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Scientists and social media: Can you tweet your way to impact?

By Priya Mistry, Editorial Assistant, The Physiological Society, @Pri_Mis

Twitter has over 313 million active monthly users and Facebook has over 1.71 billion. Research has shown that social media can increase the number of journal article downloads . So why do some academics and research scientists still avoid these platforms?

Social media has become a global forum allowing people to share ideas, make new connections, and create new research paths at an international level. Can using social media actually affect the impact of research? If so, how can we measure its effect?

As a scientist in your field, it’s in your best interest to share your work and other related topics in your field. So how exactly can social media help you?

What is social media?

Social media platforms come in all shapes and sizes. How do you know which ones are right for you and your target audience? The most popular platforms are Facebook and Twitter, however, there are many, many others covering different niche areas and demands.

Online networking tools specifically for scientists include ResearchGate, Academia.edu and Mendeley, and these have millions of users. Reddit, a social news and discussion website, is so popular with scientists that Nature and PLOS have collaborated with them, allowing editors and authors from the journal to engage with verified accounts or ‘flairs’. The ‘subreddit’ r/Science has over 13 million subscribers, suggesting a demand for a more informal platform of science discussion.

Why should I engage?

You’re an academic, a professor, a PhD student, a science professional and you’ve been getting on fine without social media. So why should you engage online?

To network with peers

The community feel of online networking keeps you in touch with the latest scientific research and allows you to discuss and debate new ideas and developments at an international level. ‘Hashtags’ are a type of label used on social networks to categorize posts. During conferences, tweeting and following the conference hashtag can help you keep up with highlights.

For Public Engagement

We should communicate science to the public as it allows them to make informed decisions – issues around global warming and vaccines are examples of where this communication is important. 79% of the British public said they trust scientists to tell the truth, in contrast to 25% who trust journalists. Scientists have a responsibility not only to communicate their own research, but also to represent the scientific community, and engage the public to help them understand and appreciate science. Social media is an effective way to reach out to the general public and have a direct impact on them.

For Self-Promotion

You have put your blood, sweat and tears into creating a research paper that has just been accepted. You want your paper to be easily found, read, and ultimately cited. You are the best person to promote your article; you know the most about your research and the significance of it.

ResearchGate and Academia.edu are excellent ways to share your research with other academics. Sharing your work on Twitter and Facebook will help further your discoverability. While academic networking profiles and LinkedIn are useful tools to use as a ‘digital CV’, you also need to think about your digital footprint. If you Googled yourself, what would you find?

According to a recent survey by recruitment company Careerbuilder, in addition to looking at a CV or cover letter, 60% of employers use social networking sites to research candidates and 41% say they are less likely to interview job candidates if they are unable to find information about them online. Social media activity can be part of your digital profile. Showcasing your work and knowledge in this way can help you with recruitment and self-promotion, not to mention that it’s free!

How do I start?

Here are a few steps to help you get started:

  • Start off small: Create a profile, look at hashtags and browse what’s already available. Twitter is a good place to start. It’s quick and easy to set up and you only need to think of 140 characters for each tweet.
  • Follow your interests: Once you’ve set up an account, ‘follow’ or ‘add’ (depending on the platform you use) other accounts. You can follow your peers, your role models, relevant companies or institutions, and us (shameless plug )!
  • Engage: Only engage on social media when you feel comfortable. Some may find this easier than others, but don’t be discouraged if you find that your profile is looking a little bare or taking a while to get attention. Practice makes perfect!
  • Post optimally and consistently: The lifespan of a tweet is about 18-24 minutes – this means that your tweet is ‘pushed down’ the feed and is less likely to be viewed after this time. You should try to post at optimum times (mornings, lunch time and after work) and post consistently if you would like a bigger following.
  • Download the apps: Having social media apps on your phone means access to your profile is at your fingertips. This will make it easier to post from wherever you are.
  • Be yourself: Don’t be afraid to show your personality; giving your account a personal touch and sharing your interests can help distinguish you from countless other social media accounts
  • Have fun!

Once you get the hang of it, social media can be useful and quite enjoyable. You’ll find yourself constantly checking your profiles in no time!

  • Be responsible: Remember to be mindful of what you post and share. Opinions and discussion are welcome on these platforms, but posting provocative photos, discriminatory comments or negative remarks about a co-worker can affect your career.

How can I measure success?

