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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5th February 2018 – Morgan Jackson, University of Guelph

Morgan JacksonHi! I’m Morgan Jackson (@bioinfocus), and I’ll be your BioTweeps host for the week. To poorly paraphrase a classic Steve Miller Band song,

I’m an entomologist, I’m a taxonomist
I’m an educator, and I’m a science communicator
I do my research in a museum
I’m a PhD Candidate, I’m a father
I’m a terrible songwriter
and I want to share it all with you (woooooo woooooo).

I work in the University of Guelph Insect Collection on the taxonomy and systematics of flies. I’m fascinated by biodiversity, and have spent the last decade trying to figure out the identity, names, and relationships of species of stilt-legged flies (family Micropezidae) from around the world by spending most of my time either in front of a computer (aligning and analyzing DNA data) or in front of a microscope (aligning and analyzing morphological data). The species that I primarily work on are found throughout Central and South America, where they’ve gone largely unnoticed and unstudied. By giving them names and placing them onto the larger Tree of Life I hope to raise their profile (even just teeny, tiny bit) and allow other scientists and naturalists to observe, identify, and make new discoveries about their natural history, behaviour, and biology.

Most of my research is dependent on specimens archived and cared for in natural history museums around the world, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit dozens of collections to explore the hidden treasures they keep safe. Museums and natural history collections are my happy place, and I’m just as likely to geek out over cabinets and cases as I am the incredible biodiversity contained within them. Needless to say, I’m a big advocate for museums and natural history collections, and love reading about and sharing collections-based research.

So what are we going to talk about this week? All things entomological. Got a bug you want to know more about, or a photo of something you’ve seen but didn’t know what it was? Send it along and we’ll figure it out. Curious whether there are still species left to discover (spoiler: yes, plenty), or why taxonomists are constantly changing the names of species just as you’ve learned them? We’ll talk about all those things, plus how social media & smart phones are opening up new opportunities for natural history research. And seeing as I’m currently teaching the very university course that got me hooked on insects, expect to learn alongside my students as I prepare my lectures, and I’ll share my experiences as an early career scientist learning what it takes to plan, prepare, and teach a course that covers 50% of Earth’s known biodiversity.

Strap in and get those insect questions read; it’s gonna be a buggy ride!

15th January 2018 – Meaghan Pimsler, University of Alabama

Meaghan Pimsler2Meaghan L. Pimsler is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alabama working with Dr. Jeff Lozier to integrate physiological, morphological, population genetic, and transcriptomic approaches to study the factors shaping adaptation in native pollinators.  She earned her PhD from in the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University, where she used de novo transcriptomics to investigate sexual dimorphism and behavioral ecology in an invasive blow fly with a unique and poorly understood sex determination mechanism. She received her BS in entomology from Cornell University in 2007, and subsequently spent three years in Okinawa, Japan working at two high schools as an English teacher.

After recuperating sufficiently from the rigors of her undergraduate education, she began her postgraduate journey with Dr. Jeffery K. Tomberlin and Dr. Aaron M. Tarone in 2010. Meaghan has had a deep and abiding love of arthropods her entire life, and determined at the age of four that she would be an entomologist. She helped found entomology clubs in both high school and college, and has helped organize many entomology themed outreach and enrichment events, including working with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History on their BugFest, and with Cornell University’s Entomology Department on their Open House.

Meaghan is particularly experienced in the field of forensic entomology, and this has led to a certification in Crime Scene Investigation with Texas Engineering and Extension Services; teaching at workshops for federal, state, and local law enforcement groups; several national and international trips to give invited seminar talks; the opportunity to coordinate symposia at the 2013 and 2014 Entomological Society of America annual meetings as well as the 2016 International Congress of Entomology; and her election to Treasurer of the North American Forensic Entomology Association. Meaghan’s current passion, outside of her research, is science policy. After joining the organizing committee for the March for Science- Birmingham, AL, she was selected as an Entomological Society of America Science Policy Fellow in the Class of 2017. She looks forward to talking with you about entomology, bumble bees, bioinformatics, statistics, science policy, and anything else you might be interested in.

