And now for something completely different… Social Media and Internet Presence

A weblog entry by Mari Yamasaki and Laura Borghetti.

Heidelberg, February 27th, 8:30 AM. An Egyptologist, a Classical Philologist, a Byzantine Philologist and a Near Eastern Archaeologist walk into a room of female mathematicians. This is not the beginning of a joke, but of the two-day workshop in this ancient university town. In the elegant conference room of ArtHotel, a few puzzled gazes fly towards us, the only four girls from the Humanities. "So... what brought you here?" we are repeatedly asked. Considering that we are at the Third Networking and Mentoring Workshop for Women in Mathematics, the four of us agree it is a legitimate question. What brought us here, we always reply, is the theme of this workshop: Social Media and Internet Presence.

Fig. 1: From left: Mari Yamasaki, Laura Borghetti, Simone Gerhards, Gabriela Meyer and Katharina Hillenbrand (Photo by Maria Ruprecht).

To understand our answer, here’s a little background. When our GRK started, it was agreed that the best way of engaging with the general public would be through a weblog – the very same you are reading right now. After a few years, we came to realize that in order to reach more people, this could use some improvement and maybe could be supported by another social media platform. After some discussion and considering how most of us are to some extent familiar with it, we decided that an official Facebook page could fill this "supporting role". However, far from being experts, we looked forward to this workshop to find inspiration as to how we should pursue our goal.

The two key-roles of this initiative have been played by Maria Rupprecht, Executive Networking Coordinator at the Ruprecht-Karls Universität in Heidelberg within "Upstream – the Network for Women in Maths" and Gabriela Meyer, expert in communication, publicist and trainer in public relations. Thanks to their professionalism and friendliness, and during an intense but exciting two-days program, it was made possible to break the general suspicion against social networks and animate a lively brainstorming about this new form of media. Concepts of different kind of social medias, from the rather job search-oriented Xing to the more popular Twitter, from the online business card to the web-storytelling in travel-blogs: all were taken as practical examples during the workshop. Even more interesting was the rather interactive side of our meeting, when we participants were asked to create new accounts or to improve our own existing ones. 

Making use of the opportunity of having an expert at hand, we volunteered to present our weblog as a case study of the use of social media to support scientific engagement with the wider public. Ms. Meyer showed us the strong points of our page and (most importantly) the weak ones. While not touching the merit of the scientific and educational content, she gave us advice on how we could modify its layout to make it more appealing for the casual and the expert reader alike. We were able to collect much input and many good ideas that will need a little bit of time to be implemented, but changes are coming, so keep following us! One novelty is already out there: check out our new Facebook page

Fig. 2: Katharina Hillenbrand and Simone Gerhards showing our Weblog to Gabriela Meyer (Photo by Maria Ruprecht).

As we saw during these two days, the poor reputation for Social Media often comes from a misuse of their potential. For instance, the flood of breakfast photos on Instagram or of cat jokes on Facebook devalues these platforms. Much worse, social media are sadly the fastest way to spread false and unverified news. For these reasons, it is even more important to implement the use of this technology to disseminate scientific knowledge in an attractive and accessible way. The decision to adopt a popular platform such as Facebook in parallel with our official weblog serves exactly this purpose. Not only to give fast and concise updates on the research that our Graduiertenkolleg is working on, but also to promptly inform our readers about cultural initiatives the doctoral students take part in, and why not, to get to know us. For research is not an abstract entity detached from the world, but it is made of people, of colleagues and friends, even if virtual.