As a scientist, you are hard-wired to track, analyse and evaluate anything you do. Luckily, tracking posts online is easier than you think. Links created via Kudos (an author service to help improve the reach of articles) can be easily tracked and analysed so you can see who’s been clicking and sharing your posts. Many publishers, including Wiley, have integrated Altmetrics onto their research papers, which gives articles a score based on popularity and the rank of the media on which it has been shared. The score can also be used to check how well your paper is doing on social media and you can find trending research by looking at articles with high Altmetrics scores. Twitter and Facebook analytics are another easy way to track the number of views and clicks your posts have received.

According to a study from the Journal of Medical Internet Research, articles which were highly tweeted about were 11 times more likely to be highly cited than those with no tweets. A paper from PLOS ONE has also shown that social media posts on a research article increase the number of people who view or download the paper, proving that social media can help to increase reach. In contrast, a study in Scientometrics showed a weak association between the number of times an article is tweeted and the number of citations. While tweeting may not be the cause of citations, Twitter can help predict which articles will be successful and can give you an idea on how well your article will do.

Conclusion

In this day and age of the internet, it’s difficult to keep your research distinctive, especially with around 2.5 million articles being published a year. Why not give your paper, and yourself, a boost by engaging online. Citations are not always the end goal and you can extend your impact beyond the papers you’ve published. Knowledge is only useful if shared!

Originally published in Physiology News 106, 32-34

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Stress in modern Britain: An update to the seminal 50 year old survey

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By Henry Lovett, Policy & Public Affairs Officer, The Physiological Society

In the 21st century, stress is all-pervasive. The Physiological Society has conducted a national survey in the vein of the seminal work of Holmes and Rahe in 1967[1] to ascertain how different stressful events, both positive and negative, affect people. In partnership with polling firm YouGov,[2] we surveyed over 2000 British adults and asked them to rate how stressful they find (or imagine they would find) 18 different life events. The results suggest some enlightening conclusions.

The overall ordering of the stressor events is given here, along with an average score (out of ten points) assigned to each one.

Rank Event Stress /10
1 Death of spouse/relative/friend 9.43
2 Imprisonment 9.15
3 Flood/fire damaging your home 8.89
4 Being seriously ill 8.52
5 Being fired 8.47
6 Separation/divorce 8.47
7 Identity theft 8.16
8 Unexpected money problems 7.39
9 Starting a new job 6.54
10 Planning a wedding 6.51
11 Arrival of first child 6.06
12 Commute delays 5.94
13 Terrorist threats 5.84
14 Losing smartphone 5.79
15 Moving to bigger house 5.77
16 Brexit 4.23
17 Going on holiday 3.99
18 Promotion/success at work 3.78

Perhaps most interestingly, for every single event, the reported stress experienced by men was lower than that by women. The average difference was 0.56 points. The biggest difference was in the stress caused by the threat of terrorism, which was 1.25 points higher for women. The smallest difference was for the arrival of a first child – a life-changing event for either sex! Of course, we cannot tell from these figures if the women responding do experience greater stress, or are simply more willing to report it; an age-old problem of this type of research.

Overall regional differences were small, with the average stress level across Great Britain varying only by 0.28 points. The most stressed area was Scotland, while the least stressed was the South East of England. The East of England was notably upset by delays in their commutes, while Londoners were most sanguine about going on holiday.

The results for some events point towards stress levels increasing with age, most strongly for long-term problems such as illness or imprisonment. Exceptions to this trend were the loss of a smartphone, which fits with the added difficulties this would cause to highly-connected younger generations, and the arrival of a first child. This was rated highest by those 25-34, who are likely to be the group experiencing this most recently.

One interesting stressor was Brexit (with the given definition of “the process of leaving the European Union”). Though ranking low among all the stressors, Brexit had the greatest variety of responses given, shown by the highest standard deviation. Respondents aged 18-24 scored Brexit stress a point higher on average than those 55+. Those living in London and Scotland also scored Brexit a point higher on average than Wales and much of the rest of England. Most markedly, those respondents educated to higher degree level reported stress two points higher than people with only GCSEs or A-Levels, while undergraduate degree-holders were also more stressed, though more than a point lower than those with higher degrees. These trends correlate with the constituencies of the electorate most likely to vote Remain in the referendum, suggesting they are finding the Brexit process stressful while leavers are happier to let things play out.

Participants were also asked to fill in any other particularly stressful events which they felt the survey had missed out. The most common responses concerned driving: car breakdowns, suffering traffic, road rage, or being the passenger of a careless driver all featured. Another set of common response described caring responsibilities for aged, ill or disabled people.

