Guest Post: The art and craft of science blogging

Today’s post comes all the way from Nahant, where grad­uate stu­dent Daniel Blus­tein is pur­suing adven­tures in both robotics and sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Northeastern’s Marine Sci­ences Center. He was invited to par­tic­i­pate in a panel dis­cus­sion at Monday’s sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion training ses­sion at the Uni­ver­sity of Rhode Island Grad­uate School of Oceanography.

In our first every guest post, Dan sum­ma­rizes what he learned at the ses­sion and gives us all few tricks of the trade.


Here’s me with Bora (the Blog­fa­ther), Sara Mac­Sorley of EPSCoR (right) and Leanna Heffner of URI (left) down in Rhode Island after a post-​​workshop seafood dinner

A grad­uate stu­dent in the sci­ences has lots of respon­si­bil­i­ties, from con­ducting lab work and ana­lyzing data to super­vising under­grad­u­ates, teaching, writing and even job searching. So how would a grad­uate stu­dent find the time to blog about sci­ence? And why would they even want to?

That was just the topic of a recent work­shop I attended as a pan­elist at the Uni­ver­sity of Rhode Island’s Grad­uate School of Oceanog­raphy. The day­long event was orga­nized by Sun­shine Menezes of the Met­calf Insti­tute for Marine & Envi­ron­mental Reporting (part­nered with RIEP­SCoR and RI Sea Grant) and it fea­tured Bora Zivkovic, the blog editor for Sci­en­tific American.

Bora is an expert in sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion online and he had great advice for us aspiring sci­en­tists on how and why to com­mu­ni­cate sci­ence online. I’m not quite sure how Bora has the time to keep up with his thou­sands of Twitter fol­lowers and the hun­dreds of blogs he edits, writes, mod­er­ates or reads but his work is top notch. He was a great resource on sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Angela asked me to share a bit of that knowl­edge on this blog.

Unless you live under a rock, you’re prob­ably aware that social media is here to stay. And sci­en­tists of all vari­eties are blog­ging, tweeting and Face­booking about sci­ence. But why are we doing this? One reason is to appease oblig­a­tions to funding agen­cies and employers to broaden our impact and per­form sci­ence out­reach. Blog­ging about sci­ence is an easily acces­sible activity to broad­cast sci­ence knowl­edge on your own terms. I think these imposed ‘require­ments’ to per­form out­reach stem from a fun­da­mental soci­etal oblig­a­tion as sci­en­tists to share our dis­cov­eries with the public. We don’t per­form our work in iso­la­tion and we owe it to the world to share what we learn.

As Bora said in the work­shop, “sci­ence isn’t com­plete until sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion hap­pens.”

Here are a few tips if you’re thinking about jumping into the sci­ence blog­ging world:

  1. Regular posting doesn’t matter (at least as much as it used to). If you post your blog on science aggregators (like http://scienceblogging.org), interested readers will find your posts.
  2. Long posts work. They contain more words so they show up in more Google searches and they show the reader you put in a lot of effort researching the topic. Readers see them as a resource rather than a tidbit.
  3. The aesthetics of your blog matter less everyday. Since more readers are accessing your blog from mobile sources, the formatting and design are unimportant. Just try to limit clutter.
  4. Self-promote, self-promote, self-promote. I’m not that comfortable with this step yet but this is the only way to get your words read. Pass your blog on to your friends, colleagues, and online acquaintances through social media.

Twitter can also be used to com­mu­ni­cate sci­ence effec­tively (links help to extend the impact of your 140 char­ac­ters).  Check out Storify for sto­ries crafted using tweets as the frame­work. Tweet­Deck lets you orga­nize the tweet bar­rage that comes from fol­lowing a long list of active tweeters.

Hash­tags are used on Twitter to filter out cat­e­go­rized infor­ma­tion. I’m pretty new to Twitter and have yet to take advan­tage of the tool but I did learn some cool sci­ence related hash­tags to use:

  • #scicom = science communications
  • #histsci = science history
  • #sciart = science art
  • #realwomenofscience = women in science
  • #madwriting = used by people looking to be productive writing, you find a partner and set a time to start writing and then you both go offline to write, after the allotted time has passed you check back in on Twitter about your progress
  • #icanhazpdf = used to track down pdfs of scientific articles
  • #drunksci = when science and alcohol collide (yes, nerds do like beer!)

And try fol­lowing top sci­en­tist tweeters on Sci­en­ce­Pond.

The work­shop was very infor­ma­tive and super helpful and this is just a sliver of the day’s dis­cus­sion. If you’re inter­ested in more info, check out the sketch notes from Katie, a fellow pan­elist. Or search the #riscweet hashtag on Twitter to see BiochemBelle’s live tweeting of the event.

Now get blogging!