PhD Student Jazmine Benjamin Talks Community on Twitter

Jazmine Benjamin is in cell and molecular biology

Jazmine Benjamin (headshot)

Jazmine Benjamin, a 2nd year PhD student has used social media to network with researchers in her field.

She’s received and given feedback, collaborated on projects, and now Jazmine is working to start a science policy group.

Check out our interview for some great advice on contacting scholars via DM and how Twitter can create community.

Featuring cool academics and researchers is my favorite part of The Social Academic.

Meet Jazmine

Listen to ‘A Chat with Jazmine Benjamin’
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Jennifer: Hi, I’m Jennifer The Academic Designer.

Today I’m here with graduate student, Jazmine Benjamin.

Hi Jazmine, how are you?

Jazmine: I’m doing well, Jennifer. How are you?

Jennifer: I’m doing great.

So, you are a Cellular and Molecular Biology student at University of Alabama.

Tell me a bit about your work there.

Jazmine: Sure!

So I’m actually at the University of Alabama – Birmingham.

We’re in Birmingham, AL instead of Tuscaloosa, but not too far away.

I work in the lab of Dr. Elizabeth Sztul.

And our lab focuses mostly on protein degradation and membrane trafficking in the context of the secretory pathway.

So my project right now is more on the membrane trafficking side of things.

I’m trying to create kind of a gene interaction network for this previously unexplored gene that we’re interested in.

Jennifer: Very interesting.

And what does the gene do, or what is it a marker of?

Jazmine’s research and social media


Jazmine: It’s a marker for the golgi apparatus which is kind of, as we call it in Introductory Biology, the UPS Center of the cell.

And it is involved in the earlier part of the secretory pathway.

So the packaging of proteins and the interaction between the endoplasmic reticulum where proteins are folded an put into their working configuration.

And the golgi apparatus, where that packaging beings to send that protein or that message out of the cell.

Jennifer: And is this something that you are able to talk about and find a network of people to relate to on social media for?

Jazmine: I find a lot of people that work either upstream of what I do.

So on the endoplasmic retticulum as far as protein folding, or people who work downstream of what I do, more of the actual secretion method itself.

But it’s kind of not a super popular area of research currently.

But I’ve found a couple people that are interested in the same thing.

Jennifer: But that also means that having your voice out there is so important, because there need to be more people out there talking about it.

Jazmine: Of course!

What social networks do you use?

typing on laptop

Jennifer: So, what social media platforms do you currently use?

Jazmine: I currently use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

I think that’s it.

I had Snapchat, but I deleted it.

Jennifer: I think a lot of people have gone that route, especially with Instagram stories coming out.

And Facebook stories, or whatever.

Do you use LinkedIn?

Jazmine: Yeah, I do.

Jennifer: I think LinkedIn is a great networking tool, though a little less ‘social’ sometimes.

Jazmine: Yeah.

Jennifer: Do you talk about your work on social media?

Jazmine: I do sometimes.

Like I said, my work isn’t really that ‘popular.’

I talk about my work a little.

I also find it easy to talk to people about their work.

I’ve set up 1 or 2 co-projects with other students via Twitter actually.

So I’ve been able to interact with other people in my field who are doing something related.

And offered advice on their projects and vice versa.

Twitter and collaboration

"Twitter" spelled out with Scrabble pieces

Jennifer: Oh that’s so great! How did you approach that?

Jazmine: I would either…one of my followers, or something I followed, would retweet a story from that person.

I would reply to that story and ask them a question.

Or I would send them a direct message and say, “I saw your tweet about ‘insert project here.’ And I saw that you were having an issue with this. Maybe I could help,” and we just went from there.

Jennifer: I love that.

Sometimes directly connecting on social media can be a great way to just be like, “Hey, I think our work is kind of related. We should chat!”

That’s a great way to network.

Jazmine: Yeah it is.

I didn’t have a Twitter until maybe August of [last] year.

And I’ve realized that I enjoy my research a lot more since I’ve got one.

Jennifer: Oh, that’s really interesting.

So you find that it’s a kind of tool that you’re using to build that network, that scholarly network.

Jazmine: Exactly.

Jennifer: I love that.

Do you use social media then for personal connections, for family and friends?

