Last week I got to spend a week offshore, participating in the last field season (what?!) of the SOCAL-BRS project. This was a bittersweet week, to say the least. I’ve been involved with this project since before I even started grad school (see here and here for my blogs on it the last two years). It’s a long-term project (2010-2017) so I’m not sure I ever realized I wouldn’t be spending a week or two every summer, offshore of Southern California doing awesome whale tagging and behavioral response research. But, here I am, back at home, and that’s it! We still have a year of analysis left (already counting down to the analysis meeting in December!) so more science is still to come. But this week was a great time to reminisce and reflect how things have changed for myself and others on the project.
First off, there are at least 5 BRS babies. Never saw that coming! Everyone is a bit more sun damaged (despite our best efforts) and a bit more grey. I went from being a nervous, naive, some-what-lost-soul trying to find my way in the acoustics world to a full blown bioacoustician (is it ok to call myself that?). Although this research is not directly related to my PhD….it is in a system I work in regularly, with collaborators I love working with, can learn so much from, and want to keep working with, so it’s a week well spent.
That SOCAL Magic
While I had an amazing few weeks of field work for my own PhD research earlier this summer, this past week provided something a little different. It served as a reminder of the wonder, the inherent magic, that comes from working with animals out on the water.
I saw more marine wildlife in one week then I have ever seen in my life. I saw no less than 12 species (blue, fin, humpback, sperm and killer whales, common (x2 species), bottlenose, and Risso’s dolphins, California sea lions, elephant seals, and harbor seals) of marine mammals. And I not only got a glimpse of them, but got to enjoy them. From watching blue whales up close from the RHIBs, to seeing common dolphins sprint away from killer whales, to hearing bottlenose dolphins whistling while bow riding. Each day reminded me why I LOVE what I do. (Oh, and maybe I was simply less stressed because my entire dissertation didn’t depend on if I could get the stupid QUEphone to work the way I wanted it to…)
Don’t get me wrong, I love sitting in the lab. Discovering new calls, answering questions through detailed analyses, and playing with shiny new yellow AUVs. But I also just love being outside, and enjoying that offshore world. No cell service, seeing Risso’s buzzes come through in real time on the towed array, catching my limit of rockfish in the evenings, hearing the elephant seals calling on the Channel Islands.
I guess the simple point of this blog is to share that contentment, and again that wonder, that I enjoy while thinking back on the last week. Till the next adventure….
As a graduate student in bioacoustics, my education is interdisciplinary. Bioacoustics is a relatively small field, and (together with my peers) I am challenged to find my way through coursework in ecology, physiology, physics, oceanography, statistics, and engineering to learn the background information that I need to develop and answer research questions. While this challenge (for all young bioacousticians) presents itself a little differently at every university, the information gap is essentially the same. Hence, just over 6 years ago, Dr. Jennifer Missis-Old and Dr. Susan Parks recognized a need to fill this gap for graduate students in bioacoustics and created SeaBASS, a BioAcoustics Summer School.
This year, for the 4th iteration of the week-long program, I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend SeaBASS. I first heard about SeaBASS as a research assistant in Dr. Sofie Van Parijs’s passive acoustics group at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, but the workshop is limited to graduate students only so I had to wait until I was officially enrolled in grad school to apply. My ORCAA lab-mates, Niki, Selene, and Michelle are all alumni of SeaBASS (read Miche’s re-cap from 2014 here) so by the time I was preparing for my trip to upstate NY this summer to attend, I had a pretty good idea of what was to come.
As expected, the week was packed. I flew to the East Coast a few days early to visit our fearless ORCAA leader, Holger, at the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, so I was lucky to be somewhat adjusted to EST by the time I arrived at Syracuse on Sunday afternoon. After exploring the campus, it was time for official SeaBASS programming to begin. Our first class, an “Introduction to Acoustics and Proportion”, began early on Monday morning. In the afternoon and through the rest of the week we also learned about active acoustics (creating a sound in the water and using the echo to detect animals or other things) and marine mammal physiology, echolocation, communication, and behavior. We also heard about passive acoustics (listening to existing underwater sounds), including the different types of technology being used and its application for population density estimation. On Friday afternoon, the final lecture covered the effects of noise on marine mammals.
