Geology for Global Development


Professionalism and Social Responsibility (6): Making the Most of Twitter

twitter-bird-white-on-blueThere are an ever-growing number of scientists using Twitter to disseminate their research, share articles and papers, and ask questions. Twitter, if used correctly, can be like an online conference, and participation can benefit your career in a multitude of ways.

Professors and institutions that may be hard to approach in other circumstances are all easy to talk to on Twitter. Twitter can also be a way of getting information to the people that need it, such as NGOs and policy makers. 

In the latest of our series on professionalism and social responsibility, Rosalie Tostevin (@RosalieTostevin), Jane Robb (@JLizRobb) and Joel Gill (@GillJoel) share their insights into Twitter, giving you some great tips for getting started or expanding your use of Twitter.


Handle Your handle is what people use to identify you, similar to an email address. It begins with @ and must be one word. It can be the same as your name or something different, e.g. ‘@magmatters’, ‘@protohedgehog’. It’s best to keep it short if possible so that people tweeting to you don’t waste too many characters.

Tweet: A tweet is like a status update, but limited to 140 characters. You’d be surprised how much you can fit into such a small space, but if you are struggling you can split a tweet in two and indicate by using (1/2) and (2/2) at the start. If you include someone’s handle anywhere within your tweet, they will be notified of it. If you begin the tweet with a handle then the conversation will not appear in other people’s news feeds (but will appear and be public on your page).

Followers: People can choose to ‘follow’ you, meaning all of your tweets will appear in their newsfeed. All of your tweets will still appear in public if someone searches for your name or a key word that appears in one of your tweets.

RT: A retweet is where you broadcast another users tweet to your followers (some of which may overlap). You can either retweet their whole tweet, complete with their name, or copy what they have said and add ‘RT @user’ in front.

MT: A modified tweet is like a retweet, except you change the wording slightly or delete part of the tweet, and insert ‘MT @user’ at the start.

Favourite: You can favourite someone else’s tweet to show them that you like or agree with what they have said, without having to share the tweet with all of your followers. You may want to use this function if someone tweets about something that is not directly relevant to most of your followers.

Hashtag (#): A hashtag before a word or phrase (e.g., #GfGDconf or #geologyrocks) is a label for a conversation, that can help people find all the tweets within that conversation or on that topic. They can be simple, informative, amusing or eye-catching. Hash tags are a great way of getting noticed for what you have to say, so join in conversations and consider making a Storify of the conversation (if someone hasn’t already!) to document all the opinions of others in the field.


  • Links to your own and your research groups papers, blog posts and relevant news stories. You can use an app such as or ‘google url shortener’ to reduce the number of characters in a link, but Twitter will cap the characters used up when posting a full link anyway.
  • Updates and photos from the field
  • Asking questions to the wider community (does anyone out there know…)
  • Starting a conversation, discussion or debate. You can do this by tweeting at people – including their handle in the tweet. Even if they don’t answer, others will and you can build up a good rapport with people (and followers) this way.

Don’t go too off topic. If your account lists you as a scientist, and people are following you on this basis, don’t tweet about Beyonce’s new haircut. At the same time, remember that geoscientists have an important voice in many debates – climate change, water supply, urbanisation, and scientists should be commenting on factors such as education, economic growth and foreign policy. It’s okay to have casual or personal posts sometimes, but keep it relevant or people will start to unfollow!

Do not use Twitter to moan or share mundane things “missed the bus this morning”, “having a crappy day”. Followers that don’t know you will find this, sadly, annoying. It’s best to keep that sort of thing to friends (that’s what Facebook is for!). Worse than boring is offensive and defamatory – please don’t say stupid stuff on Twitter. Think before you tweet.

There is no point in using Twitter if you don’t interact. You won’t find out interesting job opportunities or meet helpful and fascinating connections if you don’t put yourself out there. People DO meet through Twitter, and these can end up as important work collaborations. Twitter is certainly not a social network to sneer at, so retweet people, reply to their questions, ask your own questions… don’t be shy!


There are some key people that are followed by most people: science correspondents such as Jonathan Amos, prominent geologists such as Professor Iain Stewart, and organisations such as EGU. Follow people from your department, or that you have worked or collaborated with. It’s okay to follow people you have never met if you think that their tweets are interesting.

