Instagram is a great way to visually engage with people by sharing images and video of your science as well as your daily life as a scientist. Whether you are a botanist with beautiful visuals or a lab scientist with walls of calculations, people are intrigued by an inside look at the scientific process. Instagram can also be a fun way to communicate by creating and participating in conversation: you can include text with your images (up to 2,200 characters, but with no links), add comments, use or create hashtags (which helps people find your content) and tag other Instagram users, and send direct messages. You can also make use of Instagram Stories — disappearing content that increases traffic and engagement with your account.
The Conversation is a nonprofit, general-interest website that publishes articles by academics. It is funded by foundations and universities — including UC Office of the President — and features a wide variety of current topics. The Conversation licenses all their content under a Creative Commons license, meaning other publications can reprint the articles for free. It’s a little like an academic wire service with the goal of bringing knowledge from academia to the wider public. Articles from The Conversation are routinely re-published in Washington Post, Quartz, Time, PBS News Hour, BBC, CNN, Scientific American, Huffington Post, The New Republic and many other outlets. Stories typically receive thousands of views on their website and through republication. To become an author, contributors must be a faculty member or researcher at a university or research institution. PhD candidates can also become authors. The editors are generally looking for stories about breakthroughs as well as stories that relate to current events. To publish a story, you first need to sign up to be an author and then pitch your idea to the editors. There is a short video tutorial on how the process works.
An op-ed — an opinion editorial — is a great way to promote your research. You can reach a broad national audience — for example, in a newspaper like The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal — or reach a more targeted audience in a publication like Wired or a local audience in The Sacramento Bee. Op-eds generally address an important topic that’s dominating the news cycle, which means the timing for your piece is key. Strong op-eds provide unique insights that are based on expertise and experience, and help readers understand what’s at stake and why they should care. Op-eds are fairly short — about 750 words. Unlike academic writing, op-eds can be personal and use a first person voice. Your college’s communications staff may be able to help you write your op-ed. The UC Davis Strategic Communications office can also work with faculty to write op-eds, and in some cases help get them placed in publications.
Reddit is a social aggregation news site where people can post content and interact with other readers. It is known as the “front page of the internet” because so many people visit the site. Content is voted up or down, which helps prevent unrelated or unworthy items. The audience for posts can be huge. The subreddit Science has 17 million readers and is specifically for peer-reviewed research articles or brief media summaries. There are subreddits on thousands of topics, from music to politics the microbiome. There is also the popular feature, IAmA where users can host an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA). During an AMA, people can ask questions about any topic in a real-time conversation. Politicians and celebrities like Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and Snoop Dogg have participated in AMAs but it’s not just for public figures. Last year, Jessica Hellmann from the University of Minnesota and Tessa Hill from UC Davis teamed up to host a very successful AMA on climate change.
Blogs have been around for decades (“weblog” was coined in 1997), but they remain an easy way to publish content. There are as many ways to write a blog as there are bloggers. Some researchers use their blogs to document research in-progress and others use blogging for more polished, formal pieces. Blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger are easy to use and free for basic services. And even if you aren’t interested in writing regular blog posts, blogging platforms can function as free basic websites. If you need blogging inspiration, check out, UC Davis Blogs which lists UC Davis-affiliated blogs on a wide range of topics.
Twitter is a great way to quickly skim the news to find out what’s going on. It can also be a lively, dynamic and constantly evolving conversation: you can retweet, add comments, use or create hashtags (which helps people find your content) and tag other Twitter users, and direct message anyone who is a follower. In addition to following and connecting with other researchers, it’s also a great way to keep people updated about your own work and interests. In addition to following and connecting with other researchers, it’s a great way to keep people updated about your own work and interests. Twitter increased its famous character limit from 140 to 280 over a while ago, which has led to fewer abbreviations and an increase in niceties like “please” and “thank you.”
For inspiration, check out Jonathan Eisen on Twitter. In addition to writing his popular blog, The Tree of Life, Eisen’s twitter feed, @phylogenomics, has about 52,000 followers, which, in academic circles, makes him a rock star. It also landed him in Science’s “The top 50 science stars of Twitter.”
Having a website is basic way to make your research available and visible to people all around the world. There are many, many ways to create a website (too many to go into here), but at UC Davis, one easy way is to take advantage of the IET department’s free WordPress websites for faculty (including adjuncts). For a small one-time fee, the site can be set up to use a ucdavis.edu domain. There are two dozen themes you can choose from as well as well as a variety of plugins that add functionality. Academic Technology Services offers monthly workshops to help faculty get started, or to refresh their knowledge of WordPress. Register here to set up your website. IET also offers web development services.
There are several campus communication channels that can help get the word out about your research. It’s always a good idea to start with your home department and to reach out to your college’s communication staff.
Campuswide, UC Davis Strategic Communications works with researchers from all departments. Strategic Communications issues news releases on behalf of the campus, maintains the UC Davis home page and associated web pages, manages official campus social media channels and produces Dateline, the faculty/staff email newsletter, among other things. You can find out who covers which discipline here.
The Office of Research also promotes research innovation from across campus, with an emphasis on organized research units, special research programs, core labs, and programs (RISE, IFHA, BRAIN-STIM) affiliated with the Office of Research. You can email your news to firstname.lastname@example.org.