In addition to the class lectures given by each instructor, we also heard individual opinions about “hot topics” in bioacoustics. This session was my favorite part of the week because we (the students) had the opportunity to hear from a number of accomplished scientists about what they believe are the most pressing issues in the field. Unlike a conference or seminar, these short talks introduced (or reinforced) ideas from researchers in an informal setting, and among our small group it was easy to hear impressions from other SeaBASS-ers afterward. As a student I spend a lot of my time working alone, my ORCAA labmates are focused on related projects, but we do not overlap completely. The best part of SeaBASS was sharing ideas, experiences, and general camaraderie with other students that are tackling questions very similar to my own.
Although a full week of class would be plenty to take in by itself, our evenings were also filled with activities. We (students) shared posters (this was mine) about our individual research projects, listened to advice about life as a researcher in the field, attended a Syracuse Chiefs baseball game, and at the end of each day reflected on our new knowledge and experiences over pints. So, needless to say, I returned home to Oregon completely exhausted, but also with refreshed excitement about my place in the small world of bioacoustics research.
Well, not really. Not the whole thing. But I finally feel like I have sort of the start of an idea of a plan. Yesterday I gave a talk at the Marine Mammal Institute Brownbag series at Hatfield Marine Science Center. I took this opportunity to try and sketch out what I will be focusing on the next few years.
I got some great feedback that will really help me going forward. For example:
The problems you discuss seem similar to problems that were worked out for visual surveys in the past. That would be a great place to start in your literature search.
Great point! That’s kind of what I was trying to convey…so yay!
Well. If I’ve got one thing to say. It’s a lot.
Again…I agree. I hadn’t realized how big it all seemed until I got it all out there. But it’s a highly collaborative project, so I think it will be doable? And I’m sure things will get tweaked. But I do need to be reasonable here.
You really nerded out up there.
Heck yes I did! Gliders! Woo!
**I paraphrased all of these so I won’t put the names of who they were from 🙂 I think I got the gist of what they meant?
Wow! Summer winded down quickly. It felt like a lot of time spent writing, some exciting and stressful glider piloting, and I wrapped it up with 2 weeks on the water in Southern California working on the SOCAL BRS project. (You can read a public summary of the project here).
I’ve talked about this project before, and this was my 4th summer on the R/V Truth. This leg ended up a bit frustrating in the fact that the animals were more difficult to find and work with than past years. We didn’t observe the distribution of whales we typically do, and we suspect this has something to do with the abnormally warm waters off Southern California this summer.
For example we barely saw any Risso’s dolphins, where typically there are tons around Santa Catalina Island. And the blue and fin whales typically found feeding right in the LA shipping channel weren’t where we expected them. Instead we found them quite a bit further offshore near Santa Barbara Island. AND we saw schools on schools on schools of yellowfin!! (I think……I may edit this in a day or two…anyway I’d never seen so many leaping fish!) EDIT: Yellowfin tun and maybe some small bonitos and maybe some bluefin.
For me the trip was still a great learning experience. I got to use some new tools and learn some new skills, including running the sound propagation software we use in setting up a CEE (Controlled Exposure Experiment), running the sound source that projects the sound playback, and deploying and recording from sonobuoys, little one-time use floating recorders designed to listen for subs, but also work for whales.
About one year and 3 weeks ago, Danielle touched on the value of taking time to just think. Not day-dreaming just thinking about all of the Patagonia jackets I want to buy, but thinking about my project, my science, what….and why…I’m actually doing…and doing it.
Since I defended my Master’s in May, life has been a whirlwind. I had a few travel plans for the summer (a conference in July and some field work coming up in a week), there were gliders to be piloted (in Newport and the Gulf of Mexico), I needed to finish up my manuscript of my master’s research and submit it (still in progress…), and there were reports – oh reports – to be written.