27th November 2017 – Patrice Jones, University of Newcastle

Patrice JonesHi Biotweeps,

I’m Patrice Jones (@patricerubyj) – a current PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle (Australia) with a research interest in environment-gene interactions in nutrition. My PhD focuses on UV-sensitive vitamins, and aims to examine the potential influences our UV-environment and genes may have in modifying the role of vitamins in health and disease. This involves studying how exposure to UV may stimulate both the production and degradation of important vitamins, and how genetics may influence how we respond to these vitamins in our diet (nutrigenetics). This research is interdisciplinary and allows me to regularly collaborate with researchers in other fields such as biomedical sciences, chemistry, physics and anthropology.

I completed a bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Newcastle in 2015 and this background has shaped me into the ultimate ‘foodie’ – studying now as a nutrition scientist but still putting my food science knowledge into being an enthusiastic baker in my free time. Food is a central part of all our lives (everyone eats!) so part of the excitement of studying nutrition is that anyone can grasp aspects of my research. However nutrition can be an area of great confusion, with a flood of information available. The expression “make your science digestible” is hilariously relevant when you’re nutrition scientist, but part of being in this area for me has increasingly become about helping people navigate this space by communicating the science!

But I am not only about communicating the science within my field! I am a growing advocate for science outreach that promotes and inspires others in all STEMM paths. Being a first year PhD candidate, my list of #scicomm contributions is small but increasing! This year I have had the opportunity to write a science-based article for Lateral Magazine, be a key organiser of local Pint of Science Newcastle 2017 and act as a mentor at my university for students considering study in STEMM.

During my week hosting Biotweeps, I will also be attending the 10th Asia Pacific Conference of Clinical Nutrition in Adelaide (Australia), so expect lots of discussion on emerging research, as well as discussions into my current research area and a lot of nutrition/food myth busting.

20th November 2017 – Brit Garner, University of Montana; SciShow Psych

Brit GarnerBrit Garner holds a B.S. in zoology from the University of Florida with a minor in wildlife ecology and conservation and M.S. in marine biology from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Projects during her undergraduate and graduate degrees included phylogeography of brown darters and an endemic West Virginia snail, invasive herpetology in the Everglades, shark attack risk assessments in Volusia County, Florida, and ancient DNA analysis of seals and sea lions from Alaska. After spending a semester as an adjunct professor in North Carolina teaching both biology and human anatomy & physiology, she moved to Montana in 2013 and spent a year in the MFA program for science and natural history filmmaking at Montana State University. Despite enjoying creating videos and video content, Brit found herself missing the applied sciences, and transferred to the University of Montana in the spring of 2015, where she is currently a PhD student in wildlife biology. Though Brit has an academic background in conservation genetics and marine biology, she has recently expanded her research to include Big Data analytics for conserving global biodiversity. Some examples of these applications include using machine learning algorithms and text mining to find patterns in IUCN Red List decisions and using data visualizations to provide managers with prioritization schemata. While at MSU, Brit solidified her passion for using video as a medium for science communication, and found a professional outlet for this passion in Missoula through the Complexly family of content on YouTube, where she now hosts SciShow Psych. In her free time, Brit enjoys performing in musical theatre, tutoring, teaching, and engaging in other science communication efforts via avenues like Letters to a Pre-Scientist, Skype a Scientist, We Are Montana in the Classroom Role Models program, and a local non-profit she founded in 2017- the Missoula Interdisciplinary Science League (MISL).

13th November 2017 – Brittany N. Lasseigne, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology

Brittany LasseigneBrittany Lasseigne, PhD, is a Senior Scientist in the lab of Dr. Richard Myers at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and a 2016-2017 Prevent Cancer Foundation Fellow. Dr. Lasseigne received a BS in Biological Engineering from the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University and a PhD in Biotechnology Science and Engineering from The University of Alabama in Huntsville. As a graduate student, she studied the role of DNA methylation and copy number variation in cancer, identifying novel diagnostic biomarkers and prognostic signatures associated with kidney cancer. In her current position, Dr. Lasseigne’s research focus is the application of genetics and genomics to complex human diseases. Her recent work includes the identification of gene variants linked to ALS, characterization of gene expression patterns in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and development of non-invasive biomarker assays. Dr. Lasseigne is currently focused on integrating genomic data, functional annotations, and patient information with machine learning across complex diseases to discover novel mechanisms in disease etiology and progression, identify therapeutic targets, and understand genomic changes associated with patient survival. Based upon those analyses, she is building tools to share with the scientific community. She is also passionate about science education and community outreach.