There is a new fact-checking platform for science questions being developed called Metafact. This effort is designed to make valid science information readily accessible to the average citizen. To accomplish this objective, the platform matches verified scientists and experts to questions posed by users. So far, Metafact has verified 11,398 experts in 389 specialties from 555 institutions.

I visited the founder, Ben McNeil, at the University of New South Wales in 2015. At the time, Ben had just initiated a program called Thinkable to help researchers find funding. I was in Australia to attend a conference and made time to visit Ben to give a talk and to discuss science communication (see this post for more details).

To find out more about this new effort and to support it, check out Metafact’s Kickstarter page. To sign up as an expert, go here.

Use Video to Share Your Dissertation Research

Increasing numbers of scientists and graduate students are posting videos that show various aspects of their research—in the laboratory and the field. Such videos serve many purposes, both for the researcher and for society. Take a look at this example and then we’ll talk about the benefits of making such a video.

Videos that depict scientists and students doing their research can have multiple benefits—both for the individual researcher, as well as for society.

1. Raise visibility. Early career scientists struggle to make a name for themselves in their chosen field. The traditional approach is to publish in journals and to present at science conferences. Those forms of formal communication of science are still important, but now there are additional tools that scientists can use to share their work: social media, science blogs, and videos. The video example above highlights the dissertation research of a Ph.D. student at Charles Darwin University, Mike Miloshis, who is studying how sea-level rise is changing the wetlands along the Mary River. Well-done videos like this can be used by the student or by the student’s department or university to more easily share their work with prospective employers or funders, policy-makers, the media, and the general public.

Only a handful of people will likely read your dissertation, but many more will be willing to watch a video showing what you did, how you did it, and why it’s important.

2. Solicit funding. Video is an excellent way to explain your research to prospective funders—particularly people without a science background. Crowd-funding platforms are springing up that require investigators to submit their research proposal in the form of a brief video. Members of the scientific community and the general public watch the videos and pledge a donation or vote for those projects they wish to support. One example is Thinkable, which just awarded $5,000 (AUD) to an Australian cancer researcher and is about to award almost $15,000 (AUD) in another competition based on submitted 3-minute videos.

Those students and established scientists with video skills are at a clear advantage in such competitions.

3. Augment a CV or resume´. Video is an effective and efficient way to share information about a researcher’s unique interests, skills, and accomplishments. A video can paint a picture that is more distinctive and memorable than a written description in a resume´ or on a website. In a few short minutes, the video above showed this researcher’s general knowledge of his topic and ability to communicate it, as well as his expertise with various types of scientific equipment. Because it’s visual, video makes that information more memorable. It’s especially effective at getting across intangible qualities such as enthusiasm, confidence, energy, creativity, eloquence, and humor.

See this post for more information about making a video resume´.

4. Recruit students. A video can not only solidify a distinctive image for a researcher, it can serve as a great recruiting tool for an academic looking to attract students or post-docs. The video above depicts what it’s like to do river research and explains why the topic is important to study without getting too bogged down in scientific details. In a broader sense, such videos can show other students what graduate research is like in a particular field and what some of the challenges are.

By encouraging students to make videos about their experiences, schools can attract prospective students and help them anticipate what they will face in graduate school.

5. Inform the public. In addition to benefits for the individual researcher, videos can simultaneously inform the public about the importance of a research topic and the nature of scientific research. The average person is curious about science but may view it as a mysterious process conducted behind closed doors by socially awkward, introverted, cold, mad, obsessive, [insert your stereotype] people. Many envision a lab-coated, old guy toiling away in a laboratory.

Videos like the above example show that research is carried out in all kinds of environments and by perfectly normal people. In other words, videos can help put a human face on science.

How do you create a video to portray your dissertation research? You have a couple of options: join forces with a videographer or do it yourself. The video example I’ve highlighted in this post was a joint production between the graduate student and a videographer friend. If you are studying at a university, try approaching someone with multimedia skills.

If that doesn’t work out, you can make the video by yourself or perhaps with the help of a fellow student or your advisor. Making videos is now quite easy with mobile devices that shoot HD video and simple-to-use yet powerful movie editing software. A smartphone is truly all you need these days to create a professional and effective video to share your unique qualities with others.

Communication Down Under

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I was recently in Australia (one of my favorite places in the world–despite the abundance of poisonous/dangerous animals). This was a combination work-holiday trip, and the following description provides some highlights:

Keynote Address at the University of Wollongong

I gave a keynote address “Communication Tools and Strategies for the 21st Century Scientist” at the Australian Mangrove & karenmckee_au_2015Salt Marsh Network conference held at the University of Wollongong in Wollongong, Australia. This was a great opportunity not only to reconnect with colleagues who study my favorite ecosystems, but to share my ideas about communication. You can see a version of this talk on the Prezi website (a few things were changed to fit this particular audience). I got lots of great feedback from the audience, especially students who had a number of questions about developing their own communication strategies. Also, I made contact with other scientists active in science communication:

Seminar at The University of New South Wales

In addition to the keynote address, I also visited Ben McNeil at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and gave a seminar entitled, “How Video Can Enhance the Communication of Science”. Ben is a co-founder of Thinkable, an online platform that facilitates crowdfunding of research and requires proposers to pitch their projects in a 3-minute video. We had interacted previously by email and Skype; so this trip was a chance to meet in person and share ideas about scientists using video. I also made some great contacts with science communicators at the seminar. Read more about Thinkable in this earlier post.

karen2Also, Thinkable is currently running a competition with a $5,000 award; the submission deadline has passed, but voting is ongoing until April 30, 2015. I mention this competition because you can see how some researchers are structuring video proposals and perhaps get some ideas for your next video (and don’t forget to vote!).