Every time I come to blog I can’t remember how much I’ve talked about what my PhD will be about. I feel like I haven’t really, because I don’t even know that well yet! (That is where this whole idea of thinking comes in right now)
The basics, though, are that I’m part of a large scale monitoring project involving flying gliders outfitted with passive acoustic recorders in several different naval training ranges around the Pacific. All of these glider flights are funded NAVFAC, aka the operational U.S. Navy. They want to know what cetaceans are in the areas the use, and when. We have to answer their basic monitoring questions, and then I will get to use this HUGE dataset to do something for my PhD. But first, we have to answer those questions. And that is done in the form of a report. The thing about these reports are that they have deadlines. Very strict deadlines. And they are all stacked on top of each other. So since May it was – analyze MIRC, submit MIRC draft, get MIRC draft edits, revise MIRC draft, submit MIRC draft to Navy, get Navy edits back, submit MIRC final. Then lets put in the exact same thing for HRC (Hawaii) and go over it again:
Analyze MIRC, submit MIRC draft, analyze HRC, get MIRC edits, revise MIRC, submit HRC draft, submit MIRC draft to Navy, get HRC edits, revise HRC draft, get MIRC edits, submit HRC draft to Navy, revise MIRC, submit MIRC final, get HRC edits back – ok – this is where we are at…..now waiting a bit…oh and the Washington and Alaska and other Hawaii reports are do mid September and October and November.
All this happened in a matter of 3 months. That may seem like a lot of time, but please remember all the other stuff going on. Anyway, I’m losing focus here, the point of all of this is that since finishing my Master’s and shifting my focus to my PhD, I haven’t had a chance to stop and THINK. And that is what I’m tasking myself with for the next little while. It’s easy to get caught up in the “putting out fires” way of working. One deadline to the next. But I have to stop right now and think about what I am actually doing. I am a graduate student. I’m learning to be a scientist. And I need to spend some time coming up with the questions that will ultimately make up my dissertation.
So with that, I am ending this blog as the stream of conscious that it is. And there are no pictures. And I’m sorry.
Few things can be soothing when difficulties come up. Each person has his own remedies against hardships, stress or feelings of unworthiness. One thing is certain: difficulties ALWAYS come up to EVERYONE. Yet how people manage them can result in either improvement and success or desperation and depression.
When I go through hard times, my way out is frequently the poem below (and illegal amounts of cheese).
I know of a few people that agree on how tough it is to be a PhD student. I did not realize what I was getting myself into; how perplexed my life was about to become. I enjoy learning more than anything else, and I am passionate about the conservation of the seas and their inhabitants. So, getting into this PhD seemed ideal for me. And it is. There are times though, that I am so ramfeezled, working long days until the small hours that I don’t have enough time to stop and look at the people around me, have long inspiring conversations, enjoy life.
I know of a few people that would agree how hard it is to live abroad. Having your family 10.000 km away. Struggling to keep your friendships through skype for 3 years. Striving to maintain feelings through online quick conversations done at 10 hours of difference. At the same time, trying to understand a different language and a diverse way of thinking. Understanding the words is easy. Figuring out what lays behind them is far complicating especially when the cultural gaps are enormous and the people are particularly stoical. On top of that, learning programming languages, whale languages, acoustic properties, oceanographic programs, statistical modeling, and a long list of academic skills.
It has not been easy but it has been a magical journey. I have made new friends and learned from their mindset. I made new “families” with the spectacular people I have lived with. I got numerous scientific skills and learned about the world away from the motherland. I have seen the world’s largest trees, luscious forests, grandiose mountains, blue whales and exciting wildlife, exuberant waterfalls and rivers, the Pacific Ocean. When I faced new challenges, I also discovered a part of the world inside me that I did not know of, and out of comparison, I appreciated things that before I would take for granted. My PhD challenge has been a learning experience in so many ways, through both pleasant and negative phases.
When my soul is troubled and I feel small facing everything that I do not know then sometimes I want to give up. Then I read Ithaka (and have a grilled cheese sandwich) and usually recover. This poem reminds me to go for what I am passionate about without focusing on the difficulties.
Constantine Cavafy wrote Ithaka in 1911 inspired by Odysseys and his journey to his home at the island of Ithaka. This poem is about appreciating the journey of life, and growing through the experiences gained. Life (just like the PhD) is a journey , and everyone has to face and accept its difficulties that are simply part of it. Sometimes the more the difficulties the more the opportunities to build up defenses that make one stronger. The journey that takes us to the destination is more important than the goal itself.
