To complement Social Media Week, the nature.com blogs team are publishing a series of posts about science and social media. Two of the posts focus on recent social media memes about science careers – the #IamScience hashtag on Twitter, and the ‘This is what a scientist looks like’ meme on Tumblr.
The #IamScience hashtag is being used by scientists to share the variety of ways they began their science careers. A guest post by Ben Lillie, co-founder of The Story Collider, explains how the meme emerged:
About three weeks ago, a science writer named Kevin Zelnio tweeted this:
And with that, he completely transformed what I thought was possible, and indeed what the point was, of social media.
The tweet came from a discussion of how people had started their science careers, and Kevin’s frustration that the path to a scientist was always depicted in one way: go to college, go directly to grad school. Hope it was a top-tier school, then, “Bam! You’re a scientist.”
But that wasn’t the path Kevin took, and it wasn’t the path most of the people he knew with careers in science took. So he tweeted, and encouraged others to tweet. It struck a chord, and within hours there were hundreds of people tweeting their stories with the hashtag #IAmScience.
Ben goes on to explain why the stories being shared via #IamScience are important:
These are tales of wrong turns, failed classes, delayed dreams, failed schools, rejection, disabilities, mistaken careers, and as you saw in Kevin’s tweet, much, much more. As science communicators we talk a lot about humanizing science. It doesn’t get much more human than this — but I’ve rarely seen a major science publication touch most of these subjects. And that, of course, is the power of Twitter. Things that would never be published anywhere find a way of bubbling to the surface.
While #IamScience is helping share diverse stories of how scientists began their science careers, the ‘This is what a scientist looks like’ website is showing the world that it’s not all lab coats and safety glasses once you get there. In another post, the nature.com communities team explain the concept:
Developed by science writer and multimedia specialist Allie Wilkinson, the concept is simple, a Tumblr blog which collates pictures of scientists from all walks of life. Allie explains, “there is no cookie-cutter mould of what a scientist looks like. A scientist can look like you, or can look like me.”
Allie wanted to show that anyone can be a scientist:
“In the movie Ratatouille, the motto repeated throughout is, ‘anyone can cook’. Although initially frustrated by this motto, the critic in the movie eventually realizes that not everyone can cook, but a great cook can come from anywhere,” explains Allie. “I want people to realize the same for scientists. Not everyone can be a scientist, just like not everyone can cook, but a great scientist can be anyone.” Allie hopes that this project will help change stereotypes and inspire kids to realize that they have the potential to be a scientist.
As the nature.com communities team conclude, only time will tell if social media initiatives such as #IamScience and ‘This is what a scientist looks like’ will really change the way people think about what a career in science involves. In the meantime, it’s certainly a powerful way to reach a wider audience and engage with the next generation of potential scientists.