Written by: Emily Weigel

Primary Source:  Choice Words with @Choosy_Female

After a long wait, our How-To article on #SciStuChat is finally out! You can read it here: http://abt.ucpress.edu/content/78/7/599

So what’s #SciStuChat? Read the paper.

Just kidding. You should read it, but the tldr; is that it is a monthly chat where students in science classes across the nation and the globe interact with scientists via Twitter.

You can read more about #SciStuChat and get updates here: http://www.scistuchat.com/

So, some of you might be thinking, “That’s nice. Moving on.” But maybe you should be asking: Why as a scientist should I use Twitter to interact with high schoolers? What do I get out of it?

Well, here are my top 5 reasons for engaging particularly with HS students using Twitter:

  1. Communication: Scientists often stink at communicating their and others’ work succinctly. A once-a-month session ensures a bit of practice to work on communication. Being confined to just 140 characters forces you to keep things short and let go of those important (but sometimes non-expert-confusing) caveats.
  2. Easy, big impact: Outreach unfortunately is often confined to where we’re already working (i.e. near lab or field sites), so we miss classrooms geographically. Also, because time is limited, we can’t go to visit every classroom even within a 2-hour radius. There’s just not enough time in the curriculum or personal schedules to guarantee quality interaction. By using a digital medium, it is super easy to reach lots of students at once in many places. In one hour, you can virtually reach tens of classrooms that are signed in and wanting to talk to you. There isn’t a lot of set up, and typically the chats occur outside of the normal workday, so if you can spare an hour one evening, you’ve made a big impact, without even having to leave your house!
  3. Guided- and extended- conversations: Students often have misconceptions that scientists aren’t people, too. By participating in guided conversations through Twitter chats, you can humanize scientists by having an organic discussion about a topic, as opposed to a drier, prepped activity. Students can get to know a bit more about your personality and what gets you excited about science, and if they want, follow your twitter handle to learn more science once the ‘official’ interaction has ended.
  4. Diversify the faces of scientists: Science is more diverse than the representation it gets in the media. Although we’ve still got a very long way to go, we shouldn’t undersell the various forms of diversity that there are today (And keep in mind, there are many ways to demonstrate uniqueness beyond more ‘traditional’ demographic categories).
  5. Scaling for level: What students are learning in the classroom today is more advanced than when many of us had as high schoolers. And whether we like to admit it or not, for many people, their last exposure to science was back in high school. So, interacting with high schoolers and engaging in content can give you a bit of a ‘reality check’ on what is common scientific knowledge. Furthermore, it can help to show what reasoning these students (and likely, their families) are using when they encounter new scientific information. Sometimes we forget how specialized we have become; it’s important to break out of the expert bubble and talk to others. There is value in this interaction for everyone!

So these are my top 5? Do you have another that didn’t make my list? Please share!

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Emily Weigel
Emily Weigel (@Choosy_Female) is Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Zoology and in the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior Program at Michigan State University. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology with a focus on interdisciplinary research from the Georgia Institute of Technology. At MSU, Weigel conducts research in the lab of Dr. Jenny Boughman and is affiliated with the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. Her dissertation research focuses on how female choice and investment interact with male mating strategies. Additionally, Weigel’s education research asks how and why a background in genetics affects student performance in evolutionary biology. When not researching, Weigel enjoys playing soccer, surfing Netflix, and promoting STEM in the community.
Emily Weigel

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