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A refreshingly honest take on blogging & twitter from Athene Donald, one of Britain’s ‘top 100 most powerful women’

As one of Britain’s ‘top 100 most powerful women’, and with a mantelpiece groaning with accolades, Professor Dame Athene Donald needs little introduction. But as a prolific blogger and social media proponent, some may be less familiar with her work – especially those of us just dipping a toe into Twitter or seeking new ways to network.

So I was keen to learn more about this inspirational scientist, whose comments are sought on everything from New Year’s resolutions to Desert Island Discs, at a recent Cambridge AWiSE event, “Different ways to reach out”.

In 2010, soon after being made a Dame, a friend challenged Athene to start a blog.  “Do it for fun”, they said. She did, (reluctantly) and never looked back. Now she writes for the Guardian, the Huffington Post and Physics Focus as well as her personal blog, and has appeared everywhere from BBC Radio 4’s “The Life Scientific” to the “Today” programme.

A chance to use a different voice
“Blogging gives me the chance to show a different part of myself and to use a different voice,” she said, “it enables me to move away from the dry, passive voice of science papers and reach completely new audiences” – something close to her heart. With Athene’s blogs read by policy makers and the public alike, she has some serious influence; a useful tool for articulating the challenges faced by women in science. “Anything that encourages a dialogue and helps brings science to the mainstream is a good thing”, she added.

She went on to explain the pros and cons of blogging. It can be time consuming, for instance, but there are real benefits, such as peer-to-peer mentoring and networking.  “The value of putting the effort in is seen as a positive and even an advantage when applying for jobs,” she continued. “Twitter is also a great means to connect with global peers and share information – in an unofficial, friendly, accessible way.”

Tips for would-be science communicators

  • Anyone can write a blog, don’t just think about it!
  • You don’t need to be a good writer. If anything, it might just help you become one.
  • Consider who you are writing for and keep that specific audience in mind.
  • Pause for a few days to mull over a post, especially if the topic is emotive.
  • If your outreach has a business objective, avoid posting anything too personal.
  • There will always be negative comments and trolls. Ignore them.
  • Twitter is ephemeral. Enjoy it, but don’t let it rule your life. It will still be there tomorrow.

Luck and success
Athene talked about the critical turning points in her life. “Don’t kid yourself that luck doesn’t play a role in success”, she said.  While I agree, I couldn’t help thinking that some people just seem luckier than others.  Perhaps, like Athene, lucky people abandon the false security of a linear path and grasp with two hands whatever comes their way.  As a friend once said, “You’ve been offered lots of opportunities and you’ve seized them”, a compliment Athene is justly proud of.

Improving your chances
Whatever your objective, be it to increase the number of women in science, to raise your profile or find yourself a better job, my biggest take-out from Athene’s inspirational talk is that the more open you are to novel ideas and new ways of doing things, the more likely it is you will be successful. Reaching out in different ways multiplies the number of peers, colleagues, like-minded groups and new audiences you associate with, which increases your chances of meeting the right person (at the right time) who has an opportunity you want to be part of.  That’s just another name for luck, right?  And as Athene so richly demonstrates, through the rollercoaster turns of her career – luck often translates into opportunity.

What is your experience with social media and blogging? Please share your stories in the comments below, and why not post your blog or Twitter handle so that other AWiSE members can connect with you?

Tamsin Henderson @gathercreative

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