BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

The Rise of Science Influencers

Author: Negeen Halabian

In my last article, we discussed the importance of using Twitter to promote your work (and yourself) in the digital academic world. However social media platforms extend well-beyond Twitter, and can help you reach an audience outside academia. At the start of the pandemic, the gap between scientists and the public became even more apparent and the need for effective scientific communication was emphasized. While we have enjoyed the company of established science influencers such as Bill Nye or Neil DeGrasse Tyson through television, social media has given junior scientists an opportunity to grow their reach exponentially. Social media influencers are individuals who build a reputation for their knowledge and expertise and a specific topic and regularly create content for their followers. Through communication and collaboration, scientists and healthcare workers took social media by storm to raise awareness about COVID-19. Social media platforms provided the ideal space for two-way interactive exchanges between scientists and the public. Since then, more scientists have joined social media and post about their research and life as an academic. Science communication is an exciting opportunity for scientists to expand their reach and establish their own brand. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a prominent online presence as an academic? We discuss below:
Advantages Of Using Social Media For Sharing Knowledge about Science
Large social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have the potential to be the best scientific social networks if they are used to promote research interests appropriately. Science-related pages and profiles can reach wide and non-specialized audiences, meaning that there is potential for scientists to use these platforms as a space to create positive online communities with common interests. An active social presence can allow scientists to find audiences with similar concerns or to collaborate on various projects ranging from research sponsorship to event funding. Scientists can also leverage their online presence to increase public interest in their research and highlight its relevance to funding agencies. Additionally, the traditional nature of science communication has involved its communication in the form of peer-reviewed journal articles and conference presentations. However, these are somewhat constricted as they mostly involve academics only. However, event organizers can use social media to promote scientific work to a larger audience and spark public interest. Also, inviting science influencers to partake in academic events allows scientists to narrow the gap between science and the public. In conclusion, social media platforms can be used to cultivate stronger links with colleagues all over the world and to raise awareness about current research on social issues.
Disadvantages Of Using Social Media For Science
With the aforementioned benefits of engaging in social media, could there be disadvantages to it? The fact is that rates of social media use in the scientific community are still low in comparison to the general public or even other professional groups. The truth is that there is much reluctance among scientists to use social media. Through my many conversations with senior and junior scientists, I have realized that the problem is contributed to by issues of reputation, credibility, and professionalism. Therefore, the preference is to engage in more exclusive and professional networks such as ResearchGate, Labs Explorer, Academia, or Mendeley. While Twitter seems to be a more accepted platform, newer platforms such as TikTok can further contribute to this reluctance. This may affect junior scientists particularly. We are at the beginning of our journeys and an online presence can open you up to criticism and judgement from supervisors, colleagues, and the public. Anything you post can be brought up for questioning in interviews, conference talks, or regular conversations. If one is not careful about what they post and how they engage with social media, it can be a disadvantage to your career. Additionally, responsible and frequent conduct on social media is time-consuming and content creation can take away from the time that could be spent conducting research. 
In conclusion, establishing yourself as a science influencer can have a great positive impact, by bringing down barriers to the dissemination of scientific information and fostering a culture of open science communication. However, this positive impact can come at personal costs. We encourage everyone to be responsible for making the best possible use of the tools available to them and promote their research interests and extend the benefits of science to the general public. 

What are your thoughts on using social media to promote academic work? We would love to hear from you! You can email us at