By Megan Lynch
One of the great community-building tools on Twitter is the hashtag. Soon after joining Twitter, scientists learned how to leverage the hashtag to build scientific community online and to communicate to non-scientists as well. Herpetologist Dr. David Steen has used the hashtags #notacottonmouth and #notacopperhead to ID snakes for frightened laypeople as well as to argue that venomous species can be lived alongside without killing them. As you can imagine, he got a lot of requests for identification via Twitter and also gained a lot of new followers, scientists and non-scientists alike. So when someone on Twitter was giving him grief about how useful or not his research might be, he pointed out a survey that said most Americans couldn’t name a living scientist. He then introduced himself as one. A follower of his suggested the hashtag #actuallivingscientist and it took off from there.
Hi I'm Dr. Esther Ngumbi. I'm researching how we can grow crops sustainbly to feed everyone amidst a changing climate #actuallivingscientist pic.twitter.com/KwhKcnMbaI
— Esther Ngumbi (@EstherNgumbi) February 5, 2017
Botanists, along with scientists from other disciplines, adopted the hashtag and joined the effort to introduce themselves. They not only tweeted their own introductions, but shared the introductions of others. Soon it was a Twitter Moment, and journalists contacted Steen and other scientists to ask to interview them for articles and to ask them to appear on podcasts.
Everyone in the lab is an #actuallivingscientist, most studying the evolution of corn and its wild relatives teosinte. pic.twitter.com/WPkDwPWFEo
— Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra (@jrossibarra) February 5, 2017
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Teachers very soon started printing out tweets and making displays for their classrooms and school hallways, showing their students the cornucopia of careers available in STEM. Curiosity piqued, laypeople on Twitter started respectfully asking questions of various scientists. The tweets gave me as a student an idea of the many permutations of plant science and botanical study at a time when I’m considering which labs to approach in my search for a grad school. Of course each time the story was picked up by a media outlet, it enticed more people to tweet under that hashtag to introduce themselves and their research. And it stimulated further conversations on Twitter and via blogs about how scientists and professional organizations have responded and should be responding to the challenges currently being posed.
My aunt (middle school sci. teacher) read an article about the #actuallivingscientist tag and decided to re-decorate her classroom ❤ pic.twitter.com/YDJrEyJL1D
— Kelly O'Connor (@kmoconnor8) February 10, 2017
Twitter is a fantastic networking and communication tool for plant scientists and botanists, as #actuallivingscientist, #plantblindness and #AdventBotany illustrate. I’ve collected a selection of #actuallivingscientist tweets from plant and plant-adjacent scientists for your inspiration, networking, and enjoyment. Please feel free to tweet under the hashtag if you missed the initial flurry. There seemed to be many more tweets from zoologists than botanists and as someone who aspires to breed fruit, I’d love to see some Twitter presence from fruit breeders and researchers.
Megan Lynch has a BA in Art from UCLA and is a returning student in Biology at Pasadena Community College (Pasadena, CA, USA). She is a longtime member of California Rare Fruit Growers and hopes to go to grad school to learn fruit breeding. She’s currently studying Ceratonia siliqua and its history in California.
You can follow her @may_gun on Twitter.