Jazmine: I do.

I use my Facebook more for that. So I have a lot of friends that I connect with via Facebook and Instagram.

Kind of my Instagram is half and half between work and my family.

Twitter is more work.

Facebook is more geared toward my family.

Jennifer: Yeah, I find that a lot of people like separating those kinds of audiences by platform.

Twitter is definitely a great one to try and connect with a larger network.

And I think a lot of people use Facebook for those close network connections.

Is Twitter your favorite social media platform?

Jazmine: I think Twitter is.

It’s probably a close tie between Twitter and Instagram just because of the ease of use and how quickly you can access everything.

Facebook, I really only have it to communicate with my family that I don’t see that often.

If they had a Twitter or Instagram, I probably wouldn’t have Facebook to be honest.

Jennifer: Yeah, I think that’s becoming true for a lot of people.

Facebook is becoming a bit less conversational now too, I find.

Jazmine: Yeah.

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Science Policy, outreach and advocacy


Jennifer: So, your Twitter profile says you’re interested in science policy outreach and advocacy.

I’m curious if you use social media for that at all.

Do you share articles or information that you find?

Jazmine: Yeah. So I share a few things I see that are related to science policy.

Particularly things that the National Institutes for Health (NIH) may be doing.

I’ve actually coordinated with someone from Vanderbilt University in the last month to try and get a science policy group started at my university.

They have a science policy group. I spoke with them about who I should contact about starting a branch of my own here.

So I’ve used Twitter for that, as the most recent and most important thing so far.

Community Building on and offline


Jennifer: Yeah, I think that’s a fantastic way of using Twitter.

Trying to find out what other communities are doing, what’s working for them, and using those ideas to try and build more communities.

I love that.

Are you involved in a lot of things on campus as well?

Jazmine: I’m slowly becoming more involved with things as I get to the middle of my 2nd year.

So I currently am helping out with a science outreach project where the Biology Department at our university goes to local public schools and teaches them a hands-on science lesson.

Jennifer: Oh, that’s great!

Jazmine: It’s good because we are scientists.

When they have more nitpicky questions we’re able to field those better than maybe their teacher would be able to.

It’s also really fun to see kids who are genuinely excited about science.

And to be able to get them even more excited while teaching them something is fun.

Jennifer: That is so important. Getting kids excited about learning, and about science.

It’s something that really difficult to do unless you’re so into it yourself that you can have that excitement.

I think it’s so great you’re going into the school systems to do that.

Since you recently joined Twitter, just this last August, what advice would you give to someone whose thinking about joining?

New to Twitter? Here’s Jazmine’s advice

Advice loading

Jazmine: Um. Just join.

And be patient.

When you join, I think it gives you the opportunity to ‘check’ the things that you’re interested in.

But just kind of take some time to explore and click on headlines that interest you.

Kind of follow through threads that look interesting.

And just follow people.

I have probably 3x more people that I follow than I do followers.

I’m not someone who gets really wrapped up in how many followers I have.

But the people who I do follow that follow me back, we often at some point end up interacting with each other.

That has led to some really valuable relationships.

Jennifer: It sounds like it.

It sounds like you’ve managed to create some really fruitful connections just from just chatting with people on Twitter.

Jazmine: I have.

Connect with your network over Direct Message

message or chat

Jennifer: What advice would you have for someone thinking about approaching someone over Direct Message?

Jazmine: I think it’s always good to introduce yourself first.

So I always tell people…oh obviously they can click on my profile and get the information that they need…

But I always introduce myself by name.

And if I’m talking about something related to my field, I’ll tell them I’m a Cell and Molecular Biologist and what university I’m at.

And then I will pose my question to them.

And I let them know they can get back to me whenever they’re free.

Because a lot of people on Twitter are quite busy, even though they may not seem like it.

And then I’m patient. I just wait for their response.

If I don’t get a response, there’s no hard feelings.

But generally I do.

Jennifer: Have you ever followed up when you haven’t gotten a response?

Jazmine: I have.

There was one person, a lab Twitter, that posted a paper that was relevant to my project at the time.

And I asked them if I could speak to one of the students in their lab that did the experiment.

And they directed me to him. We started messaging back and forth, but he never responded.