Some people will follow you back, some won’t. Don’t worry too much about getting numbers up. There is no need to have followers unless they are interested in what you have to say. Do however make sure that anyone who would find your tweets interesting knows you are out there. Acquiring followers is not about the street cred. It’s about making important connections through putting your opinions across and gathering others’. You can learn so much from Twitter by crowd sourcing opinions on any topic from nuclear disarmament to ethics in science communication. Use this vital information source.

As well as following people, you can also keep an eye on hash-tags. Follow interesting hash tags that everyone is talking about such as conferences or funny ones, or make up your own. GfGD’s Communications Officer, Jane Robb, made up one called #sciadvent where she used Pinterest as an advent calendar telling the history of the Earth in 25 days. This got picked up by Nature and they featured it in one of their blogs of the week!


When quoting an article (from the web, a journal or magazine) always include the Twitter handle of the person who wrote it or shared it if they are on Twitter. This is simple good etiquette on Twitter like citing an article and gets you brownie points in acknowledging others’ work as well as people noticing what you are interested in – and therefore followers.

Promote yourself. If you have a blog or LinkedIn profile or a cool job then put it in your profile. Also don’t be afraid to self promote by tweeting about your new blog post or video. However, make sure you don’t become a Twitter narcissist – always help promote others’ work too and provide insightful comments on their content (when you have any).

Don’t get too bogged down. Twitter can be a lot of work to get a good load of people listening to what you say, but it isn’t the be all and end all. It can help you and your career no end, but remember to go offline once in a while.

Professionalism and Social Responsibility (4): Popular Science Writing – Polished, Punchy Pyramids and Some Barbarously Bad Writing

Tim (Oxford)Tim Middleton, GfGD Advocacy Development Officer, writes on a freelance basis for a number of organisations and was previously the President of the Cambridge University science magazine, BlueSci. Here he offers a few thoughts on how to go about composing an engaging piece of popular science.


George Orwell had six rules for writers. It’s true that Orwell didn’t write a great deal of popular science, but as a master of the English language, his advice is a pretty useful place to start. The rules are as follows.

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

In other words, make it lively, make it simple, and use some common sense. Orwell sets out these rules in his essay on Politics and the English language, in which he rails unforgivingly against bad writing. “When you make a stupid remark,” says Orwell, “its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself”. The problem, he argues, is that bad writing spreads by imitation; it’s all too easy to copy another’s turn of phrase and soon you employ the same boring clichés as everyone else. But, he suggests more hopefully, “one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase into the dustbin where it belongs.”

Orwell offers stern advice and, as a writer, you should be regularly asking yourself some brutal questions. Is what you’re saying going to be the slightest bit interesting to read? Are people going to understand what you’re talking about? And why should they even care about what it is you have to say? Every time you pause, fingers hovering above the keyboard, these are the questions that should be echoing in your ears.

When it comes to popular science writing, you have to be especially judicious. It’s all too easy to be lured into a familiar, academic tone—even more so if you’re writing about your own area of expertise. As biologist Erik Ursin is quoted as saying in a paper amusingly entitled How to write consistently boring scientific literature, “Hell—is sitting on a hot stone reading your own scientific publications”. As a writer of popular science, though, you have the opportunity to make Hell marginally more bearable. If you’re currently engaged in academic research it might be fantastic fun to have a go at writing about your own work for a popular audience, but you have to be doubly careful that you aren’t tempted to make it too complicated. You’ll often produce a better article if you’re writing about something new to you; this may involve a modicum of extra reading, but the opportunity to flit between a series of utterly unconnected topics is one of the joys of being a science writer.

Two further aspects set popular science apart from ordinary scientific writing. The first, is an appreciation of narrative; a good feature article is not just a string of facts, but rather a complete, coherent storyline. The German playwright and novelist Gustav Freytag is credited with inventing the definitive five-act structure, a framework that has since become known as Freytag’s pyramid. The introduction must be intriguing; the middle section needs to develop ideas; and the ending has to sum up ‘where we are’. Often, a well-written piece will begin with an amusing anecdote and return, full circle, to the same idea at the end of the article. To achieve all of this in a punchy article is no easy task, and this is where it helps to have a pool of background notes to draw on in order to piece together the chunks that will make for the best possible overall story.

