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Dean’s Blog: Scientist selfies for a greater good

Selfie of Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm
Selfie of Dean Miralles-Wilhelm while conducting research on tree islands in the Florida Everglades. Photo provided.

As we ready ourselves for the fall semester, each of us has the opportunity to reset personal goals and objectives; to try new things both inside and outside of our labs and classrooms that can enrich our students’ experiences. 

Some goals may be reaffirmations, like to continue research grant writing productivity which ratcheted up during COVID-19, or to remain community focused as many of us took on additional student mentoring roles to help navigate a non face-to-face learning landscape.

Here’s something you may not have considered for your goals list, yet research shows it can be a benefit. How many of you said, “I’m going to step up my social media presence to better establish my academic brand and thought leadership role in my field”?

According to a 2019 research study ‘Using selfies to challenge public stereotypes of scientists,’ a team of researchers determined that “self-portraiture by STEM professionals on social media can mitigate negative attitudes toward scientists.”

The study further suggests “that scientists posting self-portraits (“selfies”) to Instagram from the science lab/field were perceived as significantly warmer and more trustworthy, and no less competent, than scientists posting photos of only their work.”

Just ask some of our scientists, like Cindy Smith (ESP), Kelly Knight (Forensic Science), Dann Sklarew (ESP), Natalie Burls (AOES), Evelyn Sander (Mathematics), Peter Plavchan (PhysAstro) or Tony Falsetti (Forensic Science) who are active on various personal and department social media channels.

In fact, the study even references an element of gender diversity and inclusiveness to consider. 

Jarreau and his team also noted that those in their sample “who viewed scientist selfies, especially posts containing the face of a female scientist, perceived scientists as significantly warmer than did participants who saw science-only images or control images. Subjects who viewed female scientist selfies also perceived science as less exclusively male.”

In addition, according to the abstract, survey participants “perceived less symbolic threat from scientists. Most encouragingly, participants viewing selfies, either of male or female scientists, did not perceive scientists as any less competent than did participants viewing science-only or control images.” Rather than dumbing down our science, it makes it and us more relatable and understandable.

When I took on my role as Dean, I started writing this blog, including some selfies and personal experiences to help build connections while we were in a virtual environment. It does take time to share parts of your life in such a public facing way. Yet I’ve found I enjoy this expression of who I am. And perhaps it’s helped you get to know me a bit better too, particularly during this very strange first year of my tenure here at Mason.

For those of you already on social media, I know you ‘get it’ and this research may not surprise you. Yet for others who, after reading the abstract may want to try social media and don’t know where to start, I encourage you to connect with our marketing and communications team.  

Each fall, the college’s Marketing and Communications (Marcom) team offers to digitally mentor our new faculty who have an interest in social media, setting up photo shoots and amplifying their posts. We feature faculty research and successes with faculty photos regularly across the college’s digital channels. 

It’s never too late to get started on social media. And best of all, you control the amount of time you devote to it. As you step into your ‘new normal’ this fall, consider adding social selfies to your goals list, both as a way to relate to your students, as well as to share a bit of yourself. In the process, you could also help dispel negative stereotypes about scientists. And these days, that’s an important thing to do.


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