To attribute an acoustic sense to this post you can skip the text and watch the video where Sir Sean Connery narrates this poem.
As you set out for Ithaka hope the voyage is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery. Laistrygonians and Cyclops, angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them: you’ll never find things like that on your way as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, as long as a rare excitement stirs your spirit and your body. Laistrygonians and Cyclops, wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you. Hope the voyage is a long one. May there be many a summer morning when, with what pleasure, what joy, you come into harbors seen for the first time; may you stop at Phoenician trading stations to buy fine things, mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, sensual perfume of every kind— as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars. Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for. But do not hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you are old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you have gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you would not have set out. She has nothing left to give you now. And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
-Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard-
The PhD has been the motivation for my journey, the reason that brought me on this route, because of which I am constantly learning. The road has not been flat, straight, or sunny, but I hear that a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
Enjoy your ride.
***This post is dedicated to my OSU adviser Holger who has literally reached his Ithaca, since he moved there already. I bet his journey was long. Metaphorically too. Now he is helping us, his students, to reach our own. Also to my ORCAA lab-mates Selene, Michelle, Danielle and Samara for being inspiring and motivating; excellent traveling comrades. Also to Jeffrey and Sharon for always being there for me when any short of hardship appears. And to the precious people I have met on the way and the ones that have always been there. You know who you are***
Today’s blog serves two purposes: (1) inform readers what’s going on in my research world and (2) an educational piece sharing some of my trials and tribulations with ArcGIS this week.
Right now we are preparing to deploy a glider up in the Gulf of Alaska, near Homer, in the US Navy’s Gulf of Alaska Temporary Maritime Activities Area. The glider’s acoustic system samples at 194 kHz allowing us to listen for vocalizations up to 97 kHz, which covers almost all cetacean species in the area, except porpoises which vocalize at really high frequencies (>150 kHz, we recorded them with a different glider though!).
I won’t be actually going out to deploy it or piloting this glider – we are collaborating with some folks from the University of Washington – but I am responsible for putting together the glider’s track and coming up with track points that are 5 km apart so we can set our ideal path for the glider. Why am I responsible for this, you ask? Well because I took an introductory GIS (Geographic Information System) course so….this becomes my job.
For those of you that have worked with GIS, you understand there is a STEEP learning curve. It may be one of the least intuitive programs on the planet. But, it is incredibly powerful for not only making maps but for spatial analyses too, so I am super happy to have learned even a tiny bit about it and get to learn more every week.
Well I’ve made these maps before for Guam and Hawaii, so Gulf of Alaska, easy peasy! I’m finally starting to remember how to make the track from the initial way points, then turning the track into 5 km spaced points. But, news flash! The earth is round. And measuring things at higher latitudes gets weird/complicated/annoying/inaccurate/etc.
So this week (really the last two days) I taught myself about projections in ArcGIS. Projections are basically trying to show our round, 3D Earth in 2D. At the equator this isn’t so bad, but up (and down) by the poles things can become really distorted.
Take this image of the US for example. Depending on what projection you use, it looks slightly different! And those differences are more pronounced the further north you get. So by the time you get to Alaska…well, you’ve got to do something about it.
Fortunately, lots of people have made hundreds of projections for different areas and different spatial scales that reduce distortion, either in area, distance, angles, etc.
So then all I had to do was find the one I needed (this took much research and trial and error), then redo all my mapping/measuring/GPS coordinate extracting steps on a correctly projected map. You know, once you make sure all parts of your map are in the same projection, that the data frame has the right projection, and that you saved it every 5 seconds in case it crashed. Once I got past the frustration, I ended up pretty proud of myself, and now I learned my lesson for next time: only work in areas near the equator.
Want to know what projection I used? Of course you do. The lovely Alaska Albers Equal Area Conic! Sorry I can’t share a picture of the pretty map…I’m not sure I should show you where our glider will be I don’t want anyone going up to Alaska and stealing it.
First, let me apologize for being a little late with this post. I generally post the second Friday of every month; It’s Tuesday. One of the reasons I’m late is because I flew back to my hometown in Birmingham, Alabama as an invited teacher at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School. I had the privilege of running three lessons on whale communication for students ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade. Admittedly they kept me on my toes! Spending time with children is exciting and inspiring.