So then I just asked him for his email address, or an easier way to get in contact.

We ended up speaking on the phone for an hour or two.

He helped me figure out this hump that I was going through on my project.

Jennifer: I love that.

So even though it felt like a kind of missed connection, you reached out again and were able to connect. And you actually got the information that you needed.

Jazmine: Yeah.

#BlackInSTEM and finding community on Twitter

Scientist holding culture tray with microscope and beakers

Jennifer: That’s really great.

Can I ask, who is your favorite person to follow on social media?

Who is someone that you admire for what they share about their science, or what they post.

Jazmine: Oooh, that’s a difficult one.

I actually follow a lot of, I guess you would call them sort of organizations or groups.

One of the tags I follow is #BlackInSTEM because I am an African-American in STEM and there’s not a whole lot of us.

That’s a great hashtag to follow on Twitter. I’ve met a lot of people that I’ve had connections with that way.

I also like the @FirstGenDocs Twitter page.

It’s full of students who are first generation doctoral students, meaning that they’re the first in their family to pursue a PhD.

We share a lot of advice about getting through your degree and how you can make it even if you are the first person in your family to do it.

They often have little Twitter chats that are always interesting. I meet a lot of people that way also.

Jennifer: Yeah, I love that. Twitter chats are a great way to actually find people who want to engage, and want to have conversations.

Both of those hashtags that you mentioned are so important for social activism, and for finding community.

So have you found friends you’ve connected about other topics through those hashtags?

Jazmine: I have. I don’t quite know if we’re friends or not. I guess we’re internet friends.

But I have a few people that, when I post or when they post, we kind of respond to each other’s posts, “Hey, happy that happened for you,” or “sorry that happened.”

You know, “things will get better,” that kind of stuff.

So yeah, I’ve met quite a few people through those hashtags.

Jennifer: Finding community is so important.

And I think it wasn’t until I found those pockets of people who had similar interests and similar goals, that I was able to enjoy social media.

Jazmine: Yeah.

Why did you join Twitter last year?

"I came back when I had more of a purpose for being there" Jazmine Benjamin on Twitter

Jennifer: It’s why I stayed off Twitter so long.

Why did you stay off Twitter until this past August?

Jazmine: I had a Twitter when I was an undergrad, but I wasn’t using it for anything productive.

It really just got to be more of a distraction than something that was helping me.

So I came back when I had more of a purpose for being on there, rather than talking to my friends who I would see all day anyway.

Jennifer: Right.

So coming back was a decision that you felt like you wanted to share or connect. And that was partially based on your work. Is that correct?

Jazmine: Exactly.

Jennifer: That’s such an interesting way of thinking about it. And you know it’s the same reason why I decided to join Twitter.

I just had this kind of resistance to it. And I’m so glad that I did [join].

Is there anything else that you would like to highlight or share, that you have in the next couple months?

I mean, I feel like people told me for years to get on #AcademicTwitter.

Jazmine: For me, as a PhD student, the semester doesn’t really end. Classes do, but I still have to go to lab.

So right now, the whole university is kind of winding down. There’s not a whole lot going on.

I do hope to get our science policy group started.

Hopefully next semester I’ll be able to start planning things out. And in the fall we’ll have some more organized events going on.

Other than that I don’t have much going on.

Jennifer: Well I look forward to hearing if that group gets started. i’ll be sure to check in with you in the Spring because I want to hear how it’s going.

Jazmine: Of course, thank you so much.

Update from Jazmine: “The science policy group is coming along fairly well.

I’ve actually used Twitter to connect with some great students in DC that are going to help us get started later this year!”

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Bio for University of Alabama at Birmingham PhD student, Jazmine Benjamin

Jazmine Benjamin on The Social Academic

Jazmine Benjamin is a second year Ph.D. student at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“I work in the Cell, Molecular and Integrative Biology department of the School of Medicine.

My research lab focuses on membrane trafficking and protein degradation in the context of the secretory pathway in cells. My personal project is centered around building a novel gene interaction network for a protein that plays an integral role in the early portion of the secretory pathway.

After graduation, I would like to pursue a career in research and science policy, particularly as it relates to K-12 STEM education.”

You can find Jazmine on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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Jennifer van Alstyne View All →

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.

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