Sci-Comm Stories - TeaTime Science

Hi everyone! 

As well as using this blog to showcase our events, I thought it’d be useful to highlight what scientists in Norwich are doing to make their research accessible and interesting for wider audiences. This week I’ve been speaking to Amy Easey and Mike Norman, both Publicity Officers at BSA Norwich, about some of the extra science communication and outreach they do through the TeaTime Science social media accounts. 

Q: When did you start TeaTime Science and why?

We started TeaTime Science 2 years ago as a Twitter and Instagram account (@TeaTimeSci on both!). It was born out of our frustration with how many people never get to know what science really is. We both come from quite rural towns (Littleport and Lowestoft) and neither of our families are academic or have much interest in science. We really wanted to find a way to help people from those backgrounds know more about what we do and how science impacts everyone’s lives. We were both busy working in the lab full time doing research as part of our PhDs so we wanted to find something that was manageable but could reach lots of people. Social media seemed like the perfect solution! 

Neither of us wanted to force science on our followers using our personal accounts, so we thought the best way would be to make a separate platform that we could grow and would allow people to follow if they found it interesting. We also thought it was important that it didn't just focus on us as people, so we decided an ‘anonymous’ account would let us cover a wide range of topics and use feedback to improve our content without it feeling too personal or subjective. We decided to have both a Twitter and an Instagram account because some science is best communicated visually, and there are some beautiful things we see in lab every day which are often taken for granted and would never be seen by people who don't work in research. Instagram also seems better for people to dip in and out of whilst on Twitter you can have some great discussions!

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using social media for science communication?

Using social media is really easy once you get the hang of some of the tools available (massively recommend TweetDeck!). You can access it on the go and pretty much have a ‘real time’ feed of your thoughts and the science you come across. Part of the appeal of starting TeaTimeSci was to give people an insight into life in science so we didn’t ever want it to feel forced or like we had to change our lives to fit it in (double-teaming the running of the platform also helped in this respect!).

Social media is really great for reaching lots of people from all walks of life and there’s no barrier stopping people getting involved or interacting with us. Sometimes it’s frustrating not being able to have face-to-face conversations to explain things in detail but equally the bite-size nature of social media makes you focus on being clear about what you’re saying! Also, there’s no set way of using social media so we can be really flexible with how we use it. For us, that’s really important because science communication is all about finding something you like and communicating it in a way you like! That way we’re always motivated to keep doing what we’re doing!

Q: Have any other opportunities arisen from your use of social media?

The social media presence of TeaTime Science has worked as an excellent launch pad for lots of different projects we’ve been involved with. Initially, it was a great way to show that we were interested in science communication and led to us being approached about helping at the Microbiology Society’s Antibiotics Unearthed event at Thetford Forest. This was a great opportunity to get the public involved in a citizen science project with people hunting for new antibiotics in the soil and learning about antimicrobial resistance. We’ve also gotten to know some amazing science communicators through social media who we’ve learned a lot from - and we’ve collaborated with some of them on other blogs such as An Anxious Scientist (@ananxiousscientist on Twitter) to let people know about the science communication we do. It’s also quite a surreal experience to be at a scientific conference and meet people who have heard of TeaTimeSci before knowing who we are! It's always a great talking point though and makes it easier to start chatting to people about our work.

Q: What are your plans for the future with Teatime Science?

We’re hoping to keep the platform going as we both come to the end of our PhDs and move onto new jobs. It’s important to us to keep showing people what life is like working in science because PhD-life is only a small part of it!

We’re hoping to start expanding and being more creative with our content as we move away from some of our older features. We might not have a '#FailFriday' each week when we’re no longer working in lab but we’re looking to replace it with a blog discussing the science behind popular video games and videos in a simple way!

Q: In general, why do you think science communication and outreach are important?

Science communication is really important because science impacts everyone’s lives. Not only are taxpayers ultimately funding a lot of research (and should therefore know what their money is being spent on), science also leads to new innovations. Technological advancements come from science and this progression is only getting faster. The new tech extends to new medical treatments too, so it's important that people understand the science behind them so know what would be happening to them if and when they require those treatments, for example. On the other side of things, scientists get to experience and see so many things on a daily basis that are fascinating and amazing so it’s only right to give everyone the opportunity to enjoy them too!

Thanks Amy and Mike! :)

As always, if you have any thoughts or feedback regarding events, social media activity and blog posts from BSA Norwich then we'd love to hear from you! Also, please get in contact if you'd like to volunteer. :)