About Laia Robichaux

PhD student with a background in marine biology (BS) and science education (MS). Research focus on science communication in museums and science centers, with a focus on socially controversial science, meaning making, and identity negotiation among adult visitors. Alter-Ego: Photographer

When I posted this blog, embedded software automatically generated a tweet using the first hundred or so characters, added a link to this page, and publish it to our @FreeChoiceLab Twitter account. That tweet then enters numerous timelines of our fans and followers who are welcome to follow the link and read what I’ve written. If they should like what they read, they may be so inclined to share the original tweet with their fans and followers, who then have the opportunity to read, enjoy, and share the original tweet, or an officially retweeted version.

By “officially retweeted” I mean something very specific. The sharer can use the retweet function built into Twitter, causing the original tweet to appear in their timeline with “SharerName retweeted” added to the top. Alternately, the sharer may copy the tweet, paste it into new tweet under their own name, and add “RT @OriginalPoster:” to the beginning. Both of these methods attribute the original author of the tweet. To put it in academic language, the original author has been cited. However, when a person decides to share a tweet by copying the content and reposting it under their own name, with no attribution to the original author, that’s plagiarism. Or, more accurately, Twagiarism.

On the surface, it may seem that Twagiarism is kind of a non-issue. After all, Twitter is all about sharing, using the creativity-inspiring limit of 140 characters. If I tweet “I had a great week, procrastinated myself into super organization” what’s the harm if someone else who also procrastinated posts an identical tweet after reading mine? The problem is that while there is a lot of innocent, banal content shared on twitter, there is also more serious content, and it’s all considered intellectual property of the original writer. And because there’s no easy way to categorize whether something is frivolous, or perhaps the next famous quote, Twitter has a very specific policy regarding copyright infringement (fancy legalese for plagiarism). Item 9 of the Twitter terms of service states:

“Twitter respects the intellectual property rights of others and expects users of the Services to do the same.”

What this means is that whatever a person posts is the intellectual property of the one who posted it, and Twitter expects its users to respect that. Users who violate this term are subject to having the content removed, and in extreme cases Twitter reserves the right to terminate a user’s account.

In academia, use of social media is on the rise. Institutions have official twitter accounts, managed by one person or a team, and the tweets represent the interests of the institution. The same goes for groups, labs, and individuals who have professionally linked Twitter accounts. What may not be immediately recognized is that every tweet is, technically, a publication. It might not be the peer reviewed kind typically associated with academic publications, but they have the same protection, and the authors have the same rights. There’s also more at stake if a person tweeting for an institution engages in twagiarism, because what the world sees is the institution they represent engaging in unethical practices. Isolated incidents of twagiarism can often be dealt with by educating the individual or group about proper retweeting practices. Repeat offenders are when having a specific, well-planned policy comes in handy.

Oregon State University currently does not have a policy regarding plagiarism specific to social media, but they do have a policy on more traditional forms of plagiarism. Only time will tell if this is sufficient protection, or if there needs to be a specific policy. Twitter is fundamentally social, and if hashtage trends are any indication, even the smallest, seeming inconsequential thing can suddenly be a global trend. Considering that the reputation of respected institutions is impacted by acts of Twagiarism, an in house policy may be an important line of defense against public castigation.

So please, if you’re going to share the tweet for this article, retweet it using the button Twitter provides, or adding RT manually when you share it.

It is really easy, during the course of graduate school, to let a great many things in our lives fall by the wayside. There’s always something to read, a constant stream of emails, projects to plan, and mountains of data to plow through. Oral exams, proposal meetings, all of the writing…most days it piles on until we have to put “EAT LUNCH!!!” on our to-do lists to make sure we don’t pass out from hunger. We spend so much time on being a graduate student that we lose site of the fact that we are people who have needs beyond the next peer reviewed article.

There are lots of places where people have expounded on the importance of sleep and healthy eating for optimal brain function, but there’s more to being healthy than just those. Whole person health requires that we spend some of our time on activities that fulfill some portion of our broader identity than just “grad student.” I specifically mean hobbies, the rejuvenating experiences that remind us of who we are and what we want out of life. Sadly, these are usually the first things to get cut from our overburdened schedules. (I’m only going to mention in passing that there are also horrible people who will say that having hobbies is a “waste of time.” Personally, I think these people are a “waste of space” and won’t give them any more of my time).

I know from experience that I go a special kind of nuts if I go too long without indulging in one of my hobbies. That’s why I endeavor to

A sock in progress
A sock in progress

have a knitting project with me at all times. I can usually manage to squeeze in a row or two to help “take the edge off” during the day.

But, just as we stagnate if we don’t move forward with our research, I had begun to feel stagnant in the rest of my life. Get up, do work, read things, knit some, play with the cat, eat, and sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. And, since I’m a whole person, when I feel stagnant or restricted in one area of my life, it has a ripple effect through the rest.

