Guest Post: The art and craft of science blogging

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

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, 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!