Sophie Arthur is a science communicator interested in curiosity
Sophie recently finished up her PhD in molecular biology and is now a science communications officer for the London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS). There she does everything from writing the news, managing social media, and even video editing.
Sophie runs the blog Soph Talks Science, which won the 2018 UK Blog Awards.
In this chat, I ask about about her social media life. And about her plans for the blog now that it’s 3.
I’ve been a fan of Sophie Arthur and her Instagram @Soph.Talks.Science for some time now. Her posts are inspiring and memorable (like this one about sustainability and Christmas trees).
That’s why I was so excited she agreed to be the opening academic interview of my fall series.
Sophie’s top recommendations for social media are
- be yourself (authenticity matters)
- and, reach out to people to create community
Learn why she suggests these, and why Sophie loves Instagram.
It’s all here on this episode of The Social Academic.
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Jennifer: Alright. Today I am here with Sophie Arthur. I’m so excited. Hi Sophie, how are you?
Sophie: Hello, I’m good thank you.
Jennifer: That’s wonderful. So today we’re going to talk a little about social media and about your new role as a science communicator. So first off, would you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Sophie: Yeah! So I live here in the UK. I currently live in the South of England, although I am originally from Southwest Wales.
So, I have a molecular biology background. I just finished my PhD looking at stem-cell metabolism. I only graduated about 2 weeks ago now. So it’s all exciting.
Sophie: Thank you very much, it’s been a long time coming.
Jennifer: Absolutely, that’s so exciting.
Sophie: Um, yeah. That’s probably me in a nutshell really.
A new job as a science communications officer
Jennifer: (Laughs). So I’d love to hear about your current work. Because, you just said you graduated, but I also know you started a new role as a science communicator.
Sophie: Yeah, so I started my new job back in January. I now work for the London Institute of Medical Sciences, in London obviously.
Sophie: My role there is very varied. I write all the articles for the News section on the website. That could be just some general institute news about grants or awards my colleagues have got.
But primarily then about their research publications and any events we kind of do. So just generally updating the world about what’s going on there.
I look after their social media channels, I film, edit videos. We’re trying to launch a podcast. I do design stuff. So yeah, it’s really varied. But all really great.
Jennifer: Wow, that sounds really great. You’re doing lots of varied work. You must kind of keep you busy, but also keep you curious and entertained.
Sophie: Yeah, I’ve learned about so much cool research over the past couple of months already. And met so many different people who already have been working in science communication for so long. And I feel like I’ve learnt so so much in such a short space of time.
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Sophie’s favorite social media platform is Instagram
Jennifer: Oh, absolutely. That kind of discovery has got to be just world opening. I love that. So, I’m curious. What’s your favorite social media platform?
Sophie: Oooh. That’s a tough question. Because in my eyes it depends on what you want to get out of whatever you’re using it for.
Generally speaking, I would probably say Instagram because I love the photography aspect of it.
I know you can get that on other social media platforms, but it’s not quite the same.
Jennifer: No it’s not, I agree.
Sophie: Yeah, so the photography aspect. But also the sense of community. I get the warmth and supportiveness that I’ve got from meeting people through Instagram is so much more than any other social media channel I’ve tried.
Jennifer: That’s great to hear. Instagram is my favorite for community as well. In terms of kind of generating that on your own right and making your own community. Whereas Twitter, I feel is a great place to connect to other communities.
Sophie: Yes, definitely. And if you just want to put out a call for something, or you want some bit of information, or you want to fact check something…Twitter is definitely the way forward for that one.
Be yourself on social media
Jennifer: Absolutely (laughs). So, I’m curious, what would you recommend for new scientists looking to find their community on social media.
Sophie: First one would definitely just be yourself. Because if you’re going to try to be like someone else, or be like someone you’re not…it will be very difficult to maintain.
And also you you’ll get caught out and all those kinds of things. So definitely just be yourself.
Create stuff that you want to put out there, and that you’re proud and passionate about. But then, to get the sense of community, you have to get out there first.
You have to go engage with the people that inspire you, that you look up to. And, interact with them through comments. DM them, like their posts. Email them if you want to collaborate with them.
Just put yourself out there first, because they’re not going to come to you if you don’t go there first.
Jennifer: That is great advice. So, put yourself out there and be yourself. Because that’s what people are interested in. People want to get to know you.
Sophie: Yeah, exactly.
Jennifer: But also, know that you have to reach out to people to make those connections. That is great advice, especially for new scientists who are maybe just entering a platform, and not sure which direction to go.
Sophie: Yeah, no definitely. Just be yourself. It might be daunting going out there and talking to your favorite Instagram scicommer whose got thousands of followers, maybe. But they’re all human beings just like you.
Jennifer: I find most of them are willing to reply to your comments. And most people are happy to answer your questions.
