Collaboration in the Twitter Age

From the desk of CDD CSO Sean Ekins, M.Sc., Ph.D., D.Sc.

Scientific conferences can be huge ungainly affairs with tens of thousands of attendees spread over many concurrent sessions and possibly locations. These meetings are great for networking but it is likely any single attendee will only be exposed to the smallest fraction of the science being presented. How could anyone imagine capturing all the data or even a fraction of it presented orally let alone the content of the posters? Being unaware of the science may not be optimal in finding potential collaborators either.


Good examples for chemists are the ACS meetings, with groups on the smaller scale like CINF or larger like MEDI having respectively tens versus hundreds of scientists in each session or room. Chemists tend to stick with the group that they have the most affinity for rather than trying to mix with other divisions. When divisions do try to come together it is for Scimix poster sessions, and rarely do you get cross disciplinary chemistry oral sessions.

One way to try to capture information across all divisions in such meetings that is cheap and easy to do is to try to encourage attendees to Tweet what they are hearing and seeing at conferences. This way anyone can follow the meeting hashtag and see the science being discussed. The number of Twitter users at the recent ACS in San Francisco seemed pretty limited and yet it is pretty straightforward to live tweet a talk. A recent editorial by Ethan Perlstein and myself provides ten simple rules for live tweeting at scientific conferences. In the space of a week it has been viewed approximately 10,000 times. We may be at a tipping point with scientists and their interest in using such tools to communicate science. While chemistry is far behind some other sciences, like marine biology and astronomy, in having large twitter followings, the few that are using Twitter for open communications are devoted to the cause.

As we are focused on collaboration, there is perhaps untapped opportunity to bring scientists together through Twitter who might then go on to take advantage of the CDD Vault for sharing of chemistry and biology data. We are in the ‘Twitter age’ and, like it or not, it may fundamentally shift communication and access to science.

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