Contributor Simon Peyda
The World Wide Web celebrated a quarter of a century this year. I am old enough to have witnessed the advent of internet and yet vividly remember 8-bit video games, floppy disks, VHS and cassette tapes. They are memories that those born into the social network and smartphone-centred world of today will not share. As a biomedical alumnus, I believe in Charles Darwin’s “Survival of the fittest” theory. Thus I have wondered; how does my generation survive in a labour market when competing with emerging information technological natives?
In a previous NatureJobs entry, Digital tattoos, Shimi Rii made a crucial observation how “we suffer from a lack of web presence”. “We”, I assume, excludes the youngest generation. Thus, we must up our IT skills to avoid extinction. In addition, Get Social… for selfish reasons! hit the nail on the head. I have a real life example of this that I wanted to share.
As an experiment, I documented the journey through my studies at Karolinska Institute’s Master degree programme in Biomedicine all the way to graduation day. It began in March two years ago when I submitted my application papers. At the time, I had questions that could be boiled down to “What is the Karolinska experience like?” If I had uncertainties, as a native student, surely there would be others and even international applicants wondering what awaited them, too? I set out an aim to connect curriculum with actual experience through daily blogging.
I registered with Twitter to distribute my entries as they were published on WordPress and shortly afterwards I signed up with LinkedIn. With an international stage as my target audience, I decided to write in English from the perspective of a Swedish student. I eventually got notice that I was enrolled and I published entries for “Simon Says” every weekday since the first semester until I graduated in June this year.
It is inevitable to pick up tricks along the way and networking is a vital part of my success. In fact, my experience embodies the Naturejobs advice very well. I have carved out a niche for myself after two years of daily science blogging at the university. My readers joined in from all over the world, thanks to my collaborations with Karolinska Institutet and the Biomedicine Network. This spring I was a guest blogger with the Swedish Council for Higher Education and now I’m writing this guest entry for Naturejobs. What a journey. Via LinkedIn, I contacted infographics start-up GetBulb and experimented with their product to visualise my blog statistics. When I shared the results with them, Getbulb were curious to learn more so they approached me for an interview and case study. The interview was published on their blog and revolved around data visualisation as an aid to communicating science.
I am easily Googled, thanks to my unique name. I set up my Twitter account and blog to take advantage of my name and stand out. In my experience, the benefits of a strong online presence outweigh the disadvantages of a lacking one. By working on your online presence, you will provide a more representative image of yourself. Potential employers want to learn about you. Actively highlight your personal and professional qualities to help them filter out the noise.
In fact, increasing your online presence is not as time-consuming as most would think. My daily blog entries were typed up in roughly 30 minutes. Tweeting takes seconds and there are even ways to automate or intertwine your activities. How often aren’t we asked “What is it that you do, exactly?” by family, friends and potential collaborators in other businesses? It’s not too late to start an interactive, immersive digital revolution in science. Get acquainted with all the tools that are out there and join in!
My endeavour has come with a few challenges; finding a voice took a while, keeping the regularity, writing in times of little motivation, keeping it interesting and varying the content. Privacy is important too. While I inform people about the blog, I intentionally avoid names unless they are staff or students associated with the programme and my readers could come across them eventually as students themselves.
Having learned about blogging, networking and having acquired an interest in popular science, I have developed my science communication abilities. I list them on my LinkedIn profile alongside the “hard skills” in science that I’ve acquired with my education. I envision an alternative career path where a medical background coupled with my communication capabilities would come in handy to organisations that work with global health issues for instance. If nothing else, I want to remove the confined, black box of science and instead provide an open, transparent box.
Indeed, I have ended up with more than I could imagine. I shared my story with roughly one-thousand world-wide readers every month and I get to interact with prospective students and many different people outside science. Importantly, I have realised that I am passionate about science communication.
In its coming 25 years, I believe the internet will play an important role for science whether it is social networks, crowd funding, podcasts or improved data visualization. It will best serve those who are quick to adapt. As scientists, we’re treated with profound respect but will that last if we fail to communicate our efforts? I think we, as part of a bigger community, need to improve our science communication skills. We need the public and the public needs us. Ultimately, it is about survival in the era of cyber-Darwinism. Next, I’m trying to figure out this Facebook thing…