Finally, to the person who responded: “Trying to enter an amateur radio contest when the ionospheric conditions are poor due to a coronal mass ejection, coupled with a neighbour’s plasma TV causing major interference on the 1.8 to 7 MHz bands.” All we can say is, we feel your pain.

[1] T Holmes and R Rahe, Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Vol. 11, pp. 213 to 218. Pergamon Press. 1967

[2] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2078 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd – 28th December 2016.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

In 2017, we are ‘Making Sense of Stress’ #YearOfStress

By Julia Turan, Communications Manager, The Physiological Society

‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ -Viktor Frankl

On the third day of 2017, several hundred people gathered on a panoramic hill in Budapest to let out a collective scream. The event’s Facebook page cited how awful 2016 was, and that people had loads of pent up stress (1).

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By now, everyone has shared his or her two cents about how to approach the stressful 2017 ahead. Just a few weeks ago, The Lancet reported a possible physiological mechanism for linking emotional stress to increased risk of heart disease.

Here at The Physiological Society, we are all about studying normal function or disease in living systems. Living systems can be human or animal. While we toss around the word stress, coined only around 50 years ago by Hans Selye, on the daily, there isn’t a definition that everyone agrees on.

Our stress response system is ubiquitous in the body, there are individual differences, responsiveness to stress changes over time, and the amount of influence of genes vs. environment is unclear.

This is why we are devoting all of 2017 to ‘Making Sense of Stress.’ Check here regularly for our growing list of activities across all areas of our work: events, outreach, education, policy, communications, and our journals. Contact us here to get involved.

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(1) Science hasn’t actually shown yelling to be helpful for stress reduction, contrary to the bold claims of primal scream therapy in the 60s and 70s.

Making sense of stress in the wild

By Kimberley Bennett, Abertay University

Imagine leaning forward over the edge of a precipice. Lurching back to safety, you picture the forest hundreds of metres below. Is your heart racing? Are your palms sweating? Our body’s stress response to an ever-changing environment enables us to survive and flourish.

Physiologists play a crucial role in developing our understanding of the mechanisms involved. To highlight the exciting work that they do, our 2017 theme is ‘Making Sense of Stress’. Follow the conversation on Twitter using #YearOfStress.

Launching the theme will be Dr Kimberley Bennett’s talk, ‘Making sense of stress in the wild’, at the Association for Science Education’s (ASE’s) Annual Conference on 6 January 2017. Read a teaser to her talk below!

Coping with stress is a major issue in modern society, but it’s easy to forget that wildlife experiences stress too. Without enough water, plants wilt and die and whole crops fail; without the right habitat, a small population of rare animals dwindles and dies out, causing extinction of the species; a whole coral reef bleaches when the water temperature gets too high, causing catastrophe for the ecosystem, and massively increasing flooding risk for people living by the coast. We really need to pay attention to stress in the wild because the consequences can herald disaster.

Stress is the biological response to a major challenge, whether it’s at the whole organism or cell level. A gazelle in the Serengeti chased by a lion experiences the same stress responses that we do – a surge of adrenaline and cortisol that cause increased heart rate and blood pressure and a release of glucose. These changes make sure there is enough fuel and oxygen to cope with increased demand at the tissue and cell levels. Sudden change or mismatch in the supply of oxygen and fuel leads to increased production of reactive molecules called ‘free radicals’ that can damage cells. If the temperature gets too hot too fast or if the acidity of the cell changes too much, proteins (the molecules that catalyse reactions, transport substances and provide structure) can fall apart or unravel. So cells have to increase their defence mechanisms too. Cellular defences include antioxidants that mop up the free radicals, and heat shock proteins, which refold damaged proteins and stop them forming a sticky mess inside the cell.

The old adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is often true: short term ‘good stress’ builds up these defences and makes organisms better able to deal with stress later on. However, sometimes defences can be overwhelmed or can’t be maintained for long periods. The organism then experiences the same sorts of problems as people under chronic stress: lower immunity, altered metabolism, anxiety and tissue damage (like ulcers). In wildlife, this can have major consequences for breeding success or even survival. By affecting whether organisms survive and thrive, stress dictates which individuals contribute to the next generation. Stress shapes population dynamics, lifestyle and adaptations, and is therefore a powerful agent of natural selection.