We did a number of activities to demonstrate how marine mammals use sound to communicate. Students were given a small shaker containing one of four materials (hazelnuts, tacks, aduki beans, or rice) and they had to use their ears alone to find their “pods”. We had fin whales, humpback whales, killer whales, and beluga whales. Each pod was then given a ribbon the length of their whale to stretch out across the activity room. Even I was impressed with how big a fin whale really is.
For the older groups we talked about the relationship between size and pitch (frequency), learned how to read spectrograms, and I introduced the concept of masking and noise pollution by playing a series of whale calls and adding vessel noise. For the kindergartners and first graders, however, it seemed more appropriate to introduce the concept of sound in the ocean with a story. I re-purposed a true story about a killer whale from Puget Sound named Springer who was separated from, and later reunited with her pod. In real life recordings were made of Springer’s vocalizations to help identify which pod she belonged to. In the story below, Springer uses her family whistle to try and re-connect, and she meets a number of other whales along the way. On each page I was able to play recordings of the animals in the pictures, so my young students could hear the actual voices of the animals. Enjoy!
This is Springer. She is a killer whale calf. She was named Springer because she is a very active calf and springs about in the water.
Springer, like all killer whales, lives with her mother and relatives. All of the killer whales in her pod make similar sounds called whistles. Can you whistle like a killer whale? We-ooo.
One day, Springer was seperated from her family. She went into the ocean to find them. The first animal she met was a fin whale. She whistled “we-ooo”. The fin whale sang back “oomp-oomp”. “That’s not my family’s whistle”, Springer thought, and she said goodbye.
The next animal she met was a sperm whale. She whistled “we-ooo”. The sperm whale clicked back “tick-tick-buzzz”. “That’s not my family’s whistle”, Springer thought, and she said goodbye.
The next animals she met were a pod of beluga whales. She whistled “we-ooo”. The beluga whales chirped back “we-eer”. “That’s not my family’s whistle”, Springer thought, and she said goodbye.
The next animal she met was a humpback whale. She whistled “we-ooo”. The humpback purred back “purrr”. “That’s not my family’s whistle”, Springer thought, and she said goodbye.
With all of the songs, clicks, chirps, and purrs the ocean was a very noisy place! If only one of those noises was her family’s whistle! Then, far in the distance Springer heard someone call “we-ooo”.
Springer swam as fast as she could and there was her family. Springer knew she had found them because as soon as she got close her mother whale called out “we-ooo”. “We-ooo”, Springer responded, and she has stayed with her family ever since.
I once had a near-life experience but it was long time ago and it now appears dimly in my memory. It was a feeling of weightlessness. On a Friday evening, I joined our department’s Ηappy Ηour. I remember a bright light at the top of the Pool table. The ability to see my own hand holding a drink, meet up with friends and loved ones who once were partners in crime in long night Flip-cup tournaments now surrounding me with an unanswered question in their eyes: “Where have you been?”.
This is the story of a graduate student’s (me) experience living life while doing a PhD.
Some of these near-life experiences can be positive. You feel like being in heaven embraced by your community and friends; a warm feeling that you were never gone and isolated in the office for weeks.
Other after-work experiences can often be a torture. They get to remind you what is happening out of your box and that the world is still turning while you are reading exciting papers on how eddy kinetic energy affects the presence of sperm whales. Several cases of fights with all sorts of demons have been documented by different PhD students.
During these near-life experiences, people often hear voices calling them. “Come with us”, they often say. “It’s Eric’s birthday today”, “free drinks at Dan’s goodbye party”, or “let’s go to Mexico” (sometimes it’s your own voice). And you attempt to follow the voices that take you down to dark hallways, to places with loud music or to open sunny spaces with beautiful mountains, luscious forests and sandy beaches. You follow them for so long that it almost terrifies you when the sound of your advisor’s email notification returns you “gently” to the familiar and safe work environment.
While the scientific community is unanimously still skeptical of the PhD students’ recounts of ski-weekends and friendly dinners with high wine flow, others support these near-life experiences to be proof of a healthy workstyle.
