As the trees shed their leaves and animals go into hibernation, so do we, sometimes. There is a natural progression in life that we cannot avoid, but must embrace if we wish to see positive changes. I must admit I am bound by these thoughts as the year progresses and the final submission of my thesis draws nearer. It is a stage of much anxiety and anticipation, which can oftentimes be confusing. Metaphorically speaking, that just about sums up the life of a postgraduate, particularly mine.

Four season of the year

This year marks the final year of my studies. As most postgraduates know, this means you have to finish doing all experimental work (which took lots of energy and activity – rather like summer!) and start compiling the data into an understandable format. The smell of coffee, fuzziness of warm blankets and a jersey, all linger in my mind at the thought of this. Winter is indeed coming. Loose ends need tying up. Lab equipment must be put to rest. “Doing” is done, and now I have to solidify the findings! That mammoth task can give anyone the heebie-jeebies!! And I’m tempted to curl up and just stay in a warm little ball…

But after months of trial and error, you will hopefully come out strong and triumphant, having run the race, closer to the answers than you were at first. As for me, more than two years have past; what’s done, is done. It is time to pick myself up, do some introspection and turn all my energies into displaying the guidance I’ve received. In the end, all the work I’ve invested will become an actual physical something that makes a contribution to science and possibly change peoples lives. That thought makes the coldness of my winter start to thaw away.

So, I hope to not just freeze mentally or physically in the months ahead, but keep my eye on the prize. Because winter will also lead to the beginning of a new season, the air filled with freshness, newness and anticipation for beautiful things. In the end, I look forward to the promise of bright flowers, green trees and yes, to graduating. Until then we have to acclimatize ourselves with the changes in season, for these too bring with them gifts for those that know how to seize the day!

Twitter and conferences: things to consider

As the winter FINALLY loosens its grip in the Northern hemisphere (sorry for you, poor Southerners…), I welcome the warm weather and start planning my conference season. Attending conferences is an integral part of the graduate school experience, and with this honour comes great responsibility. As with many aspects of modern living, the use of social media apps like Twitter at conferences has increased dramatically in the past few years and these have provided the chance to interact more frequently with other scientists. As an avid Twitter user, I have found it very useful to stay connected and informed about talks I couldn’t attend. But – and this is a big one – the use of Twitter at conferences is not without its controversy. Read here and here on discussions that highlight the concerns with live-tweeting at a conference. Another Twitter user (@online_academic) recently published a book on this very topic, “Twitter for Academics”. Here, I will try illustrating how I use Twitter at conferences and “Twitter-etiquette”[1].

Firstly, most conferences (if not all) will have a conference hashtag that twitter users use to discuss the conference; for instance, a recent conference I attended had the hashtag #ISME16. It’s important to always use this hashtag in all your conference tweets – this ensures that people following conference updates can see your comments/tweets.

More importantly, I find it useful to think before you tweet. In most cases, the work being presented at the conference is new and not yet published. I try to keep that in mind, and make the question/comments short (well, you only have 140 characters :-)). Besides, as scientists we are accustomed to writing concise sentences ;-). Clear and concise questions/comments always promote discussion and re-tweets (more re-tweets= a wider audience). Such comments tend to be effective, instead of simply stating obvious statements that do not engage your audience.


Where possible I try to make sure I tag the speaker or related people in the tweet. In an earlier conference (Society of Nematologist), I made such a comment and was well received.


Lastly, I use it to share great news that may be announced at the conference – for instance when South Africa won the bid to how ISME in 2020.


Now, dear reader, I do not want to leave you with one side of this story. There is a dark side to using Twitter at conferences. Personally, I tend to lose interest when people are tweeting every slide and giving a blow-by-blow account of the presentation instead of summarising the talk in a single tweet. AIso, I prefer not to tweet pictures of people looking sad/bored and more importantly I try to tweet pictures that promote equality/diversity ( I know most conference still have a disproportional male:female ratio of speakers) #Feminism #WomenofScience #WomenScienceDay. A recent blog post by renowned communication specialist of UNDP Mehmet Erdogan (@mehmeterdoganIV) explores these ideas further — it’s worth a read.

So, you see dear reader, we ought not be afraid to engage and use social media at conferences.I hope this blog encourages you to engage more and not be intimidated by using social media at conferences. It was through Twitter that I was able meet some of my collaborators. Remember that Twitter is just a tool we use to interact with other scientists, but it cannot replace face-to-face interactions. So, next time you are at a conference think of a person you might want to meet and check if they are on Twitter. Use this platform and ask yourself how could I use it to meet people in same field? Have I met or identified anyone who could be a possible collaborator? Once all these questions have been answered, the next step is how to approach/form collaboration with people you meet – but I will leave that for another blog.

met at conference (1)

P.S…In this picture, I met my science hero (Charles Greer of McGill Univerity) at a recent conference ( I had been following his updates on Twitter) and Angel Valverde (University of Pretoria) brilliantly photo-bombing us 🙂



[1] Personal accounts on what worked and what did not.