I also had the opportunity before the conference to do some traveling around South Australia and try out my iPhone 6 to shoot video. In the photo, I’m setting up the phone to shoot a time lapse of the surf on Kangaroo Island. I’ll be sharing my experiences and some of those videos in later posts.


As you may have noticed, I’ve not written any posts recently. Between traveling and a computer crash (aaaarrgggghhhh), I’ve not been able to write much of substance. I was really hamstrung without access to my photo and movie files. Fortunately, I had everything backed up….unfortunately, the backup was at home 9,000 miles away. However, I’m now all set up with a new laptop and ready to catch up with my writing.

More about this trip later….

Using Video to Crowdfund Scientific Research

Are you like a lot of scientists who are struggling to fund your research or find collaborators to share ideas and costs? If you are, then you might be interested in new platforms that bring researchers together with fellow scientists, science enthusiasts, and potential sponsors.

One such platform is Thinkable, where people can learn, track, and fund science topics that are specifically interesting to them. Scientists create a profile on Thinkable and then upload a brief video (3 minutes max) describing a new idea for a study, a recent paper, a conference presentation, or just a tour of their laboratory. The idea is to have an online meeting place where scientists can interact directly with other people who are interested in their area of research.

I was contacted recently by Ben McNeil, one of the founders of Thinkable, who is a proponent of video as a means of science communication. He had seen my blog and some of my videos and decided to get in touch. We had a great Skype conversation about Thinkable and about the use of video by scientists to connect with other researchers and especially as a means to solicit crowdfunding. Ben wrote a complimentary blog post about me and my efforts in teaching videography to scientists. I’m hoping to meet up with him and colleagues next year when I visit Australia to share ideas.

How Does It Work? Visitors to the Thinkable site can follow a scientist or a specific project by becoming a fan. A prospective student interested in a particular field, for example, might follow an established researcher and learn more about the projects they are currently working on. Through the video snapshots, potential collaborators can see where their respective research areas overlap and perhaps embark on a joint project. Or a nature lover may want to support research on deserts, rainforests, or coral reefs—wherever their specific interest lies. Fans receive updates from the research they have chosen to follow.

Someone can become a sponsor with a donation of as little as $1. Sponsors receive in return more in-depth information and updates about the specific research project they support. They can learn first-hand about an exciting area of research—how it is conducted or how the findings will benefit society. They can follow the progress of the researcher as s/he conducts experiments and interprets the results.

I set up a profile on Thinkable to test it out and uploaded a couple of videos to see how that worked. Setting up a profile is very easy and fast, as is uploading videos. You just list a few facts about yourself, a brief bio, and contact information. There are then three areas for interaction. In “my ideas”, a researcher uploads a video (or image) to introduce a campaign, a poster, a paper, or a talk. You can add as many “ideas” as you like, but are restricted in terms of how much you can say or show about each one. A campaign is specifically used to solicit support for a research project. Here, a researcher provides a brief text description of the proposed project and explains why it is innovative, as well as a short video “pitch”. In “my sponsorships”, you have the option of allowing people to donate or sponsor your research through Thinkable; you may also choose to decline this option and only showcase your research. In “my thinkers”, you select other Thinkable researchers to follow. It took me about 20 minutes to set up a profile and upload a couple of videos. The interface was easy to navigate, and the finished feed is visually attractive.

There are several examples of campaigns on the Thinkable landing page where you can get a better idea of how other researchers are using video to pitch their ideas.

Why Video? Thinkable founders have focused on video as an effective medium for sharing science information. Researchers are encouraged to use video snapshots to connect with fellow scientists, students, and science enthusiasts. Of course, I’m all in favor of video as a medium to share science information and also think that this approach lends itself well to crowdfunding efforts. Video snapshots force a scientist to pare their message down to the core idea behind their proposed project and to make their case concisely and convincingly. I find that many proposals fail because the PI gets bogged down in too much detail and neglects to state a single, clear goal and anticipated outcome. I think that making a three-minute video can help a proposer find and articulate that message. Potential supporters, especially the general public, will likely appreciate the video approach, as opposed to a lot of text.

In addition to raising funds, a scientist can showcase their research publications with brief videos on Thinkable, which are then discoverable by search engines. A video on a sharing platform such as Thinkable is freely accessible, in contrast to a journal article, which is likely behind a paywall. So someone without a journal subscription can still learn about your work by watching a video. But such visual snapshots are more than just a way to make one’s work more visible online. As I’ve explained in previous posts, videos allow authors to explain their work in ways they cannot with the journal article. Video can enrich a technical article and encourage the reader/viewer to explore the topic further.

The video format also does not violate copyright restrictions typically imposed by science journal publishers but instead allows the scientist to visually share important insights from their work. Quite a few authors infringe copyright law by posting the journal-formatted pdf on their websites or on other repositories. Some are unaware that they are violating copyright, whereas others do it knowingly and assume they won’t be challenged. A better approach is to produce a separate information product that simply displays the essence of the work in an easily accessible and understandable format—such as video. When posted online, these visual products serve as pointers to the original publication hosted on a journal’s website. You own the copyright to the video since you’ve created it using your own media and data from your publication (as author you retain intellectual property rights to your data and any contents of a publication).

Filling a Need. Although other video-sharing platforms such as YouTube are currently where many scientists are posting their videos, there is a need for dedicated platforms where researchers can share information and interact with science information consumers and potential sponsors. I think there will be more platforms like Thinkable in the future, and many will be designed around video to solicit funding or to display scientific information. Science information consumers and sponsors will increasingly expect media-rich content on such sites, and scientists must be prepared to provide it.