Writing for Glasgow City of Science, Paula Sweeten, PhD Student & Social Media Strategist tells us why and how The Centre for Cell Engineering decided to embrace social media platforms to take the impact of their work in the lab to the outside world.

The Centre for Cell Engineering (CCE) at the University of Glasgow was founded in 1997 when Professor Adam Curtis, an enthusiastic and eternally-curious cell biologist, joined forces with Professor Chris Wilkinson who was the James Watt Chair of Electronic Engineering at the university at that time. From initial work simply monitoring the response of cells when cultured on microfabricated materials, the projects at the Centre for Cell Engineering have diversified and grown in ways similar to the centre itself – now primarily composed of 3 Principal Investigators (PIs), 7 post-doctoral researchers, 8 PhD students and qualified doctors studying towards MDs and PhDs, the projects span many areas of cell biology from the use of nanokicking in cancer research to nerve cell regeneration and the development of dynamic substrates for stem cell control. However, despite being one of the most well-established laboratories at the University of Glasgow, a trip last summer to the Tissue and Cell Engineering Society (TCES) conference in Southampton sparked some new ideas off in the heads of some of my colleagues and me. However, this was not an idea of something to do with cells or materials. Rather, we had realised we were missing something important – a social media platform allowing us to communicate and share ideas with the world outside the lab. And so, a new collaborative piece of work, forming a CCE social media platform, began between postdoc Dr. Aviral Vatsa and a team of PhD students.

Undoubtedly, social media is now the main way to communicate with a broad range of people, in that it allows communication with everyone based in the lab; current collaborators and those interested in collaborating in the future; industry; the general public; the university communications office; the world in general. However, starting a social media platform is not an easy task at the best of times, particularly not when you are in the middle of your research. Thus, despite being excited and motivated to start a platform, the initial meetings did seem daunting. Deciding which forms of social media to communicate through is tough, as is deciding on an audience and delegating time-consuming work. Yet, after only six months, we have found ourselves going from nothing to having a successful website with staff profiles, a newsfeed and blog articles on a range of subjects from celebrating achievements in science to discussing ideas relevant to a scientific career such as the academia/industry dilemma and gender equality; a facebook page with over 200 likes allowing the sharing of blog articles and events; a twitter with over 400 tweets and a growing number of followers; a youtube channel where videos on lab techniques are shared and an Instagram where lab event photos can be shared. Overall, we feel we have been successful so far as we have received a host of compliments on our work from the university and our collaborators, and we have been told by PhD applicants that the website and our communication makes us stand out when compared to other laboratories and has added a modern edge to the centre. However, our work is far from done and we aim to continue to publish weekly blog articles, gather followers and communicate effectively with the diverse world of people interested in science.

I recently met with a friend involved in engineering at another Glasgow university who has taken an interest in harnessing the power of social media for effective communication, and he asked me for advice in developing a platform and deciding on an audience. The truth is, every social media platform has its good points and bad points, and I truly believe use of all available platforms is worth it given there’s a strong enough group of contributors. One thing I would say that is vital is a group with enough people willing to contribute. I have met with many social media workers recently, and it is important to acknowledge that starting a social media platform is a task too great for one person to take on while studying towards a PhD. Social media is a full time job on its own, and so the workload really needs to be effectively distributed if it is not your sole priority in the workplace. It’s also important to realise that everyone has a different idea about how social media should be effectively used – many people believe that you should have one focussed audience. However, I can’t help but wonder where the fun is in that. The thing that drives and motivates us in science is curiosity, interest and passion. And so, in the opinion of our social media team, we want to communicate with as broad an audience as possible, allowing us to share that passion, discuss ideas and interact with the dynamic world around us. After all, spending hours on end alone on a microscope builds up a dense reserve of ideas and thoughts we are all keen to let out!

To find out more, please visit our website, or get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!

Our team is composed of Dr. Mathis Rheile, Dr. Aviral Vatsa, Dr. Suzanne Thomson, Hilary Anderson, Natasha Lewis, Hannah Donnelly and me, Paula Sweeten.

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