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The 3 Ways Scientists Are Ruining Their Careers on Twitter

Updated: Jun 25

A woman stands in public staring at her cell phone.
Is Twitter helping or hurting your science career?

As a communications consultant specialized in helping scientists share their work with the public, I'm blown away by the great minds I serve. It's truly a privilege. That said, I often run into the 3 ways scientists ruin their careers on Twitter. Twitter can help scientists elevate their careers and work, but without the guidance of a communications specialist, many seem to fall into unhealthy patterns that risk destroying their reputations or even their careers.

Here are three of the tips I share with clients to help them avoid Twitter disasters.

Tip #1 - Don't respond to criticism

Scientists enjoy learning, and love to share what they know. It's fine to use Twitter for this. But debating people - any people - on Twitter instantly harms a scientist's credibility. The old adage, "It doesn't matter what you say, it matters how you say it," is true.

It doesn't matter what a scientist says in a Twitter argument, and it doesn't matter with whom they're arguing. That a scientist chooses to engage in a public brawl on Twitter comes off as thin-skinned, egotistical, unstable and ridiculous. It's human nature to want to defend yourself. But Twitter is not the best place to do it. It's not even a sort-of-okay place to do it. It's the worst place to do it. Don't do it. Please. Most of your followers are unaware of the criticism until you respond to it, anyway. Let it go.

Twitter was deliberately designed to addict people by making them angry. No one has ever used Twitter and felt better afterwards. Angry people are scared people, and scared people can be convinced to do almost anything. It's the same strategy used in military indoctrination and by Fox News. Don't fall for it. Ignore your critics on Twitter. All of them. If they're important enough in your field to merit a conversation with you, then call them and have a private conversation.

When you feel the urge to hit back, put the phone down. Take a walk. Take a bath. Listen to music. Pet your dog or cat. Work on a puzzle. Make a smoothie. Let the rage pass. If you can't resist the impulse, you're addicted and need help to stop. Hire someone else to manage your social media for you.

It is possible to use Twitter to enhance your visibility as a scientist. Eric Topol does a fine job of this, by posting research he finds interesting, as well as op-eds or interviews he himself has written or given. What you will never see Eric Topol do is defend himself on Twitter. This makes him look more, not less, trustworthy.

For scientists on Twitter, the most powerful response to critics is no response at all.

Tip #2 - Don't subtweet

Subtweeting is when you post an original tweet that is, in reality, a reaction to someone else's tweet. It's a way of arguing with someone online, again, but passive-aggressive and even more pathetic.

Take everything I said in Tip #1, and amplify it tenfold. That's what subtweeting people will do for you as a scientist.

Don't subtweet. Ignore. Put the phone down. Go outside. Build a birdfeeder. Feed some birds. Real birds. Not Elon's angry blue ego-bird.

Tip #3 - Connect with people in real life

Twitter capitalizes on loneliness, and no one is lonelier than a scientist during a pandemic that many people wrongly believe is over, during a time of unprecedented mistrust of science. It is tempting to flop onto the sofa and scroll like a junkie after drips of dopamine. But it won't help. Science, in fact, shows us that Twitter makes people sadder. Twitter knows this. They like you sad, because the sadder you are, the more you use Twitter.

Want to learn more?

I've put together an information-packed hourlong workshop, Twitter for Scientists! Learn how to manage your Twitter presence so that it helps you, your career and your life, rather than harming them. Registration is limited. Sign up now!

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