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I work on seals, top marine predators that are used to stress as a normal part of their existence. Their individual and population level health is an indicator of ecosystem health. Seals are air breathing mammals that feed underwater, but need to come to the surface to breathe, and to come ashore to rest, breed and moult. Diving on a single breath hold means they need to conserve oxygen; to do this, blood flow is restricted mostly to the heart and brain, so that other tissues may experience free radical production while oxygen levels are low. On land, seals need to fast, often while they are doing energy-demanding activities i.e. shedding and replacing hair, producing milk, defending pups or territory, or undergoing rapid development. Injury and infection can occur from skirmishes or trampling. Seals may have to reduce their defences to deal with all these demands on their energy when food is not available. In addition to their ‘lifestyle stressors’, seals face stress from competition for access to fish, disturbance on haul out or displacement from foraging grounds as a result of human activity, and the accumulation of contaminants in their blubber.

We need to understand natural and man-made causes of stress in wild populations, distinguish good stress from bad stress, and understand how multiple stressors at the same time can create problems. That means we have to have effective tools to measure stress and its consequences in organisms that can’t tell us how they feel. But can we measure stress responses in wildlife? What do they mean in context? And can they help in managing stress in the wild?

I will address all these questions and more at the ASE’s Annual Conference on Friday 6 January 2017, as part of the annual Biology in the Real World (#BitRW) lecture series. Please drop by the Knight Building, LT 135, at the University of Reading, at 1.30pm to find out more!

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Researcher in the Spotlight June 2016

Lisa at Merton

Dr Lisa Heather PhD, is a Diabetes UK RD Lawrence Fellow in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford. Her research revolves around metabolism and energy generation in the heart.

Lisa will give The Physiological Society Bayliss-Starling Prize Lecture ‘Cardiac metabolism in disease: All fuels are equal, but some fuels are more equal than others’ at our main meeting P16 in Dublin, Sunday 31 July 9:00 am.

 

 

What is your research about?

I study energy metabolism in the heart. Metabolism explains how we extract energy from the fuels we eat: how we convert glucose and fatty acids into ATP via a series of chemical reactions within the cell. When this process goes wrong the cell can become starved of energy, and ATP dependent processes – such as contraction – will be impaired. Abnormal cardiac energy metabolism occurs in a large number of diseases, including diabetes and heart failure. Understanding why these metabolic abnormalities occur and whether changing metabolism is beneficial for cardiac function is my area of research.

How did you come to be working in this field and was this something you always wanted to do?

My undergraduate degree was in Medical Biochemistry at the University of Surrey, and I had an amazing lecturer, Dr Jack Salway, teaching metabolism. He made the subject exciting and relevant, and made me want to pursue it further to become a ‘die-hard metabolist’. I moved to Oxford in 2003 and joined the lab of Professor Kieran Clarke, studying the effects of disease on cardiac metabolism. Kieran was (and still is) an excellent mentor, providing support whenever I needed it, but equally allowing me freedom to explore my own directions and stand on my own two feet.

When I first started in the field of metabolism it wasn’t a particularly fashionable field – everyone was focused on genetics, and metabolism was viewed as a subject where all the questions had already been answered. Scientific fashions change, and in the last 10 years metabolism has had a huge renaissance, mainly driven by discoveries in the cancer field. It’s an exciting time to be working in this area, new collaborations are emerging between diverse fields that have realised metabolism is influencing or being influenced by their disease or cellular process. Suddenly, having a good understanding of the fundamentals of metabolism is a powerful tool.

I have never considered leaving the field of metabolism as it’s the area I love, and when I set up my own group in 2011 I decided it was the field of diabetes, the ultimate metabolic disease, that I wanted to specialise in.

Why is your work important?

Metabolism underpins all cellular processes. It provides ATP for all active processes to occur, it provides the building blocks and intermediates for diverse chemical reactions, and provides substrates for post-translational modifications. Changes in metabolism have been implicated in many diverse diseases of all organs in the body. As stated by Steven McKnight in Science in 2010 “One simple way of looking at things is to consider that 9 questions out of 10 could be solved without thinking about metabolism at all, but the 10th question is simply intractable…. if you are ignorant about the dynamics of metabolism”.

Do you think your work can make a difference?

I really hope so. Understanding how a disease develops and progresses is the first step to working out how to prevent or reverse it.

What does a typical day involve?

A typical day can involve any combination of lab work, discussing data with students, planning new studies, writing and rewriting papers, teaching undergrads, and meetings. Each day is different and that’s one of the things I really enjoy about being an academic.

