#FEMSmicroBlog: How to make science go viral during a pandemic


A new perspective article in FEMS Microbes looks at how social media has become a lot more important since the pandemic started. The authors provide tips on how to better market research outputs from a trainee viewpoint. We talked with Kait Al and Jeremy Burton in a #BehindThePaper interview for the #FEMSmicroBlog about how scientists can harness social media for science communication purposes; and why they chose the Transparent Peer Review option.


What do you want your peers to take away from your article? What is the key message?

Classical forms of scientific communication such as article writing, poster preparation, and oral presentations are emphasized and taught to trainees at the very beginning of their research career. However, the delivery of scientific communication in today’s day and age is rapidly evolving, with social media becoming an increasingly utilized tool in the process. To protect accurate scientific communication to the masses, the expert scientists themselves need to become literate in disseminating their message through social media. The development of skills in this area should be fostered and encouraged for trainees from day one in order to thrive in this transforming landscape.


Which tips would you give a young scientist at this point to make the best of this pandemic in regard to their career?

While face-to-face networking at conferences has ceased and worldwide consumable shortages may limit your wet-lab productivity, this pandemic has brought about so many other unique opportunities for young scientists to seize. While conferences operate remotely with vastly decreased attendance and accompanying travel costs, attend as many as you possibly can. To make the most of the digital networking, be sure to actively participate, tweet along with the talks, and reach out to your favourite speakers.

When working from home, capitalize on this time to finally get your back-logged papers out. And when that’s done, brush up on your CV-boosting skills. Have you been wanting to learn to code? Refresh your knowledge on biostatistics? Now is the time, and there is a wealth of free online platforms to help you get there.


What are the benefits of social media platforms like Twitter in a global pandemic?

Whether your goal is to expand your professional network, share your own science, or keep up to date with other high-value science accounts, Twitter has become such a valuable tool in establishing a professional online presence. The common link to the scientific world through #AcademicTwitter is invaluable, and it breaks down boundaries often present in brick-and-mortar academic institutions.

Science-related word clouds in connection with the pandemic and how to make science go viral.
The workplace of a microbiologist during a global pandemic. From Al et al. in FEMS Microbes (read the full article here).


Which parts of the new normality about scholarly communication are worth keeping when the world crisis is over?

The accessibility of online platforms that were reinvented during the COVID-19 pandemic should remain a priority during the post-pandemic era. For academics, this may include maintaining online streaming of future in-person conferences and events or retaining online classes for university lecturers.

The pace of the scientific method was forced to accelerate during 2020, shedding light on the inefficiencies and inequities that had existed prior under “normal” circumstances. If the rapid exchange of ideas, publishing rates, and bureaucratic decision making was maintained, the post-covid era would be a time for extraordinary scientific advancement.


You decided to opt for the Transparent Peer Review route offered by FEMS Microbes. What motivated you to do so, and what are the benefits in your opinion?

Experienced authors are aware of the particular issues that could arise either by anonymous or transparent peer review processes when submitting manuscripts. Both have pros and cons. Ultimately, the function of peer-review is to determine if anything is fundamentally incorrect or whether improvements could be made to the manuscript. Constructive criticism will improve the overall quality of the manuscript and having a fresh set of eyes look over the work from an arm’s length is useful for the submitting authors.

We believe that if this process is transparent, then those undertaking the review of the manuscript will be more critically careful when considering the manuscript from a factual perspective, whereas, under an anonymous review there may be more subjective and opinionated bias. Additionally, we think that transparent peer-review may drive new networks to form, as constructive well-intentioned feedback may bring the offer of helpful resources, services and tools that the expert reviewer may have access to and may in fact drive collaboration connections to form post publication.


About the interviewees of this blog

Dr Kait Al and Dr Jeremny Burton

Dr. Kait Al is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Jeremy Burton’s lab and completed her undergraduate and graduate studies in Microbiology and Immunology at Western University (Canada). Her work has focusses on the human microbiome as it relates to urological conditions, including kidney stones, prostate cancer, and endourological devices. She has expertise in next-generation sequencing techniques, bioinformatics, and probiotics.

Dr. Jeremy Burton holds the Chair in Human Microbiome and Probiotics at the Lawson Health Research Institute in Ontario (Canada). He is an Associate Professor in the Division of Urology, Department of Surgery and the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Western University (Canada). After helping to develop Streptococcus salivarius based probiotics for upper-respiratory-tract applications from a University start-up, he returned to the Lawson Health Research Institute to continue working on the exciting area of translating microbial ecological research into real-world applications. His work focusses on the role of the microbiome and health modulation by probiotics, prebiotics, faecal microbiota transplant (FMT) and xenobiotic metabolism of ingested drugs relating to urology.

About this blog section

#BehindThePaper interviews on the #FEMSmicroBlog aim to bring the science closer to different audiences and to tell more about the scientific or personal journey to come to the results.

Do you want to be a guest contributor?
The #FEMSmicroBlog welcomes external bloggers, writers and SciComm enthusiasts. Get in touch if you want to share your idea for a blog entry with us!

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