23rd of July 2018 – Stacey Felgate, National Oceanography Centre (NOCS) / University of Southampton

Stacey FelgateI am a 1st year PhD candidate in marine biogeochemistry at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS). At the age of 31 I obtained my BSc Hons in Marine Science from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS-UHI) during which time I  won a Carnegie Trust Summer Research Bursary to study the impacts of a simulated Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) facility, sailed aboard RRS Discovery for a month sampling the Rockall Trough and Iceland Basin, then completed a fellowship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) to study coastal carbon storage with the US Geological Survey. My undergraduate study focussed on the various ways in which the world’s oceans and coastal zones can help to mitigate climate change. My final year thesis focussed on the natural carbon storage capacity of saltmarshes, using a range of isotopic markers to understand whether a marsh was storing or releasing its historic carbon.

After graduating, I undertook an internship at the UK Environment Agency where she worked within the Marine Management and the Estuarine and Coastal Monitoring and Strategy chemicals teams before taking up graduate study at the University of Southampton. For my PhD, Stacey is currently working on understanding what happens to organic matter produced on land when it enters rivers and moves towards the open ocean. A large portion of this organic matter enters rivers, but very little is known about what happens to it in transit, and even less is known about where the ~50% of it that doesn’t make it to the ocean ends up. I’ll be taking over @Biotweeps fresh from 2 weeks in the North of Scotland, conducting an intensive study of the Halladale river catchment.

Aside from the science, I’m really interested in issues of equality and in how healthy the way the scientific community handles ‘different’ is. I also think we should never stop talking about what makes effective science communication and how we can all become better at it.

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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.

9th July 20018 – Brandyn Lucca, Stony Brook University

Brandyn LuccaBrandyn Lucca (@brandynlucca) is a PhD student at Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY. His current interests involve studying how underwater sound reflects off of different types of animals and how both active and passive acoustics can be used to quantify multiple facets of aquatic life. He obtained his BSc in Marine Biology from the University of Rhode Island (2012) and an MSc in Biological Oceanography from Stony Brook University (2016). His MSc thesis work used sonar to quantify distributions of abundance, biomass, and size-class of Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) in the Peconic River and off the southern shore of Long Island.

His dissertation research, while still in flux, quantifies the ‘acoustic fingerprint’ of individual animals ranging from small krill to larger fish. These measurements are important for converting the acoustic energy what we see on our fancy fish fish finders to actual numbers non-acousticians care about (e.g., number of fish) and identify the types of animals we are seeing. These experiments are conducted in a super-sophisticated water tank that is most certainly not a 44 gallon trash can, which would be preposterous. Brandyn is also an unofficial krill wrangler (and other small critters!) due to his tireless efforts in tying beautiful knots (despite his adviser’s near-daily critiques) to tether the animals since it is significantly easier to record measurements of stationary animals.

Outside of his PhD, Brandyn is pretty bland: no alter-egos, takes mediocre nature photographs, breaks bones by accidentally running into trees, and brews beer that could only be described as “this did not need to be brought into this world”.

2nd July 2018 – Sarah Cosgriff, Institute of Physics

Sarah CosgriffSarah Cosgriff is a Gender Balance Officer at the Institute of Physics. She helps schools embed approaches to tackle gender bias with the aim to encourage more girls to take A level Physics. She is also a freelance science communicator and trainer who loves to present shows and talks, run hands on activities, help people develop their science communication skills and sometimes dabbles in comedy.
Sarah has a BSc in Biological Sciences with Cell Biology and a MSc in Systems Biology from the University of Warwick. She started a PhD focused on cell migration but found that research was not quite the right fit for her and ended up pursuing science communication instead. Her career history includes managing the STEM Ambassadors Programme in Birmingham and Solihull, developing training focused on STEM activities within youth work at The Prince’s Trust and presenting a TEDx talk focused on failure. She also co-founded #BrumScicomm, a network of science communicators in the West Midlands.
In terms of what she is going to cover this week, she is going to talk about how she went from lab bench to science communication, her views on science communication and what she is currently involved in.

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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4th June 2018 – Louise Topping, William Harvey Research Institute, Queen Mary University of London

Louise ToppingLouise is currently a final year PhD student at the William Harvey Research Institute, part of Queen Mary University of London. Her PhD research focuses on targeting therapeutics to arthritic joints using antibodies specific to damaged cartilage. During her PhD, she has combined these antibodies with additional therapies to deliver them only to the areas of the body that need it.

Louise completed her BSc(Hons) and MRes degrees from the University of Brighton before moving to London for her PhD studies. During her studies in Brighton, her research was focused on biomaterials with cartilage regeneration or anti-inflammatory properties.

Louise’s main scientific interests lie within Human Biology, although she thoroughly enjoys nature and being outdoors amongst wildlife. She enjoys partaking in public engagement, including patient engagement days, being part of the Queen Mary Pint of Science organising team and volunteering with science events aimed at school children.

During her week as the tweeter of Biotweeps she will be discussing her PhD work, as well as her other scientific interests, public engagement, day-to-day lab life and the real-life issues of being an academic scientist in the 21st century.

You can find Louise tweeting (not always about science) at @louutopping