What do you enjoy most in your job?

I love the ‘Aha!’ moments. When you have been busy trying to work out why something has changed or the mechanism involved, and suddenly everything fits together and makes sense. When you have discovered something, however small, that wasn’t known before. It reminds me of those “magic eye” pictures, when you stare at it long enough that the blurry 2D pattern finally turns into a beautiful 3D image. The “Aha” moments are the reward for all those times the experiments didn’t work.

 What do enjoy the least?

On a day to day basis, I really hate having to collect liquid nitrogen from our outside cylinder! It’s the worst job! I generally really love my job and feel grateful that I get to do this every day.

Tell us something about you that might surprise us…

I really really really like designer shoes. If only Manolo Blahnik could make mitochondria-inspired pumps!

What advice would you give to students/early career researchers?

Do what you love. Being a scientist is a tough career, so you have to love it to deal with the challenges, such as paper rejections and lack of job security. Have faith in your own abilities. Be nice to people and help people when you can, people are then more likely to come to your assistance when you need them. Smile :)!

Diversity at The Physiological Society – with a focus on our scientific events

As we have highlighted previously, The Physiological Society was one of the first signatories to the Science Council’s Declaration on Diversity. We welcomed this initiative and the recognition that there is room to improve the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in all areas of science – including at our own Society.

The Society has taken its commitment to this Declaration seriously.  Under the guidance of our Diversity Champions, we have made some significant improvements to our knowledge and practices – made possible by the engagement of staff, members and Trustees, and the support of the Science Council and its networks.

Our work began with surveys of the staff and membership.  With the results used in conjunction with retrospective analyses and benchmarking studies, we have made the following changes and improvements since 2015 (note the list is not exhaustive):

  • Unconscious Bias training available to all staff, Council and Committee members.
  • Unconscious Bias workshop for members at our main conference
  • Mandatory targets of 25 % and aspirational targets of 33% for female speakers in all symposia and Departmental Seminar Schemes
  • Early Career Networking events

Signing the Declaration has catalysed a review of The Society’s activities from a different perspective; whilst we didn’t previously consider ourselves to be exclusive in any way, we are now aware that others may have considered us so. To address this, we intend to review each of our specific activities for their level of ‘inclusivity’, and to promote positive actions through regular  updates to our website and via email to the membership when needed.

Ensuring access to our scientific events is a critically important Diversity, Equality and Inclusion consideration for us. Physically bringing together hundreds of people to progress the discipline of physiology is a challenging and complex task, but The Society is keen to enable everyone to attend. To a greater or lesser extent, every physiologist will have a different requirement to facilitate and enhance their engagement at a scientific meeting (such as Physiology 2016). Some steps that we have taken to ensure that you feel welcome and able to engage have been listed below:

  • Funding available for those with caring responsibilities (For more information and how to apply, please email events@physoc.org)
  • Free guest registration
  • Rooms for breastfeeding mothers
  • Child care facilities, where possible and practical
  • Early career networking events
  • Catering for specialist diets
  • Prayer facilities
  • Live streaming of key lectures, available free of charge

Barriers and obstacles can be diverse, and sometimes hidden, but we are keen to address these wherever possible. So, whilst we take every step to ensure attendance and engagement is possible, we always welcome feedback for improvements and allowances. Please contact events@physoc.org to discuss any specific needs that you might have.

 

 

 

Anti-doping: evolution or revolution?

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What is the best approach to tackle doping in sport? Should we improve our current detection and deterrence methods, or would a complete different approach be the best solution?

The event, held by Cycling Weekly and co-hosted with the University of Brighton, was inspired by two recent comment pieces published in CW; the first by sports ethics specialist Dr Paul Dimeo, who called for a revolution in anti-doping policy — a complete re-evaluation of what we mean by ‘cheating’.

In response, genetics expert Professor Yannis Pitsiladis countered that current anti-doping measures can succeed provided they evolve via improved testing and more severely punitive deterrents. Thus the debate was born — anti-doping: evolution or revolution?

You can catch up with the debate here.

We were delighted to have our Member Yannis Pitsiladis join our panel at Edinburgh Science Festival where he debated with sports psychologist Edward Coughlan about the relative importance of genetics and training in our event ‘Olympians: Born or built?’. The event, chaired by three time Paralympian Dan Gordon, was a huge success with the audience, continuing the debate online, and in the bar. The event was one of many stops in the Professor of Sport and Exercise Science public engagement appearance.