My twitter achievements

Tweeps, and in particular scientists, love discussing why they use twitter. They also usually discuss it… on twitter of course ! Trying to convince people already on twitter to use twitter is an interesting recursive situation, but people not on the network are very often dubious about the benefits. One of the question I got asked quite often is the following: can you give me some practical examples of things that happened because you were on twitter ?

Earlier this week, I was invited to a PhD viva at the college de France. The work (biomineralization of bone) was loosely related to my direct research interests (freezing and self-assembly) but brilliant, and I really enjoyed that day. The jury was eclectic and we had a good scientific discussion. While enjoying the post-viva champagne at the top of the roof -the view over Paris is truly outstanding.

Room with a few. Not bad.

Room with a few. Not bad.

I’ll take a position there any day, not even asking for an office, the terrace will be fine – I learned about the reason I was there on this day. When some of the work was published in Nature Materials last year, I tweeted about it, like I do when I see papers which I find of interest, and that tweet showed up on the altmetrics page of the paper. That’s how they realized I could be interested in participating to the jury.

That case was just one more example of things that happened to me through twitter. For the sake of giving simple, practical examples of similar situations, here is a quick summary of what I would call my twitter achievements:
– invited to a PhD viva.
– co-authored a review paper with authors I’ve never met in real life. The paper is on the verge of being accepted in a prestigious journal (fingers crossed).
– shared a few beers and nice meals in Paris with a few CNRS colleagues which I met on twitter.
wrote an op-ed in Le Monde (online edition) to discuss science communication in France and the use of social media.
wrote an article in Rue89 (a mainstream media in France, online only) on open access, following a comment I tweeted about one of their papers.

So there you go. Simple examples. Share yours in the comments.

We are not prepared at all for this

This post at Nature News caught my attention.

But when it comes to running our labs and managing people, we have to rely on our gut feelings, our limited know-how from mentoring a few students or our observations of our previous advisers. We can often feel ill-prepared.

Ill-prepared ? We are not prepared at all for this. As a young scientist trying to set up my own group, this is unfortunately not the only issue I am facing.

The number of science and PhD students is declining, and the blame is put on a few easy targets. Low salary. Long hours. Limited number of positions, if any. Etc. It is actually worse than this.

If, like me, you managed to secure a permanent or tenure position (congratulations), the most daunting is yet to come. Besides producing good science, a skill for which you have been trained, much more is awaiting you. You have to secure fundings through grants, hire people, manage your group, deal with administrative tasks (our favorite part of the job, isn’t it?), communicate, network locally and globally, make yourself a name in your domain, and so on. And for all these things, we received basically no training whatsoever.

As far as I am concerned, it could have been much worse. I’ve been lucky to do my postdoc in a big lab where communicating results with scientists or with the public is taken very seriously. I learned a lot from my former colleagues on how to design and give a talk, design figures, entrust people and think out of the box.

But for the rest, we are pretty much on our own. Learning as things are coming. You learn how to prepare proposal by having your first ones rejected. You learn to appreciate which people are independent and which ones need more support and attention.

Regarding funding and financial management, I have been lucky to receive a lot of support from the CNRS for my ERC grant, both for preparing the proposal (on the budget side) and for managing it now.
Spending rules are increasingly complex and vary with funding agencies and with time. It’s crazy indeed that we can secure rather big fundings, from institutions, agencies or university, and yet no one is formally trained early on on managing these funds. This should be dealt with when we graduate or shortly after. The situation is slowly changing, at least with the CNRS, but it seems to me that the change is driven more by financial considerations (ineligible money is lost money)or the perspective of being audited by funding agencies than increased efficiency of time and resources and better management of the labs.

If you like facing multiple challenges at once, science is the perfect job for you. I, for one, love it. It’s daunting and exciting.

Google Scholar Citations: vanity page and the social potential

The service is now open for anyone. I was very curious to see how it performed, so I created my profile straight away. To put it back into context, this is a direct competitor to paying -and expensive !- services like Scopus. My take in a nutshell: it’s good. And the potential is really good too.

What is the main idea behind the service, then? It’s basically a follow-up of Google Scholar, focusing not on the papers but on the authors. A typical Google’s mission of organising the world’s knowledge, and this time, we are taking about academic knowledge. There are two ways to consider Google Scholar Citations.

The first one is the vanity page point of view. Researcher like to show off their long list of papers, their h, j, k or z-impact factor and so on. Google Scholar Citations is really good at this. Setting up your profile is really fast and frictionless, and Google’s also really efficient at finding your papers, as far as I can tell. It then build a table of your documents with the number of citations, which you can order and so on. Neat, convenient and efficient, but not ground-breaking, apart that it is a free service. Beside, it is finding more citations than Scopus or MS Academic, which is good for your ego. My score went from 150 (MS Academic) and 1000 (Scopus) to almost 1200 (Google) citations. Part of the reason is that Google is also taking into account proceedings. I actually discovered that some of my proceedings were cited. Cool. They are also indexing open access journals, which are not in Scopus, for instance. You can export your articles list (BibTex, Endnote and Reference Manager format) if you wish.

The second one, more interesting I think, is the social aspect. When setting up your profile, you can provide keywords to describe what you do. Once you’ve done that, try clicking on one of these keywords. You are brought to a page with a list of researcher sharing the same keyword, sorted out by their number of citations. The potentialities here are really interesting. You can imagine all sort of use from this service, from finding the most relevant person in a field (without forgetting, of course, that citations are just a part of the story), to identifying expert in a domain, whom you might want to contact. Similar to what Mendeley is offering, except that everything is automated here and you get the citations count as a bonus. Social is maybe not the right word here, it’s more about finding the connexion than interacting, since there are not tools but your profile to exchange information’s.

I’ve just finished reading Michael Nilsen’s book, a must read if you are interested in open and networked science. One of the interesting idea that comes back in the book is the fact that you can get stuck on a very specific problem out of your competences. Spend days or weeks to solve it (if you can), while someone, somewhere, with this very expertise, could do it much faster and more efficiently. The problem is to get the connexion. Having a global database of people’s profile and expertise could considerably speed up this process, by making the connexions possible. And I think that Google Scholar Citations might have the potential to do exactly that. The only problem so far is that the number of keywords you can provide is limited, which makes it difficult to get into a more detailed description of your domain of expertise, but that’s easy to fix.

Overall, I’m really excited by the potentialities offered by this new service. Let’s see how it evolves. Now go and try it yourself. Oh, and it’s already integrated in ScienceCard, by the way, which provide alternative metrics.

“I guess I just view myself as a scientist”

In a world where we tend to all become over specialized to defend our own niche, it’s good to hear about people like Erez Lieberman Aiden.  This multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary thing that everybody’s talking about, do you know what I mean ? Well, this kind of people are actually doing it. Fascinating. Reminds me of Peter Lu, also at MIT.

His approach stands in stark contrast to the standard scientific career: find an area of interest and become increasingly knowledgeable about it. Instead of branching out from a central speciality, Aiden is interested in ‘interdisciplinary’ problems that cross the boundaries of different disciplines.

In a (scientific) world with such a wealth of information, the problem is indeed not to know everything, but know that the information that might make the difference for you exists. If you keep an eye on apparently disparate problem, you start seeing connexions which can actually make a great difference. And yet, there is very little place for people like this in our systems. Shame. More on his homepage.