And even though this perpetual debate continues, one thing is certain: graduate students can fulfill a proposal with a hangover. And the hangover is usually the proof that students are not making this near-life stories up.
After their experience, students commonly find themselves transported back to the lab, being filled with guilt and last minute inspiration to finish THE paper. That one that offers strong indications that will haunt you for the rest of your life.
Soon after, what follows these awakening experiences is the deep belief and commitment to something sacred and superior. The Physical Exercise! Many have discovered the miraculous effects of endorphins to their mental stability during graduate life.
However, the question still remains: To sleep or not to sleep?
Between proposal writing, classes, working on your own research and other projects, reading papers and writing a thesis, doesn’t seem to be enough space for more activities. Some necessities like food and sleep have proved to help all forms of human beings or human doings to sustain oneself and flourish.
Nutrition can be covered in a well scheduled way. If you don’t mind eating the same food for 5 days, there is no way that you cannot find one evening to make the dish of the week. Just be equipped with five times the quantity of the ingredients you would use for a day’s dinner.
Note to self: I miss my mom.
Note to all: Pasta and legume dishes keep better than fish and salads .
On the other hand sleep is controversial. Some say that the minimum to survive will be enough to get you through graduate school. Others will support that you need enough to properly rest and be productive and good sleep is the key to success. My personal truth lays somewhere in the middle with most weekdays being filled with pints of tea (the amount of times that I get up to fill my tea cup can account for an average person’s daily work out), and during the weekends the bed becomes my best friend that I need to catch up with.
The philosophical mood of the author doesn’t end here.
During graduate school there are certain times that I question the reasons why I do what I do and go through this pain. The same way that I question excessive body piercing and early morning (like it is still dark outside) jogging.
In reality I know very well why I do my PhD and suffer long working days and nights. It is my love for my subject of study and my passion for conservation together with my unsatisfied thirst for knowledge and inquiring nature that motivate me. But the denial comes every now and then, mainly when I bump into Matlab dead-ends.
The reasons behind all our actions are somehow related to the pursuit of happiness. Is it about love, success, money, or something else? It is a different story for each person. Each one has a different perception of what brings/is happiness. Similarly, different communities have diverse definitions of success, that often tend to affect personal beliefs. In a western society money seems to be largely the usual driving force. But fortunately this is not a universal given. Bhutan gives a different official definition of the term success.
Are you ready for this?!
Bhutan has replaced gross domestic product (GDP) with the Gross National Happiness (GHN). It means that the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and the natural environment are used as a measure of success (read more about it here). Mind blowing. Earth shaking. Freaking awesome. Now let me check the climatology of Bhutan… Hmmm, mostly warm and sunny. That’s the place!
I have been recently diagnosed with the disease of being busy (on top of that nasty cold that I caught at the ski trip). Disease as not being in ease.
A characteristic symptom of this disorder is always replying “I am so busy” when people simply ask “hey, how are you doing?”. I also find everyone else replying the exact same thing when I ask them. I swear it is contagious. Being stressed has been quoted by the World Health Organization to be the epidemic of the 21st century. The easier the communication becomes through technology and social media, the less time we have to essentially communicate with people during face-to-face situations. The same time, the busier we become the bigger is the need for an empty space, a pause.Like the pause in a song that gives it resonance and shape.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “This is going to be a very busy day. I won’t be able to meditate for an hour.” He continued, “I’ll have to meditate for two.”
Following Mahatma’s example, I am attempting to acquire PhD and life balance. And clearly, this is how this post resulted. Balance is difficult to acquire. Especially if you are a tall person and the center of gravity is higher.
In my effort to improve my balance, both literally (obtain physical balance and built in attention and focus) and metaphorically (maintain mental health throughout my PhD), I took up Acro yoga. Acro requires a lot of balance.
Now, I can hesitantly admit a timid success. At least with the literal form of the balance I was going for.
As Niki mentioned in her post earlier this week, Niki, Danielle, and I gave a presentation at Hatfield Marine Science Center this week as part of the Monday Tech Talk Series. On the first Monday of the month, someone from the community shares their knowledge on a new bit of technology they use/feel is important, and the talk is a relaxed discussion type setting so the audience can ask questions and learn more about if that technology would be useful in their work. I’m a big fan of these talks so was happy to be able to give one.
