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Twitter: a guide for the sceptical scientist

Posted by on August 11, 2014

Rebecca Nesbit, Society of BiologyFollowing her article in the latest Biologist, Rebecca Nesbit gives a Twitter introduction for scientists and shares some of her favourite hashtags.

Twitter can be a daunting place for a new user, and my advice spiel which starts with hashtags and @ mentions can be rather a turn off. So before I get going on the details, I will give my number one tip: start by listening.

If you set up an account and read what people are saying you will quickly get an idea of what might work for you. Some people will only ever listen, particularly if their reason for being on Twitter is to find useful links and hear what people are discussing.

The next step for many people is to get tweeting (absolutely not twittering). This can allow you to network with scientists, spread the word about your work or blog, or enter into debate.

Whether you want to just listen or to speak as well, the first challenge is to find people who are saying interesting things. Assuming your main interest is science, here are some ideas of where to start.

The first port of call is to follow people – everyone’s profile has a big follow button you can click. This means that their tweets will come up in your homefeed. Of course top of your list of who to follow is @Society_Biology. After that, you could look at who we follow and follow some of the same people.

You can also use hashtags to find interesting information (so you’re searching tweets rather than people). If you search #science you’ll find tweets about science, #climatechange will reveal tweets about, you’ve guessed it, climate change.

Some hashtags are less obvious, so here are some ideas. If you’re not on Twitter you can still follow the links to see what’s going on.

#SciArt These comments on scientific art projects have been very interesting while we have been working on our BioArtAttack project.

For anyone interested in science policy, then #scipolicy and #scipol are valuable hashtags. I can also recommend following the science and technology select committee.

If you’re interested in education, #ASEchat is widely used by teachers (ASE stands for Association for Science Education). It is used most actively at 20:00 on Mondays when teachers gather for a virtual discussion on a chosen topic. #SciEd reveals educational resources.

Hashtags are often associated with particular events. Following conference hashtags is a great opportunity to communicate with scientists who are interested in a particular topic. More broadly, projects such as the #FlyingAntSurvey have their own hashtag.

The #scifund hashtag is an alternative way of searching for funding – here’s some background and a newsletter.

Some other useful ones are:

  • #biochat Discussions about bioenergy
  • #Scicomm Science communication
  • #sciedu and #scichat hashtags with broad uses for science education
  • #PhDchat PhD students support each other, particularly with discussions on a Wednesday evening
  • #ecrchat Early-career researcher chat


If you’re still not sure, I have also blogged about what Twitter can bring to science writing, and written about what Twitter can do for researchers in The Biologist. Also, Professor Hope Jahren shared her thoughts on why you should be on Twitter, including setting an example and experimenting with your identity.

From #peerreview to #citizenscience, and #agriculture to #GMcrops, Twitter can give you access to information and opinions you would otherwise struggle to find.



One Response to Twitter: a guide for the sceptical scientist

  1. Lisa Martin

    Just for fun, #overlyhonestmethods is a fun hashtag to follow! Also, scientists may find #icanhazpdf useful – use it if you don’t have access to a particular journal article to see if someone who does have access can send it to you!