January 9, 2017

Dr. Jarrett Byrnes: Using social media to further research

By Morgan O'Hanlon

Sea Grant funded scientist uses social media, untraditional methods to promote science

“Marine ecologist, online bon vivant, science crowdfunding curious,” reads the description on Jarrett Byrnes’s Twitter page. A quick look through his tweets reveals links to research articles and marine science puns galore. At well over 6000 posts, Byrnes, an associate professor of biology at UMass Boston, has maintained an active and enthusiastic scientific presence on this social media platform over the years. For promoting his scientific research in the salt marshes and eelgrass beds of New England, this MIT Sea Grant funded researcher has several tricks up his sleeve. Byrnes is using his social media savvy to encourage environmental stewardship, to promote the scientific career field, and to advance his own career.

To support his MIT Sea Grant funded research in the marshes of Massachusetts studying the biodiversity and food webs of these areas, Byrnes uses blogging, Facebook, and his personal favorite, twitter, “You’re limited in the amount you can say, so the power in it is being able to link to other interesting sources.” Byrnes’s lab uses #marshlife to connect interested communities with their work. Interestingly, this tag was already in use when Marc Hensel, one of Byrnes’s grad students at UMass-Boston, began to using it to promote the lab’s research efforts. The coincidence of connecting with this online community is an example of social media’s ability to connect new and different communities with academics and their research. For Byrnes social media is a ready made way of injecting science into community of people who care about the environment.

Byrnes presence on social media has enabled him to take great strides in his career. Opportunities such as co-authorship on papers have often started as conversations on social media and grown into real-life projects. He’s been listed as co-author on papers with various topics ranging from Humboldt squid to tropical forest biology, neither of which he ever thought he would be doing. Some of the collaborators that he’s worked with are people whom he’s never met in person before.

“Social media both works as an outreach tool and a really great way to reach broader audiences but its also a way to give yourself a much larger pool of colleagues that you interact with on a daily basis”, says Byrnes.

Although Byrnes is no longer unique in his use of social networking, he began using social media in his grad school years, a start which he said has made him somewhat of an outlier amongst his peers in the scientific community. For Byrnes and others, the benefits that social media usage provides both the public and the scientist community are clear, “It’s one of those things where the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.”

Publicly accessible social media sites provide a space for discussion and exploration of science itself. Scientists ranging in media exposure from famous Bill Nye the Science Guy to the many professors of science at Universities world-wide have active profiles on Twitter, creating a vast pool of scientific research projects, raw ideas, and inquiries, for exploration.