Sophie: They’re all brilliant. I know most of them if you comment, the will reply to you.
Social media life: balancing the personal and professional
Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely. So since you also manage the social media for work, how do you balance your personal and professional life online?
Sophie: Well I think for my own personal stuff…obviously I do science communication as part of my own personal profile. But I also like to add just normal personal stuff too.
Like I’ll talk about my wedding planning that’s coming up, or perhaps I went a different event.
And just those normal things as well as just communication science. Because people want to know me as well as the science I communicate.
But when it comes to looking after social media channels for an institute or a company, there are obviously a few more guidelines and restrictions. And you have to be a little bit more careful because you’re kind of representing someone else.
Whereas on your own, everything you post is obviously your opinion. And your opinions are valid because they’re your opinion.
Jennifer: Right, right.
Sophie: But yeah, I probably couldn’t go and tweet any old thing from the social media accounts I look after at work.
Jennifer: Right, because those need to have certain strategies and guidelines from what they’re sharing on those platforms.
Sophie: Yeah. Anything I tweet from there is going to be seen as a view of my institute.
Sophie: So if I agree with it personally, that’s completely irrelevant. I need to think about what it’s going to look like as if I was the institute as a whole.
Jennifer: That’s really interesting how those are a little bit different. It sounds as though even though you share on Instagram and Twitter, your personal accounts, that those are a good mixture of the types of content that you’re sharing.
Whereas professional is kind of a very different world, and that’s the message of your employer.
Sophie: Yeah, I still think though, with the professional ones. It’s kind of a fine balance.
Because you want to be seen as a professional establishment.
But you also don’t want to seem as if there’s just a robot kind of putting these kind of…
Jennifer: Right (laughs).
Sophie: So you want to have some humor, some personality. Yeah. It is a fine line. You can put these humorous, funny posts.
But if it’s going to look like you’re conveying an opinion through that, then you have to be careful.
Jennifer: Yeah. So as long as it stays neutral, and makes it so it’s personal and approachable, but still on message.
Sophie: Exactly, exactly.
Science communication through social media
Jennifer: I really like that. So, now that you’ve transitioned into this new role, how have you found your social media use has changed?
Before you were a PhD student, and a lot of your audience was fellow students. How is it different now that you’re a science communicator?
Sophie: I still think my PhD student audience that I had when I was a PhD student are very interested in what I’m doing. Because a lot of them are doing science communication through social media, they’re interested in my career and what I’m doing now.
Jennifer: That sounds ideal. Because it’s just helpful to show that even if you do transition out of academia technically, you’re still able to talk with the same people and connect with the same people. Is that right?
Sophie: Exactly. I have had a bit of kind of a content crisis, let’s say. Because I haven’t got these pictures of these pretty cells, or a western blot, or even me in a lab coat anymore.
Sophie: I go to work and sit in an office all day. It’s not all the pretty pictures I could take, even though I learn about some incredible research that’s going on. I’m still trying to work out what is best to do with my social media channels.
Yeah, I’ve definitely posted less frequently since starting the new job for various reasons again. But yeah, I’m trying to re-find my niche. Cause I’ve still got a lot of PhD advice I can share through my blog and social media.
But I’m kind of trying to start thinking about…that’s not going to last forever.
So what am I going to do next?
I can obviously then start talking about what my career is like. But again, that’s only going to be a finite amount of things. I’m still trying to work out where it will go.
Jennifer: Well that’s exciting too. Because that’s really about like finding out what you want to write about, what you want to spend time on, and what your audience is interested in.
Sophie: Yeah, no. I think definitely from the career things and any kind of advice I can share about transitioning out of academia.
And about PhDs and my job now, is still going to be very relevant for the audience that I’ve got.
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Inspiring a general audience, reaching the public
Sophie: Yeah. I’m quite excited to see if I can maybe branch out a bit further and maybe get some more of a general audience say, that’s not just interested in science.
Or wants to read a science book. Or go visiting a place around the world, but learn a bit of science about that. Or maybe just…
Jennifer: Make science a bit more of their lives.
Sophie: Yeah. Just make people realize that…Yes.
Science is literally part of their everyday life. And I don’t think people realize it and get excited enough about it (laughs).
Jennifer: (Laughs). Well you can make them excited, and that’s really great.
Sophie: I hope so.
Jennifer: No, I mean I’ve seen it!
On your social media channels. I’ve been excited by your posts sometimes.
You’ll share something that maybe you found interesting, and I’m like “Oh, that’s really cool!” That happens to me quite often with your posts. So I do think you inspire people.
Sophie: Oh, that’s good to hear.
Soph Talks Science, a blog
Jennifer: So I do want to talk a little more about your blog, which is Soph Talks Science. And you share advice, and profiles of scientists around the globe. And, it just turned 3 about a month ago.
So, I’m curious: who should follow your blog?
