You Should Be Writing: Social Media vs My Dissertation

It’s fair to say that I love the internet. Without the internet, how else would I know about the pros and cons of cloning mammoths, the latest dinosaur discovery, or even that time a mountain gorilla punched a photographer in the face? The enormous chunk of time I spend on the internet is largely divided between my twitter account, @FossilHistory, which recently 1,000 followers (yay!), and this blog. Additionally, I’m currently working as the Social Media Coordinator for my department’s “Embryo Project” (@embryoproject), which involves tweeting, facebooking, and even creating a handbook of best practices for academics who are interested in using social media. Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 2.38.33 PM

With all that time spent on social media, the question in many people’s minds (and often my own) becomes: why am I spending time blogging and tweeting when I should be writing my dissertation? So I decided to outline a few reasons why I continue to spend time blogging, tweeting, and reading endlessly about science communication. While this list is, in some ways, my justification (mostly to myself) for time spent on these platforms, the list could also be thought of as “things I love about social media” because I do truly love it.

I get to have conversations with like-minded people

Social media sites are so successful because they allow you to connect with people who have similar interests and interact with them on a frequent basis. Whether the conversations involve nerding out over #DarwinDay or discussing the implications and possible solutions of the new Pew Research study on the gap between scientists and the public, social media allows more of us to engage in these discussions and further them. It goes without saying that I enjoy chatting with a bunch of peoScreen Shot 2015-02-15 at 2.39.58 PMple about things I’m interested in, like Neandertal skulls or archival research, but I also get to learn a lot from the the people I chat with. A great example of this is when a new fossil is discovered. I get to watch the entire story unfold, including interesting discussions while scientists weigh in on the new discovery, for example.

I’m learning about a variety of topics

Students can sometimes develop a narrow field of view. As an undergraduate studying physical anthropology, I could have told you a lot about the morphology of the Neandertal skull, but very little about stem cells, developmental biology, or even dinosaurs. Now, thanks to engagement with great scientists and science communicators, I am more familiar with a wide range of topics (and learning more every day!). Needless to say, this adds a ton of new dimensions to my work and my thinking in general.

Bottom Line: it reminds me that I love my job

It turns out that I’m just stoked to the bone about history and science. When I’m nose deep in literature reviews or grant writing it can be difficult to remember that I truly love this stuff, but writing about history and science for this blog in 500 word bursts, or celebrating an anniversary of a great fossil discovery on twitter, allows me to take a step back and remember why I got involved in the history of science in the first place. Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 2.40.33 PM

While this list is short and relatively basic, I hope it is a useful reminder to some of us who are weeding through the jungle of graduate school that we can spend time on things other than our dissertation, and sometimes those activities can ultimately benefit our research in surprising ways. We are all working to find balance in our lives and work, and if, for some of us, that balance includes photos of punching gorillas and celebrations of nineteenth century scientists’ birthdays, then I say hell yeah!

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