Signals Blog

Why should stem cell researchers use Twitter?

  • Powerful news aggregator/information filter
  • Able to engage/converse with other attendees at conferences & meetings
  • Increase traffic, discussion and citations of your papers
  • Create professional networks and opportunities for collaboration
  •  Aid the longevity of stem cell research and pace by which it progresses

Research is about discovery. The words “novel” and “new” are ubiquitous in the scientific literature, suggesting just how important such ideas are to the community. But, when it comes to social media, the scientific community has fallen behind. Personal use of Facebook is widespread, as is the use of job market profiles on sites such as LinkedIn or one of it’s scientific analogs like and However, despite wide adoption in several other professional fields, the scientific community remains somewhat reticent to normalizing the use of Twitter; arguably one of the most powerful scientific social media tools.

A recent piece in Regenerative Medicine by Lee Buckler argues that social media is still generally perceived as a tool of frivolity within the scientific community. The stance that Twitter is a time-consuming distraction, best suited for personal engagements rather than professional use is a position that is both dated and uncompetitive. Buckler goes on to build a persuasive case for the importance of increased use of social media within the stem cell sector, and he joins the ranks of several others calling for increased social media use from professors and trainees.

At its very base level, Twitter easily serves as powerful news-aggregator, even within the increasingly broad field encompassed by stem cell research. By offering the opportunity to keep abreast of recent developments in nearly any of the countless disciplines that stem cell research encompass, those scientists who decide to not adapt to this technology are at a competitive disadvantage of keeping up with progress in their field. Following general stem cell news aggregators (@StemCellWatch, @MyStemCellNews, @StemCellTracker), regional stem cell agencies (@StemCellNetwork, @CCRM_ca @EuroStemCell, @CIRMnews, @NYSCF) or prestigious journals (@CellStemCell, @NatureMedicine) allows one the ability to customize news-streams from expert sources which possess unparalleled speed and scope. Thus, at this very basic level Twitter can REDUCE the time it takes to keep tabs on numerous different outlets.

The use of Twitter to engage with other attendees at conferences & meetings is another compelling attraction of this tool, and presents a further missed opportunity for those who decide not to engage. Through use of hashtags (use of a # in a tweet – e.g. #ISSCR2013 – allows any user to follow the online discussion emerging at a particular session or event), participants are able to share commentary, resources, background and discussion in real-time with individuals who may or may not be in attendance at the event. At scientific meetings around the world, the scope and depth of this conversation continues to grow as more scientists join the discussion. This academic dialogue will continue whether you are involved or not, so abstain from getting engaged at your own risk. Further information about the value and importance of live-Tweeting and blogging conferences can be found at Alexey Bersenev’s prolific Stem Cell Assay’s blog.

social media outlets like Twitter can both forecast and increase the amount of citations a paper will receive…

The transition from observer to active participant does requires an increase in invested time, but it is only at this level that one can really begin to reap the full benefits of this highly effectual tool. Outside the aforementioned benefits during academic events, it has been shown that the increased exposure provided through social media outlets like Twitter can both forecast and increase the amount of citations a paper will receive, with papers that are promoted and discussed via social media not just attracting users attention, but also scientific citations. Further, several mainstream and prestigious journals are beginning to use measures such as Altmetrics to quantify the impact of articles beyond citations. There are early indications of coming changes in the science publishing industry that aim to assess the broader value and reader interest at the level of the individual paper, and potentially even the author.

Engaging with diverse audiences via Twitter allows scientists an important forum to develop their profile and personal brand, valuable considerations in the era of “Online Science”. The importance of Twitter in creating professional networks and establishing collaborations continues to grow.  The value of interpersonal interactions during conference settings will never be lost, but the introduction of highly accessible and free means by which to achieve these career-building necessities has important ramifications. Evidence for the potential influence of social media can be found in the inclusion of Paul Knoepfler in Terrapinn’s recently announced Top 50 most influential people in stem cells today.  A professor at UC Davis and early adopter of blogging and social media within the stem cell community, Paul’s reach and influence in online communities has hade him a go-to source of information for a wide variety of academics, media and political stakeholders.

Finally, the social benefit of fostering a stronger community of scientists engaged in communicating their work to the general public cannot be understated. Creating a strong online network of stem cell researchers who are willing to engage the public will undoubtedly aid the longevity the stem cell sector and the pace by which it progresses. I stress the importance of using Twitter as a tool of conversation rather than observation – the maximum value of Twitter is only reached if one begins to engage in dialogue with peers and the public.

For those who haven’t yet joined the ranks of the social media savvy, it’s never too late. In fact, it’s likely that you already share content via personal channels such as Facebook and aren’t that far from knowing the difference between tweets and tweeps. Begin by creating a profile (tip: keep your name relatively short) and following individuals whose interests match yours (tip: you can easily stop following those who Tweets don’t interest or who clutter your Twitter stream). Expand whom you follow by looking at who others follow for inspiration. Once comfortable with the format and mechanics of the tool, join the ranks of scientists worldwide who are utilizing the capacity of the Internet to advance their understanding of, and involvement in the progress of stem cell research.

Prominent Stem Cell Sector Twitter Users

Paul Knoepfler (@pknoepfler)
Christopher Scott (@TheStemCell)
Alexey Bersenev (@celltherapyblog)
Jim Till (@jimtill)
Robert Lanza (@robertlanza)
Tim Caulfield (@CaulfieldTim)
Chris Mason (@Prof_ChrisMason)
Leigh Turner (@leighgturner)
Jon Rowley (@JonRowley)
Lee Buckler (@celltherapy)
Doug Sipp (@dougsipp)
Ubaka Ogbogu (@ubakaogbogu)
Benoit Bruneau (@benoitbruneau)
Michael Kallos (@kallosm)
Francis Lynn (@nictitate)

Popular General Science Twitter Users

Bora Zivkovic (@BoraZ)
Carl Zimmer (@CarlZimmer)
Ed Yong (@edyong209)


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Ben Paylor

Ben Paylor

Ben Paylor completed a Bachelor of Medical Science at the University of Western Ontario, which included a 1-year research exchange to Umea in Northern Sweden. Following his Bachelors, he completed a 2-year Masters of Philosophy in Cardiovascular Biology and Medicine at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Experimental Medicine program under the supervision of Dr. Fabio Rossi at the University of British Columbia. His research focuses on understanding the role of tissue-resident mesenchymal progenitors in repair processes of the heart. Outside of science, Ben is an avid pianist and tennis player, as well as being very interested in the field of science communication and policy.  The writer and director of several award-winning science films, Ben is also the co-founder and director of InfoShots (, a science-based animation studio that is currently producing the Stem Cell Network's StemCellShorts series. Ben is the Chair of the Trainee Communications Committee at the Stem Cell Network, sits on the National Advisory Committee of the high school outreach program StemCellTalks and is a 2012/13 Action Canada fellow.