This month, we’re asking all community engagement professionals within science to complete our state of scientific community management survey. The survey’s intended to determine the variety of community-building roles that exist within science, and is the first activity of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows program. We’ll be sharing a report of the survey results once we’ve analyzed them.
But just who are the scientific community engagement professionals? To help answer that question we’re running a series of Q&As with people in existing community-building roles. If any of these stories resonate, please do take 12 minutes to complete the survey! The more input we have to the survey, the more detailed our view of the overall landscape will be.
Today we’re featuring Laura Wheeler:
Thank you for agreeing to speak with us about your work as a scientific community engagement manager! Could you introduce yourself to our readers? Tell us a little bit about yourself and the community you manage.
My name is Laura Wheeler and I am the Community Manager for Digital Science. You can find me online, often at conferences all over the world, talking about technology, social media, women in STEM and science – I am @laurawheelers.
For those of you that may not be aware (although I hope you are, otherwise I am not doing my job properly), Digital Science is a technology company that invests in a collection of different companies who are building tools and technologies to improve the lives of researchers. We have a diverse group of portfolio companies who are helping researchers at all stages of the research cycle. We also do lots at the central level too and we have a Consultancy Team who generate a collection of very interesting reports.
You can follow us on Twitter- we are @DigitalSci.
What was your path to community management? Were you trained as a scientist or did you come by another route?
I studied biochemistry and my thesis actually focused on the Ebola virus; this is now nearly ten years ago, so the science has dramatically changed since I was an expert. I also did several lab placements, including at the Royal Marsden, where I got to experience what it’s really like to work for a cutting-edge institution. However, it was clear throughout my education that I most enjoyed the communication elements – I was actively involved in my debating societies at university and my housemates will never let me forget the times I forced them to listen to my various science presentations around viruses and other things I was excited about.
Since graduating, I have always been in job roles that cover communications, notably at the intersection of science and technology. I have worked for the BBC as a science TV researcher – this was my first real taste of translating science into digestible messages for anyone to understand. There I got to talk to scientists and technologists all over the world, to learn about the latest cutting-edge research, as well as working on film shoots – even if it was sometimes just to hold up the light shields.
I then worked for Nature Publishing Group (NPG) where Lou Woodley was my line manager. There we worked on so many cool projects: SpotOn and SoNYC, Nature Network, nature.com blogs, The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, community blogging, mixed in with lots of social media. It was at NPG where I learnt the art of using social media as a tool to reach and build communities – at the time we really were ahead of the curve as this was back in 2010! We also set up and organised social media working groups, recruited, edited and wrote social media case studies, and ran training workshops to equip staff with the right tools and technologies to run social media accounts inline with business objectives.
I am now at Digital Science where I manage all of our online communities – it’s an opportunity for me to talk and interact with not just scientists and academics, but those working in publishing, policy and within libraries.
Can you describe the key responsibilities of your role? What does an average week look like for you at the moment?
My role at Digital Science is incredibly varied – which is great. If you want to learn more about the specifics (plus hear me talk for 30 mins…) you can check out my Science: Disrupt interview.
Do you share the task of managing your community with anyone else – and do you belong to a team or wider group working on the project?
I have been fortunate over my career to work with some really smart and intelligent people! I currently work in a great and supportive team at Digital Science. Often our roles and responsibilities overlap – but I guess that’s what it’s like in a startup environment.
I have a line report, our Communications Assistant George King who is also a scientist – a Physics and Philosophy graduate from Oxford University – who is great at supporting my ideas and is always on hand to brain-storm suggestions for our latest campaigns! I could mention all the other brilliant people in my team and across the Digital Science portfolio, but I would be here all day.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a scientific community manager? Are there ways in which your role could be made easier – such as professional development opportunities or something else?
My role is multi-faceted and intersects communications and marketing, yet covers thought-leadership, press and media relations, plus lots more. Working on so many different areas on a daily basis can indeed be challenging – but rewarding at the same time.
I recently went to the STM Society Day in Washington where I heard from an esteemed panel, including Josh Freeman from AAAS. During this panel they discussed professionalising the Community Manager role which needs more of a definition and recognition. This has been one of my main career challenges – ironically – trying to communicate effectively what I do!
Initiatives, like AAAS’s fellowship programme to support community engagement professionals in science, are also paving the way to educate the market.
And zooming out a little, why do you think community engagement is important to science? How have you seen active management improve your community?
Building engaged communities is important for a company like Digital Science who want to spread the word around the various activities we are doing! Our active community management has created conversations and generated dialogues that traditionally would be really hard to execute.
A lot of the Digital Science workforce are ex-researchers and we want the community, who may be interested in our tools and technologies, to grasp that we really do understand their pains and struggles – as we have been there ourselves! That’s why the technologies we are building are so well crafted – and we want to shout about that.
Equally, we want to hear from these communities – we value and appreciate their feedback. For us, social media isn’t just a broadcasting channel, it is also a listening medium. We often ask our followers questions and run polls to gather feedback – we will never ignore a tweet! To name a few examples, we run webinars, where users can ask questions, and we have participated in the Reddit Ask Me Anything forums. This one-on-one interaction not only means we can offer personal engagement with the communities that we serve – but we are also trying to improve their lives and I do think that is appreciated.
The Digital Science community is a small part of the wider “scientific community.” Effectively, we are nurturing and growing our very own community within a community. We hope that our engagement campaigns are educating the market about our tools and technologies (and others too). As a result, we hope that those in our community can work smarter using technology, so they ultimately can spend more time on the stuff that counts – doing the science!
Find all of the interviews in this series by clicking the “community engagement Q&As” tag at the top of any blog post.