The scientific community should take advantage of on-line social networks.
Having recently joined the blogosphere, one of my first (and continuing) tasks is to locate other science blogs to link to. In particular I’m interested in ecological blogs. The problem is that there aren’t that many. But this is symptomatic of a larger problem: scientists are really behind the online networking curve.
I’m on Twitter, which is getting alot of attention these days. A group of science tweeters is rapidly growing, but there’s another resource I would argue is a higher priority: LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn, and it seems to hold great potential, especially for job seekers. And I’m not being paid to promote it. Wikipedia lists scores of social networking websites. At the top is Myspace with 250+ million registered users. I don’t use Myspace, and I think its safe to say that its for kids, that is, teenagers. Facebook comes at number two with 175 million “active” users. I’ve located past friends from high-school on it. Facebook appears to primarily social, and targeted at college students and graduates (i.e. those in their twenties, although this appears to be changing). LinkedInis in the second tier in terms of membership size, with 35+ million users. It is targeted at business people, and so is supposed to appeal to those in their thirties and up, I guess.
In my experience scientists don’t generally use these sites professionally. Of the sites listed in Wikipedia, none are listed as focused on scientists. And while “research” is an industry one can choose for oneself on LinkedIn, science is not a listed industry (although government is). Indeed the lack of scientific job classes is a chronic internet problem (I’m looking at youMonster). Yet “networking” is both something we are advised to do as job seekers, and something which doesn’t come naturally to many. Thus getting on a social networking site along with your peers seems like a logical thing to do. Moreover, scientist should join networks used by other professionals, as opposed to starting their own. The benefits include keeping track of your own network. Of course, this only works when they are members too. Also, LinkedIn allows you to look at the contacts of your contacts, and be “introduced” to them through your common contact. In that way your “network” grows substantially with more direct connections made. One can also advertise oneself to employers, and browse job listings. There are other features, but those are the primary ones.
The major problem is that there are few scientists. But this reflects a problem common to all social websites, that is, getting over the hump of attracting enough users to be useful. In this case, it’s attracting a subset of the overall user population. I’m proud to say that I convinced 35 of my fellow EPA postdocs to join by giving a short presentation at the 2008 EPA Postdoc Face-to-Face meeting in DC. Since then more of my colleagues have joined. I currently have 55 contacts, but access to 192,300+ people via 2nd and 3rd steps through the network. So I have access to a wide swath of professionals outside of science.
Scientists need to be better connected. We’re supposed to be a community. But more importantly, we need to be better connected with society in general on a professional level. Contribute to knocking down the “Ivory Tower” image and join something.