The second extra ingredient in a piece of popular science is people. You ought to include conflict, controversy, atmosphere, description, personality, quotations, interviews, examples and anecdotes—something human and something that’s going to be engaging.

Finally, you need a touch of polish. Proofreading is a laborious task but, alas, one of the most important stages of the whole writing process. Not only should you hunt for typos, but spend some time rolling each sentence around in your mouth. Does it feel clumsy? Can you clarify, rearrange or amalgamate? Do the words flow smoothly from one to the next? This really is important. A good piece of writing should slide seamlessly from one line to the next and, hopefully, be a pleasure to read.

That said, do remember: ignore the entirety of this blog post sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

GfGD National Conference – Conference Reading

Conference Banner Website cIn preparing for our first National Conference, we have spent some time collating a selection of reading material. We believe that this material and the accompanying discussion questions will help enable those attending the conference to engage with our work, get the most out of the conference and enhance the conference experience for those attending.

For many undergraduate students, this will be the first conference that they attend outside of their own university setting. Conferences can be highly valuable experiences. They are a great opportunity to consider new ideas, network with people across academia and industry, and share your own research (such as via our poster session). The value of a conference, however, is dependent on the individual participant and the preparation you put in beforehand.

Throughout the day a number of core themes will be running through our conversations on ‘Fighting Global Poverty – Can Geologists Help?’. One of these themes will be the importance of how we undertake development work. In the afternoon session we will be exploring in detail the importance of effective communication for ensuring effective development. Effective communication involves many factors – good spoken communication, writing with clarity, communicating via images and diagrams, communicating to other cultures and to a range of stakeholders (social scientists, media, politicians, policy makers, NGOs, local communities…). Good and effective communication also involves crucial elements such as listening, diplomacy, patience and flexibility. The debate we will be having (with an expert panel from government & policy, academia and practitioner communities) will explore these topics – with participants given the opportunity to ask questions and share their own points of view.

Preparing for the Debate/Discussion

On our website you can find the details of six papers and policy briefings that outline factors relating to effective communication. Each of these have a series of discussion questions associated with them. A number of these papers are open access and available online, others should be available in your University libraries. We would encourage students coming to the conference to read some of these and think about the discussion questions.

Once you’ve read through some of these papers, think about any questions that you may have – things that relate to effective communication and development. The expert panel that you will have the chance to question have a wealth of experience on all aspects of communication and its importance in the fight against global poverty. Questions should be sent to anytime from now until the start of October. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions on the day itself.

PAPER OVERVIEW – Lost in Translation

brucemalamudOne key paper on our suggested reading list is Lost in Translation, written by Prof Bruce D. Malamud (on the expert panel at our conference) and Prof Dave Petley. This paper reflects on the key communications issues that physical scientists working on natural hazards face. The authors discuss the challenge of communication between natural and social scientists, the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to research, the importance of transferring knowledge to practice and the importance of uncertainty.

In this paper, Malamud and Petley helpfully outline the transition in NGOs from disaster risk reduction (DRR) that focuses on natural science to DRR focusing on social science. Whilst welcoming this transition as being, in many cases positive, they also highlight the frustration in the natural science community about the lack of evidence to support this. Representing a disaster as the complex interaction of both physical and human systems, they discuss the importance of both physical and human science in disaster risk reduction. This approach requires an ability to do truly interdisciplinary research.

Some possible discussion questions to consider…
i) Given the transition in NGOs from hard engineering to addressing vulnerability, what role is there for earth scientists?
ii) Whose job is it to improve communication skills? Is too much emphasis put on the importance of natural scientists learning to speak the language of social scientists?
iii) The article discusses the role that more ‘short courses’ could play in fostering true interdisciplinary work. What short courses would you advocate for to help support your study and general understanding, what content should they include?

Why not take this short, clear paper (or one of the others) and get together with a small group of people coming to the conference. Read the paper together and see what you agree with, disagree with or would like to know more about. You can then have a think about the questions we’ve put together and come up with your ideas and thoughts on the topic.