And, what are your goals for the new year?
Sophie: So, who should follow my blog?
I would say, everybody! (Laughs) Well I say it in kind of a jokey way, but I kind of mean it.
Because I try to create content that really would suit anyone. I’ve written posts about writing a children’s book about writing about science. Which I hope that will be relevant to mums or dads with young kids who want to expand their horizons a bit.
I try to write travel posts that have a bit of science-y, tech, engineering spin on it. I also talk about PhD stuff.
But when I profile scientists around the world, as you mentioned, I try to ask them questions that aren’t just about their job. And try to see what else they do, outside of the lab, outside of the office.
Just so people can also realize, just the other things that scientists can do. And they’re not stale old Einsteins in labs all the time.
Jennifer: I love that so much.
Sophie: I wish I could be more interactive with it. Cause I kind of just give people these interview questions, and because people are very busy I kind of just leave it to them to kind of fit around their schedule.
Jennifer: Oh yeah, everyone’s so busy.
Sophie: I know, I know. So what I’d like to do then in the future is to actually sit down and talk to people about it. And then be a bit more organic with follow-up questions. Cause I try to make it when you read it as if it looks like a conversation.
Jennifer: Right, right.
Sophie: But in actual fact, it isn’t a conversation per se. So I’d like to be able to make it a bit more organic.
And if I do manage to record it like we’re doing now, turn it into a podcast. Then have that kind of transcribed version to tie in.
Jennifer: Well that would be amazing.
Sophie: That’s the goal. Whether I have the time is another thing.
Jennifer: Of course, of course. Definitely time was a big factor when I was considering how to do this as well. But just the idea of it sounds fun. And it sounds like it might be something that works out in the future.
Sophie: Hopefully, hopefully.
Jennifer: I think that it’s just really great to be able to do profiles with people globally. I think that’s something that’s been important to myself, and it sounds like it’s important to you as well.
Sophie: Yeah. I think that the people I’ve managed to highlight on the blog. They’re just all so varied, and unique, and different. And they all have so many different interests and passions.
Just getting to know them all a bit better, even if I haven’t been able to have that conversation with them. It’s just amazing.
They’re all fabulous. You should go look at them and follow them all.
Jennifer: I love it. Well I will be sure to include that link in this post.
Embrace your curiosity
Jennifer: Well, that’s all the questions that I have for today. Is there anything that you would like to add?
Sophie: Oh, no I don’t think so. I think people should just learn to embrace their curiosity and want to learn more. Basically that’s what I want to put out there with everything I do. Ask questions. And be curious about the world.
Jennifer: Ask questions, and embrace your curiosity. Well thank you so much for talking to me today, Sophie. It’s really been a pleasure.
Sophie: Well thank you so much. I’m really glad that I finally managed to get on here with you.
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It is time to try something new.. . Hi all. I have something I would like to share with you. PLEASE READ! ⬇️ . Ever since I finished up my PhD 🎓 in December and started my new job in January (dont know why I’m still calling it a new job 7 months in 😂🙈…) I have struggled to maintain posting meaningful and worthwhile posts to share with you guys… for various reasons that I have probably shared before.. . But I miss it! 😔 I miss creating and miss sharing. But I know that posting at the frequency I was before will probably affect the quality of my posts & also I will just burn out because the commute is tough right now. . I’m in a mental battle 🧠 with myself whether to post and write 💻 and do the thing I love, or look after myself. I’m finding it tricky right now. . But I’m no quitter! So I thought maybe it was time to try something new! Combining something that you guys are frequently asking me about, with my passion and hopefully a helpful aid for me to get into some routine again. 🤞🏻 . So let this be the pilot edition of… . *drum roll* 🥁🥁 . SCICOMM SUNDAY 🗣 . Every Sunday I will share tips, lessons learnt and things to think about in the scicomm world – whether that’s blogging, social media, presenting and all in between! Which I hope all you guys will find interesting. Let me know what things you would love to learn more about in the comments. . And tune back in next Sunday for the first episode of Scicomm Sunday! . . . 💕
Thanks for checking out my opening interview of the Fall series
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Bio for Sophie Arthur of the London Institute of Medical Sciences
Sophie Arthur is an award winning science and education blogger and science communicator. Her blog Soph Talks Science shares tips and advice on doing a PhD, fights stereotypes associated with STEM careers & showcases scientists from across the globe amongst much more.
Sophie has recently completed her PhD where she studied stem cell metabolism, but has now hung up her lab coat and left the pipette behind as she embarks on a career in science communication.
Check out Soph’s new SciComm Toolkit Podcast!
Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and communications consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help professors, researchers, and graduate students manage their online presence. Jennifer’s goal is to help people share their work with the world.
Check out her personal site at https://jennifervanalstyne
or learn more about the services she offers at https://theacademicdesigner.com