5 Young Researchers who have built strong online personal brands
Success secrets for maintaining a strong social profile for academics
“Not explaining science seems to be perverse. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world”
In 2015, the American Journal of Physics (AJP) published a paper that suggested that Christopher Nolan’s science fiction film Interstellar could be used in schools to help encourage students to learn about the theory of general relativity.1 I must confess, my own curiosity on topics like nanotechnology has grown watching science fiction shows like BBC’s Doctor Who or movies like The Martian, one of the few Hollywood blockbuster films that get a lot of the science right.
What these have in common is the way science is communicated—with certain humanness, an emotional connection that appeals to our inherent likelihood to listen, like, and engage with stories. The most successful science communicators embrace this opportunity to pull and persuade the scientific community as well as non-expert audiences.
Facts alone will not help engage an audience. Neuroscientists—Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik believe that,
“Science communication is an exceptionally intricate system, encompassing not just the content and format of the material being communicated, but also the individuals that serve as communicators, their diverse audiences, the communication channels used, and the political and social environments that encompass them.” 2
Ask celebrity researchers like the astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who, with 14.2 million followers on Twitter including the scientific community as well as non-scientists, is known to effortlessly combine pop culture and science without oversimplifying scientific content, but instead, making complex scientific topics more accessible and interesting.
Below, we’ve listed 5 science influencers, who’ve been at the top of their game, and are using several interesting techniques to creatively disseminate science, start a discourse on important topics, and encourage others to pursue careers in the sciences.
Dr. Samantha Yammine aka Science Sam
Science Sam is the poster girl for relaying information from the lab to your smartphone screen. What started off as live videos and images posted on Instagram while Samantha was pursuing her PhD in Stem Cell Biology at the University of Toronto, has now brought together “a community of people who love her unique style of socially conscious science storytelling.”3
Live Q&A sessions, short informational videos, highlights from press conferences, explainer posts filled with light-hearted emoticons, collaborations with other science communicators—Samantha covers a broad range of topics engaging audiences in multiple formats, practicing what’s written on her social networking profile bio “anything science, anywhere & everywhere”.
Of late, however, updates regarding COVID-19 have been her primary focus. With engagement rates as high as 24% on Instagram, more than 10 times the industry standard, and 49 times the standard on her COVID-19-related tweets 4, Samantha’s scientifically accurate updates and stories on the novel coronavirus in the form of shareable infotainment content like explainer videos, blogs, live streams, have caught a lot of steam on social media.
Samantha has a unique style of science communication—her goal is not to grow her own social media presence or build a fan base. Instead, her efforts focus on the best way to get people talking about important scientific matters. For instance, when Samantha wrote a guest blog for Signals, instead of just sharing a link to the article on Instagram, she summarized and made the entire topic more interesting for her Instagram followers.
Samantha’s passion for science communication and her clearly manifested success in it led her to establish Science Sam Media in 2019, enabling others to share science and engage with digital communities through brand collaboration, communication, and consultation services.
Dr. Martijn Peters
Dr. Martijn Peters is the Science & Weather Coordinator at DPG Media, Belgium. After his PhD, he was also the Science Communication Officer at the University of Hasselt, organizing scicomm events and workshops for coaching students and researchers and producing science content for online platforms.
Unlike most PhD students vying for a professorship or the “golden road to academia”, as he calls it, Martijn walked the road less traveled when he discovered a new passion for science communication and turned it into his profession.
Today, Martjin combines his love for science with his ability to reach out to a range of audiences by communicating complex facts and data using captivating and entertaining stories. His three favourite ways to communicate science are 1) getting on the stage and entertaining 2) through workshops and events, and 3) using his favourite social media tool—Instagram, to reach out to a very supportive #scicommunity. Martjin specializes in public speaking, video creation and the use of social networking sites like Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn for personal branding and expanding outreach. His advice: “Take your time! Think of a story, a narrative to tell. Be unique. DARE TO BE YOURSELF!”5
Daniel Toker (famously known as The Brain Scientist)
Daniel Toker is a neuroscientist at UCLA, who earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience at UC Berkeley, before which he also studied philosophy and neuroscience at Princeton University. Besides researching on large-scale neural information flow, and how it relates to different brain states, Daniel is also known to passionately communicate science to non-scientists through academic, non-academic, and television writing, educational videos, and regular engagement with his followers using on Twitter and Instagram.
