LSU Communication Across the Curriculum, College of Science Coordinator, Becky Carmichael, and LSU College of Science Communications Blog Editor, Paige Jarreau, think scientists have an image problem.
Carmichael and Jarreau hosted a workshop entitled "Scientists Who Selfie- Building the Public Trust" on Friday, sponsored by the LSU Office of Research and Economic Development, to share the results of their recent research about the issue.
“Scientists aren’t connecting to the public in a way that makes you feel like you could be friends with them,” Jarreau said.
In an effort to improve this image problem, Carmichael and Jarreau conducted an experiment evaluating people’s reactions to pictures of scientific experiments by themselves, versus scientific experiments with a group of only male scientists or a group of only female scientists.
Their research proved that a series of warm, smiling selfies could increase scientists' relatability to the public while not reducing scientists' perceived level of competence.
When subjects viewed all-female selfies, the perceived warmth of scientists increased most dramatically.
Carmichael said this might be because seeing female scientists dispels the myth that science is a male-dominated field. As a girl, she remembers there were certain fields of science she thought she couldn’t study because of her gender.
Additionally, putting faces to the work of scientists helps science in general seem more accessible to the public.
“When we provide a glimpse on social media, we’re allowing them to see what we do,” Carmichael said. “This can be inspiring to people who are thinking about becoming scientists but don’t know that they’re interested.”
To promote their research, Carmichael and Jarreau began using the hashtag #scientistswhoselfie. The hashtag quickly gained Instagram popularity, where it's been used over 14,000 times by scientists excited to put a face to their work.
Not everything in professional academic fields is particularly interesting to the rest of the world; still, Carmichael said people who wish to promote their work on social media with selfies seem more relatable if they show the mundane or difficult side of things.
“You can capture all the ups and downs,” Carmichael said. “Don’t try to pretend to be something you’re not.”
Tips Carmichael and Jarreau gave for scientists seeking to boost social media popularity included capturing excitement for science and being authentic and sharing small details about your day.
For example, one scientist who participated in selfie-taking was documenting his experience studying monkeys in the Amazon Rainforest. His captions described the less glamorous side of his adventures, including how he spent most of his days trying to find his way through the woods and stumbling into muddy pits.
“It shows how you really have to be motivated and driven,” Carmichael said. “Are you going to put up with things biting you?”
Another scientist used his social media platform to raise awareness for animals who get hit by cars, because he found a dead female kangaroo on the side of the road with a live baby kangaroo still in it's pouch.
He warned his followers they should always check animal that are killed or hurt on the side of the road, because there might be a baby animal they could save.
Carmichael and Jarreau passed around sheets of paper and asked the workshop attendees to draw one of their academic interests, so they could demonstrate how visual elements help to communicate ideas.
Afterward, students and faculty members who attended shared what fields they were passionate about and the images they drew to capture the essence of their work.
College of Science Digital Communications Specialist, Meredith Keating, shared how she is especially fascinated by social media analytics.
It was her second time attending the workshop, and she said it is a relevant topic to keep discussing.
“It’s important to humanize science a little bit more,” Keating said. “Especially if they’re not doing something super interesting, you can always find something interesting about.”
Ultimately, Jarreau said she wants to see the vastly different fields of science, art and social media come together to inspire students to study subjects they might not have otherwise been interested in.
“You see the work these scientists are doing and why they’re excited about it,” Jarreau said. “Then you can’t help but get excited about it, too.”