Twitter for Scientists: Tips from Nicole Paulk, Ph.D.

Catherine Gillespie - June 18, 2021

If you're interested in getting started or becoming more established on Twitter, Nicole Paulk, Ph.D., shared some tips during ASGCT's Academic Writing Dos and Don'ts seminar.

Writing grants and publishing papers are activities critical to success in academic science, but the skills required to write well are not often taught in the classroom or at the bench. On June 11, ASGCT presented Academic Writing Dos and Don’ts, a seminar to help fill this gap.

Though pages could be written about the nuts and bolts of manuscript preparation, I wanted to highlight a different, equally important area of scientific writing: social media. Of the series of talks, I found the conversation between Emily Walsh, Ph.D., and Nicole Paulk, Ph.D., on using social media for science to be particularly illuminating.

Though I have been on Twitter for more than five years, to me the platform remains a mystery. Because I am not sure how to use it, I don’t often go on it. Because I am not often on it, I miss things that I should be tweeting about. How can you get started and establish yourself as an expert if you don’t really know what you are doing on Twitter?

During the seminar, Paulk gave five excellent tips for luddites like me while discussing her strategy for using Twitter to bring awareness to her field — AAV gene therapy — and to advocate for increasing diversity and inclusion in science.

  1. Tweet only what you want to be known about. Paulk recommends that, before you start sharing information at random on Twitter, you have a hard think about the one or maximum two topics you want to be known about. It could be the work you are doing now, or what you hope to be doing in the future, but she recommends that, once you’ve decided what you want to be known about, you make sure all of your tweets revolve around that topic. In her case, she tweets only about AAV gene therapy and advocacy in science and nothing else.
  2. Be optimistic, energetic, and excited. Twitter is known for its epic take downs and trolls, but, especially early in your career, you do not want to be recognized for the wrong thing. When you are writing about other people’s work, avoid the inclination to tear them down, and frame any potential improvements as cool opportunities to pursue in the future. Overall, avoid being just another negative or contrarian contributor to the conversation.
  3. Tweet regularly. Paulk recommends sharing something with your followers at least once a week and encourages frequent tweeting on topics other than your own science. Once you find your niche, you should tweet in a timely fashion when something big happens in the field. “If something important happens in my field, my followers expect that I’ll have something to say about it before the day’s end,” she said.
  4. Mix the lengths of your tweets. It may be tempting to include all your thoughts in a detailed tweet thread, but Paulk recommends focusing your effort on crafting classic, short, and pithy tweets. As many people are visual learners and everyone likes a good cat meme (or graphical abstract), always look for ways to include a picture.
  5. Start with a thread on a relevant, recently published paper. Even armed with good advice, it can be difficult to know where to start with Twitter. What should your first tweet be about? As most trainees participate in weekly journal clubs, Paulk suggests turning a paper you’ve recently reviewed into a five-tweet thread. In the first tweet, you should tag the first and last authors, the journal, the relevant institutions, and use hashtags to describe what the paper is about. The next three tweets should summarize the paper, including how you might apply their results to your work or highlighting interesting future directions. The fifth and final tweet should summarize your take on the big idea of the paper and tag other scientists in the field who might be interested. By tagging the authors and other scientists in your field, staying optimistic, and using relevant hashtags, this approach is a quick way to get positive attention and establish the topic you want to be known about.  

ASGCT members can watch this seminar, and all other past and future seminars, on demand! Register now for our next seminar, “How To” With AAV Vectors, on July 9. More information on our August grant writing seminar will be posted here once it's confirmed.

Ms. Gillespie is a senior scientific editor for the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine and a member of the ASGCT Communications Committee.