Kodak Brownie Reflex, circa 1940-1942
Kodak Brownie Reflex, circa 1940-1942

For as long as I can remember I’ve had an interest in and affinity for photography. I had plastic 110mm cameras as a child, bought my first SLR at 17, drove my mother nuts with the amounts of film I went through, and I collect vintage cameras.

Last weekend we had our annual lab retreat, and we went “camping” at a state park a little west of Portland (we stayed in cabins with electricity and heat and had proper meals, which is as close as I’m willing to get to actual camping). I brought along my little camera (Canon PhotoShot Elph 100HS). This has been my primary camera since August 2011, and I’ve done some spectacular photography with it (considering its limitations). At the retreat, I had the opportunity to shoot a few frames with a friend’s Canon SLR and folks, it ignited a fire in me that is still burning. Yesterday I checked out 17 items on digital photography from our local library (libraries are perhaps the greatest FCL resource available, and yet so under sung).

Library Books
Library Books



I feel energized, awake (awake helps), and there’s so much energy it’s surging through to the grad student part of my life. Because that’s the trick about whole person health. You can’t feel great if there’s a part of of your life that isn’t working out. And I know that graduate school (like so many things) requires compromise and sacrifice, but we shouldn’t have to compromise our identities or sacrifice our happiness.

Now all that’s left is to read/watch all of these in the 2-4 weeks I have them on loan…anyone know how to bend time?

Today I had the opportunity to do an “outreach about outreach” activity with a group of undergraduate Sea Grant Scholars. They are going to be volunteering at a local annual festival called Da Vinci Days, which celebrates art and science in honor of Leonardo da Vinci. After a brief presentation and chat session, we did the ever-popular ice melting in fresh and salt water, complete with food dye (my fingers are lovely green now). They seemed to receive it well, if a bit quietly. My past experience working with STEM undergraduates was very similar – they rather passively take in the information about communication.

Personally I think that all science undergraduates should have training in science communication, and more than just a workshop or two. There’s no way to stress how important it is to be able to converse about the work being done with more than just other scientists. Heck, there are even communication barriers between the sciences. Public perception of scientists remains remarkably static, and in large part I think it’s the lack of communication ability on the part of the scientists that supports this stagnation. And science supports the habit of poor communication skills within itself by not assigning it any importance, as reflected in its lack in the formal education process of science. There needs to be a greater push to support communication within science, since collaboration is the wave of the future, and with non-scientists to help change the public perception (misperception) of scientists.

As I work towards a coherent research question for my dissertation, I find myself challenging assumptions that I never dealt with before. One is that visitors trust the science that is being presented in museums. There is lots of talk about learning science, public understanding of science, public engagement, etc., but trust is frequently glossed over. When we ask someone what they learned from an exhibit, we don’t also ask them how reliable they feel the information is. Much like the various fields of science, there is an assumption that what is being presented is accurate and unbiased in the eyes of the visitor.

In accordance with this, it is also frequently assumed that visitors know the difference between good science, bad science, pseudo science, not science, science in fiction, and science fiction; and that this is reflected in their visitor experiences in science museums. Especially in the internet age, where anyone can freely and widely distribute their thoughts and opinions and agendas, how do people build their understanding of science, and how do these various avenues of information impact trust in science? Media sources have been exposed in scandals where false “science” was disseminated. Various groups deliberately distort information to suit their purposes. In this melee of information and misinformation, are science centers still viewed as reliable sources of science information by the public?

Every week we have two lab meetings, and during both we need to use online conferencing software. We’ve been at this for over a year, and in all that time we’ve only managed to find a free software that is marginally acceptable (Google Hangouts). I know that part of our problem is the limited bandwidth on the OSU campus, because when classes are out our problems are fewer, but even with adequate bandwidth we still can’t seem to get it to work well. Feedback, frozen video, plugins that stop working.  It’s frustrating, and every meeting we lose at least 15 minutes to technical issues.

Someone in the lab commented one day that we always seem to be about a year ahead of software development in our need. Online meetings, exhibit set ups, survey software. Every time we need something, we end up cobbling something together. I’ve decided to take these opportunities as character building and a testament to our skills and talent. Still, it’d be nice to spend time on something else once in a while.


I seem to have gone from walking to speed racing when it comes to projects. Not only do I have the Folklife paper I’m co-authoring for ASEE, but now I’m working on 3 more projects. Just last week I was tasked with doing new analysis on already collected data for a paper draft that’s due at the end of the month. So I’ve been slogging through file after file of the data, trying to make sense of it all so that I can get the analysis done by the end of the week. This is the first time I’ve been asked to do data analysis on data that I was not directly connected with collecting. I’ve always been very familiar with the data I was working with, as well as with the project it’s connected to. I have neither of those safety nets on this project, and it is really testing my abilities. Which is both exciting and terrifying. There is no backup plan if I am unable to get this done, so the pressure is really on. Personally I’m not a fan of pressure, I like to have things well laid out in advance with mini-milestones to keep me on track and keep the task from feeling overwhelming.

I just hope I’m able to rise to the challenge without completely freaking out.