A one-stop destination that Daniel uses to showcase his entire portfolio is https://thebrainscientist.com/ a simple, yet elegant WordPress website that includes categories for his blog, publications, as well as his social media accounts. Daniel is also a popular science Tik Toker, who uses the channel to create quick, captivating explainer videos about interesting topics related to the human brain with hashtags like #science #learnontiktok and #psychology to reach out to everyone interested in these topics.
Daniel believes that, “science belongs to everyone” which is the reason why he not only makes all his research and code freely accessible, but also extensively shares his knowledge and love for the most complex object in the universe—the brain, with his scientific and non-scientific audiences on social media.6
Diana Alsindy (or The Arabian Stargazer)
Originally from Baghdad, Diana Alsindy is a Propulsion Development Engineer in California who commonly goes by her alias @TheArabianStargazer. Much like other science communicators, Diana is also active on social networking sites like Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn; but what sets her apart is her bilingual Instagram page that promotes STEM to everyone around the world, especially the Arabic-speaking youth. In addition to her personal account on LinkedIn, Diana has a second LinkedIn brand page that consists of posts written in Arabic. 7
Her content on Instagram includes short videos, riddles, learning resources, animated video collaborations with artists, research publishing tips, advice to non-native English speakers, and Q&A sessions, which have received incredible engagement from the Arab and non-Arab community, and earned her 100,000+ followers in a single year!
Diana is also passionate about making education accessible around the world, and hosts “virtual classes” with schools that do not have access to engineering resources, where she uses fun and easy engineering concepts and props to explain science and space. With interactive science commentary and updates on her social media tailored for the Arabic-speaking community and translated for the rest of the world, Diana is a bilingual science communicator and a leader in digitizing science online who effectively employs an audience-first approach on social media.
Dr. Krishana Sankar
Dr. Krishana Sankar is an award-winning and published scientific researcher at the University of Toronto in the Faculty of Medicine, conducting research in which she combines engineering and biology for improved treatment of diabetes. Highly collaborative, Krishana is frequently requested as a speaker at panel discussions, webinars, conferences, and at other online forums to talk about her professional journey, her research, and the causes she supports, like women in STEM, which she also then shares on her social networking accounts.
Krishana uses social media to get the public involved in campaigns like the #WeAreStemSquad photo challenge or the famous #150mins exercise challenge for diabetes awareness where online viewers were challenged to get 150mins of exercise per week to maintain a healthy lifestyle, helping those with T1D and T2D with their diabetes management and encouraging others to prevent or delay its onset.
Krishana has also established an academic writing support community called GradWriteSlack on Slack and Twitter that has grown from a thesis writing group into a safe space for scholarly authors from all over the world to discuss topics like mental health, self-care, motivation, goal setting, and accountability, and which also gets featured in many writers’ theses acknowledgments. Initiatives like these have helped Krishana combine her expertise and interests to get the academic community closer and amplify science on social media.
It’s never too early or too late to start cultivating your personal brand—whether you’re a graduate, a postdoc, or a professor, you can start small (with a blog or a Twitter/LinkedIn account) and work incrementally towards creating a great online presence for yourself. Social media offers immense scope for creativity with various tools for engagement and supports different content formats: Instagram for attractive filters, polls and quizzes, Twitter for concise and quick updates, and Tik Tok for short, viral video content, helping you not only to promote your own work, but also to educate and inform using science, and to inspire the next generation of scientists.
Building your brand as a science influencer
- Identify a social media channel that works best for the content you create – Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.
- Engage your audience regularly using easy-to-understand and quick-to-read content like short videos, infographics, summaries, images with captions, etc.
- Guest blog for online publications, e-magazines, and other digital communities
- Create a personal website to improve your online visibility and showcase all your work
- Aggressively network to get invites to or to speak at conferences, lectures, TED Talks, etc.
- Write press releases for your most important research and key scientific papers
Which of these techniques will you apply to your science communication strategy? Let us know in the comments!
Visit https://www.impact.science/researcher/ to know how we, at Impact Science, combine our understanding and love for research, with our expert knowledge of media formats and platforms to deliver comprehensive marketing support for your science communication needs.