Addgene Executive director, Joanne Kamens, recently participated in a Reddit AMA (short for “Ask Me Anything”) on r/Science. You can see some of Joanne’s comments on the AMA process below, but we also wanted to share some thoughts on why we decided to do an AMA in the first place and give you some reasons why you should consider using Reddit to share your science. While Reddit isn’t for everyone, particularly if you’re more interested in selling a product than communicating your ideas with people or discussing science, it is a great way to establish yourself as a thought leader and have real conversations with other scientists.
I've Heard of Reddit, but, ummmm, What Is It?
Reddit is a volunteer-organized platform where users can participate in forum discussions about a wide variety of topics. Individual forums are hosted on subreddits (r/”topic”) which are essentially lists of forums on particular topics. Volunteer moderators set the rules for these forums and try to keep discussions on-topic and, at least sometimes, civil. r/Science in particular hosts a variety of conversations with people who work in many different scientific fields. They also host AMA forums where users can ask designated scientists anything about a particular topic.
Given Joanne’s expertise in science careers, women in STEM, work-life negotiation, and mentorship, we decided to have her participate in an AMA on these topics as our first foray into Reddit. Here are some reasons why:
1. Reddit has a large and active community of people interested in science. You can see some of the conversations going on within the community over at r/Science. Prior to the AMA, we had discussed the possibility of joining the conversation on Reddit, but it wasn’t until one of our blog writers posted his article (Developing Lab Management Software for Biology) on Reddit and got some substantial traffic that we thought it would be a good idea. After a bit of research, we realized that the r/Science AMA series was the best place for us. We’re definitely glad we did - you can see some of the stats from the AMA to the right - the Reddit community is active, engaged, and has great questions!
2. The r/Science subreddit is well moderated. One of our original worries about sharing science advice on Reddit was that we’d be dragged into unproductive conversations with internet trolls (urban dictionary for trolling: The art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off, usually via the internet, using dialogue). Luckily r/Science has a great team of moderators who facilitated scheduling, filtered out inflammatory questions, and even coached us on how to write our AMA submission to avoid rousing the trolls.
3. The AMA process was simple and well organized. You can check out the r/Science AMA Submission Guidelines here, but essentially we just needed to send a Google calendar invite over to the r/Science team with a description of our AMA and Joanne’s preferred time to start answering questions. r/Science has pretty strict rules about not being too sales-y in posts which falls in line with our general mission to share- as opposed to sell- science.
4. You can prepare answers beforehand. Joanne answered many questions in the AMA but, as you’ll learn below, even with many resources at her disposal, she was writing all day and straight on through her designated two hours for answering questions. She was able to do this because we could see the questions being posted as they were coming in (the AMA was posted at 8:00 am and Joanne didn’t have to start answering until 5 pm). The ability to see the questions first makes Reddit a great platform for those who aren’t so great at coming up with answers off the cuff, but like to be able to provide well thought out responses. I hung out with Joanne as she answered questions to provide moral support and to monitor user replies, but I can’t thank Joanne enough for all the work she put into this.
5. Reddit forums are evergreen! With all the great questions that were posted, Joanne’s AMA is now a great resource for any scientists to refer to if they have questions about science careers, women in STEM, work-life negotiation, and mentorship. We can direct people to the AMA in the future and link to it in future blog posts on these topics. Others can also continue the conversation by providing us with new questions and topics to write about in the future. The AMA was also cataloged for permanent reference by the Winnower.
The only small downside to the AMA from my end as an organizer/promoter was that I didn’t have the direct link to send people until the day of the AMA. This made it a little difficult to promote the AMA on social media beforehand (I just sent people over to r/Science in the initial promotion as a work around… there’s plenty of great stuff there anyway), but this is just a small quibble. If you are not too worried about selling yourself and really do just want to get information about yourself and your work out to other scientists who will find it useful, I highly recommend doing an AMA!
Before I turn it over to Joanne, I thought I’d share one of my favorite questions from the AMA - as you’ll see below, it pretty nicely displays her energetic, truthful and helpful style:
Joanne also provided much more detailed advice and answers to many Redditors as you'll see below.
Joanne's Thoughts on Participating in an AMA
As someone quite active on social media, I must say that doing a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” was appealing, but also scary. I do a lot of public speaking where I enjoy communicating face to face with the audience. I post on LinkedIn where profiles are not at all anonymous and the whole point is to meet actual people to build relationships. I also like Twitter because I can get a little opinionated and, while it can be anonymous, I can always block the trolls. It seemed like I would really have to open myself up to anything for a Reddit AMA and I didn’t know what to expect.
Fortunately, Reddit Science is heavily moderated. I started watching the questions and comments go up early in the day, and the moderators were on top of any comments that were at all trollish. Kudos to the moderators for keeping the quality high and thus enabling a productive discourse. They even advised me on how to alter my intro to reduce the number of potentially hostile posters (this advice included leaving out the term “implicit bias” which is apparently a troll trigger phrase these days).
Redditors Ask Serious Questions
What the moderators did not delete or suppress were the large number of scientist posters with serious career dilemmas. Some questions were about general advice on how to meet people, how to transition out of academia, and other science career topics. However, many of the posts were about toxic advisors, fruitless job searches, and even despair at having chosen an academic past. I hope I was able to provide some good resources to the basic questions and to provide a small bit of support (you are not alone!) for those going through the really tough times. Getting on a good science career path can be challenging these days, but for many of us, scientist is something we are, not something we do. We have to find a way to keep doing science to be happy.
The happy path is not the academic one for the majority of scientists and I am pleased to see graduate and postdoc programs beginning to support diverse career path development--but the science trainees still have to lead on their own development. Please see the AMA itself for all sorts of links and resources. The internet content for scientists in training is abundant, helpful, and sometimes excellent. Finally, as I said in the AMA, it’s incredibly important to find good mentors and incentivize good mentorship:
AMA Mechanics: Be Prepared!
The mechanics of doing the AMA were interesting. I started watching the questions and preparing answers early in the day. Although I didn’t start answering until 5pm, frankly, I was typing far before five. Fortunately I have a lot of links and content at hand in three useful places:
- I had posted content on many of the requested topics to the Addgene blog
- The blog has many other excellent posts on science career topics as well. Instead of rewriting or coming up with answers, I was able to include links to these posts and eBooks.
- I also have career advice in blogs associated with my LinkedIn profile.
There are a number of ways you can build up your own expertise and your resources for science communication opportunities like an AMA. One of the best things an early career scientist can do is to get started using LinkedIn early and brush up on best practices for LinkedIn networking. I was an early adopter of the LinkedIn blog format and it is a great way to get people to resources. I’ve said this before, but I also highly recommend taking every opportunity you get to speak publically about your work (you can find my tips for a perfect science talk here). Finally, my main content organizer is the amazing app Evernote. I have a paid account which gives me all the features I need to save, organize and easily find the resources that I come across on the internet or receive via email. The cool features are too many to describe here, but I have over 2,000 notes which Evernote even allows me to access on my phone. I use it for everything from receipts to blogs to recipes. I am not paid to say this, but I really don’t know what I would do without it. So get yourself a good content organizer and build your own professional development etc. database.
Still have questions? I am easy to reach and happy to help.
Additional Resources on the Addgene Blog:
- 10 Ways to Share Your Science
- 6 Tools & Tips: Online Social Networking for Scientists
- Sharing Your Lab Protocols: Using Apps to Save Time & Track Your Experiments
- See How We're Sharing Science through Video with the Addgene Youtube Channel
- Check Out Vidoes of Gender & Science from LabLinks