#FEMSmicroBlog: Social media in times of social distancing (for microbiologists)


Scientists are increasingly active online and on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic. As lab rats not used to work in the strange surroundings of our home, many struggle with this new situation. Social media are a great way to connect with people, stay up to date with research, learn new skills, or just make the situation a bit more bearable, says the author of this blog – and brings inspiring (and sometimes funny) examples for the microbiology community. #QuarantineDiary

House arrest, lockdown, social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine. Name it as you want, but it surely is a new way of living for many of us.

Many people’s work brains are switched on by certain triggers. My trigger – and I doubt I am alone with this – is the lab noise in the morning; the calming and rhythmic noise of the shaker, the cooling sound of the thermoblock or the beeping of whichever machine is nearby.

Now, this has stopped. We are supposed to work in a strange and calm environment. Apologies to all parents our there, that have the constant nagging voices of their kiddos instead.

But I live on my own. So being alone in self-isolation means no voices nearby (do those in my head count?), no boss coming into the lab asking you for a reference for that one paper, no PCR machines or electric devices beeping that your samples have finished…

This is a completely new surrounding for me. Sure, I had phases when I spent a lot of time on my own working (not the best memories writing that thesis…!), but usually I am pretty social. So, doing team sports, language exchange meetings or just drinks and tapas with friends are important constants in my life.

And now, this? Like many people in the same situation, to fill some empty hours in my day I turned to social media. I mean it is supposed to be social, and keep us all connected.

I found that many scientists around the world are now connecting on social media or figure out how to use Twitter, schedule online meetings or share data.

While many of us now have to figure out how to work from home, there are people out there that do that every day. And luckily, some of these people decided to share some great tips about how they set up their environment to efficiently work from home.

And while figuring out how your teleconference software of choice works you might as well tick off your bingo boxes using this light-hearted chart:

Are you now already versed with online conferencing? No problem! There is even a microbiology bingo out there for you…

Any science-related activity that can be done on the computer can now be learned in online courses at home. For example, the youtube series ‘Lockdown Learning Bioinformatics-along’ offer online courses to develop your bioinformatics skills and I have seen lengthy threads on Twitter describing various strategies to code with R.

I also found many people now taking the time to grow their science communication activities. For example, I came across this PhD researcher on Twitter that just started a YouTube channel called “The Diary of a Coronavirologist” to explain the biology behind SARS-CoV-2. He is doing a great job in clarifying the reasoning behind social distancing and flattening the curve and I highly recommend following his channel.

I myself was pretty relieved that I had already scheduled a week of curating the German science communication Twitter account of RealScientists (in German). This gave me a great opportunity, not only to distract myself from the crisis, but also to explain some fascinating facts and concepts about bacteria and draw comparisons between viruses and bacteria.

I also decided to compile a list of fascinating facts about bacteria both from my own and the community’s perspective. Always with the goal of changing people’s ideas about bacteria, I called this the list of bacterial #superpowers and I am currently posting one short description each day.

And who knows, if people get excited about a certain fact, I will probably explain more in one of the next blog posts.

While social distancing is meant to keep us all physically apart (shouldn’t it be rather called physical distancing?) I feel social media is helping us right now to grow together and make the best of this serious situation.

Science continues and will hopefully emerge as strong as ever after this crisis. And empty labs might even represent a new opportunity. For instance, the Sustainable Process Technologies (SPT) Research Group (@UoNSPT) transformed their empty rooms into a piece of science communication with a virtual Easter Egg Hunt!

Take care of yourself, stay healthy and connected.

Here are some resources for anyone who wants to stay up to date with research, professional development or need a bit of a distraction from their own science:

  • Education, wherever we are’ is a collection of articles on Professional Development on FEMS Microbiology Letters, and a great resource for microbiology educators and scientists practising social isolation in light of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • If you want to get some illustration skills for your paper, grant, or science communication projects, BioRender offers webinars over the next weeks to learn basics of this great illustration program
  • IAmScicomm is a Twitter account that is open to be curated by scientists. If you would like to talk about your science while picking up new skills, this is the perfect opportunity
  • Science Talk and Lifeology are platforms for anyone interested in science communication. Both communities attempt to connect scientists with science communicators (Science Talk) or with artists (Lifeology) to reach the widest audience. Recently, Science Talk even run their first virtual conference which was attended by 250 people

About the author of this blog

Sarah Wettstadt is a postdoc working on Pseudomonas in the group of Marian Llamas at the Estación Experimental del Zaidín in Granada (Spain). Having written her PhD thesis with Alain Filloux at the Imperial College in London (UK), she is interested in bacterial physiology, adaptation to the environment and inter-bacterial interactions. Because she believes science communication is an important field in the modern science world, she is active as a social media editor for FEMS Microbiology Letters and writes her own blog explaining the fascinating world of bacteria to laypeople.

About this blog section

In #QuarantineDiary for the #FEMSmicroBlog, microbiologists tell about the challenges and opportunities from a personal and professional (development) perspective during the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. These can range from a list of useful resources to keep learning, to how researchers can offer their help. If you have a story to tell, get in touch with us.

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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