‘Fighting Global Poverty – Can Geologists Help?’ is the first GfGD National Conference, kindly supported and hosted by the Geological Society of London. For information on the day and registration please visit our website –

Fighting Global Poverty – Can Geologists Help? – Conference Launch

Conference Banner Website c

Registration is now open for GfGD’s first National Conference – ‘Fighting Global Poverty – Can Geologists Help?’ – taking place on Wednesday 23rd October 2013, at the Geological Society of London. Across the world millions of people lack access to clean water, are exposed to multiple natural hazards, or suffer as a result of severe environmental degradation. Is this inevitable, or can we as a scientific and skilled community do something about this? In 16 weeks we hope to gather 150 students and recent graduates from across the UK (and perhaps beyond) to consider the ways in which we can use our knowledge effectively to fight global poverty.

Every Wednesday from now until the conference itself we will be devoting a blog post to different aspects of the conference, introducing the speakers, debating some of the reading material, or advertising an opportunity for YOU to get involved.

Today we give you a taste of what is planned and some of the ways you can get involved…

We have put together a number of sessions with speakers exploring the different ways that geoscientists are contributing to international development and the skills required to make an effective and sustainable contribution throughout your careers. The conference will also be an excellent opportunity for you to learn more about GfGD and the work we are doing, network with other geoscientists from across the country who are eager to help fight global poverty, and hear from a range of enthusiastic and inspiring individuals, many from geoscience backgrounds, who are involved in sustainable development.

Our first session will take a look at the work of those in fields such as disaster risk reduction, water and sanitation and engineering geology. Speakers will share from their experiences, including the challenges they face applying geology to development projects, the skills they have needed to develop and ideas of possible career routes. It will be a practical, informative and hopefully inspiring session, giving ideas of how geology has made a real difference in community development – and the ways in which this is done.

Subject to possible overseas travel commitments we are delighted to welcome Professor Richard Carter (Visiting Professor of International Water Development at Cranfield University, Former Head of Technical Support at WaterAid), Dr Kate Crowley (Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor at CAFOD) and Dr Gareth Hearn (Engineering Geologist at URS Scott Wilson).

Effective Communication for Effective Development

In the afternoon we will be exploring the key theme of effective communication and the impact that this can have on development projects. Learning how to communicate our geological knowledge to stakeholders such as the local community, policy makers, NGOs and the media can help achieve sustainability and increase effectiveness. Communication is also a two-way process, and we must learn to listen to other stakeholders and utilise their knowledge and insights.

Run in the style of a BBC Question Time, this session is an opportunity for you to put questions to a panel of experts and join in what we hope will be a lively and interesting discussion. Panel members will be drawn from academia, NGOs, the UK Government and other relevant communities to ensure an energetic and balanced debate. To help you contribute, we’ve suggested some reading and noted possible discussion questions to help you engage with the material. We’ll be exploring some of these papers over the next few weeks on our blog, and encourage you to join in the discussion prior to the conference.

Keynote Address

1661The conference will include a keynote address by Dr Martin Smith (Science Director for the British Geological Survey’s Global Geoscience Programme). BGS Global Geoscience is a leading provider of applied geoscience services, with an extensive programme of international research, surveying and monitoring, including major institutional strengthening programmes in the developing world. Their work is directed towards development issues such as, (i) the sustainable benefits from natural resources, (ii) improving quality of life, (iii) protection of people and of the natural environment, (iv) poverty alleviation. These core aims are ones that GfGD closely align themselves with, and we very much look forward to Martin sharing more about their work, and lessons they have learned during their many active years.

Get Involved

There will be a number of opportunities for students to get involved, including presenting posters of relevant undergraduate and postgraduate work, GfGD University Group activities or ideas from the discussion group material. We’ll be awarding prizes throughout the day for the best posters. We will also be giving two winners from this years GfGD Blog Competition (launched soon, watch this space) the opportunity to share their posts as mini-presentations at the conference, a great opportunity for the CV.

Register Now

Tickets for the conference are limited, and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Tickets for students and unwaged are £5 and tickets for those in employment are £10. You can purchase tickets and register for the conference here. All available details will be published online at and circulated to those who have registered prior to the event.  

— Please note that the conference material is aimed at students and recent graduates, but we would be happy to hear from experienced professionals who are interested in attending – particularly if they would be willing to share their experiences with students through the poster session and informal networking (please contact —