Our lab signed up to talk about social media, because, we think we are pretty good at it (not a #humblebrag, just an actual #brag)! You are reading our blog aren’t you? And you may have followed a link to it from our Twitter or Facebook page? I wanted to use this week’s blog post to share our presentation and some of the discussion it sparked, for those of you who couldn’t attend (*cough cough* Sharon).
What exactly is social media?
A lot of people think of it as teenagers buried in their phones and computers, taking selfies, tweeting about Alex from Target. But it has become much more than that! The official definition from the reliable source, Wikipedia, is:
“Social media are computer-mediated tools that allow people to create, share or exchange information, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks.”
The point is, social media allows people to share information, over long distances, and very quickly, enabling them to reach lots of different people they may not know directly.
Science – Social Media Connection
That is where science and social media can come together. A huge part of our job as scientists is to communicate our science – to share what we find with colleagues, students, the general public, whoever is interested (or maybe not)! Social media is an outlet to share publications, glimpses into field work, what is happening at conferences, resources that may be helpful, events happening, conservation concerns, I could go on and on. To paraphrase Danielle at the end of our presentation – social media allows people to see scientists as real people, doing cool important stuff, who love what they do, not robots hidden away in a lab somewhere. We get excited about learning, about day-to-day new discoveries, and we have struggles, where things go wrong and we have to start over (or lock our keys in our car).
Types of Social Media
We covered four main types of social media, because those are the four our lab uses, and I posted the corresponding slides below. We wanted to highlight the differences between the different types, because that is the somewhat tricky thing about social media, each outlet serves a different purpose. Each has its pros and cons, and each should be used in a way that best takes advantages of the pros and minimizes the cons.
The audience asked “well which is best?” And I really didn’t have a single answer. Here’s the general consensus:
The website provides an official portal to the lab. Official information, links to all other social media, it comes up when search through OSU and has contact info for the lab. We don’t update it that often. It’s got long term blurbs about people an research.
The blog provides a more personal look into life in the lab. Each of the 5 grad students post once a month (we rotate through) and Danielle posts a fun Soundbites section ever Wednesday. These posts are longer, have pictures, and can be about anything we want…my parents and grandparents follow it to see what I’m actually doing, its sort of like an email to lots of people who care.
Twitter is our quick communication. It keeps us connected with collaborators, colleagues, “fans” (followers) and we have to condense what we want to say into 160 characters, or a picture. We can “retweet” things from other labs we follow, to share exciting papers, or new field work. This is a quick way to connect, but its over the short term.
Facebook is again a more personal way to communicate. It reaches out the same way as twitter in some sense, but posts can be longer, pictures are easier to browse, and we can connect with people through events, and more (see Niki’s post for more detail!!)
Other types of social media exist, such as Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, and the science-specific ResearchGate. We are less familiar with these so didn’t discuss as much, but they are out there and maybe we will be on them in the future.
I feel like this blog is getting on a little bit. Describing social media in science could probably be an entire series of posts, but I wanted to just give a brief intro here. I thought I’d wrap up with some of the great discussion questions we got during the presentation (we didn’t get to the end of the slides because of the great interest!!) We don’t have all the answers, but please feel free to ask questions in the comments below and one of us will chime in (that’s the point of this interconnetivity isn’t it??)
How much time should we be spending on this as scientists? Is this taking away from our research?
What about the issue of misrepresentation of your research? (misquotes go misquoted go misquoted)
Where do you start?
Do you think it improves your writing?
What is the value in being able to condense your research to 160 characters? Should that be what we strive for in titles? Should a tweet of your abstract now be included?
Oh, and on a final note…
What the heck is a hastag (#hastag)??
For you scientists out there, think of it like a keyword, the keywords you would put on a paper. By putting the # in front of a word or phrase, it becomes searchable, and then connects your post (on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc) to other posts with the same hashtag.
#SciComm is a great one to start with to tell your followers you are communicating your science!
*Disclaimer: Niki and Danielle, I’m sorry if I didn’t do this post justice… I feel like I didn’t, but it’s hard to describe a discussion in a blog post!! Feel free to augment!!