red lists to be processed, which will keep our team of four quite busy for a while!
zsl_monikaFriday 18th November MONIKA BOHM @MonniKaboom

I am primarily researching how we can use extinction risk as an indicator of species’ status and trends over time – which means I get to work with the IUCN Red List and on a large number of different species groups. My personal favourites: reptiles, freshwater molluscs, butterflies and dung beetles! I am also interested in climate change vulnerability of species, biodiversity monitoring in general, capacity building for conservation and science communication & public outreach. Expect a mixture of all of the above during my Biotweeps takeover!
zsl_pieroSaturday 19th November PIERO VISCONTI @pvisconbio

My research focus is in predicting future distribution, population trends and extinction risk of terrestrial vertebrates under future global change scenarios. I am also interested in understanding early warning signals of changes in ecosystem function. Expect lots of tweets talking about the future!

7th November 2016 – Julia Koricheva, Royal Holloway University of London

julia-korichevaHi everyone! I am a Professor of Ecology at Royal Holloway University of London, UK. I have started my scientific career in Russia (when it was still part of the Soviet Union) with BSc in Zoology/Entomology from St Petersburg State University. I did my PhD in Finland, at University of Turku in Prof. Erkki Haukioja’s research group. My PhD project was on effects of air pollution on interactions between birch trees and insect herbivores feeding on them.

My first postdoc was at University of Zurich in Switzerland in EU Project BIODEPTH which studied effects of grassland diversity on ecosystem functioning. Involvement in this project made me interested in biodiversity-ecosystem functioning research, and, after returning back to Finland, I have established a large-scale long-term Satakunta forest diversity experiment. It was one of the first forest diversity experiments initiated specifically to study effects of tree species and genetic diversity on forest ecosystem services and processes, and I still return to Finland every summer to conduct field work there.

My second postdoc at Swedish Agricultural University with Prof. Stig Larsson introduced me to meta-analysis and research synthesis. I became a big fan of meta-analytic approach and has been using it ever since to combine results of studies on various research topics in basic and applied ecology. I have also been teaching courses on meta-analysis in ecology for early career researchers around the world from Finland to Mexico, Brazil and Tasmania.

For the last 12 years I have been working at Royal Holloway where my research is focussing on three main areas: research synthesis and meta-analysis in ecology, forest diversity and ecosystem functioning, and plant-herbivore interactions. I am also involved in teaching a variety of field- and lab- based ecology courses at RHUL.

You can follow me on Twitter @KorichevaLab

Our forest diversity project website: www.sataforestdiversity.org

My website: https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/julia-koricheva(ab83b389-7258-48fd-8560-0c8de7b6c94a).html