I think it’s safe to say that all of us, at some point or another, have struggled with “networking.” Let’s face it: as scientists, we often work in isolation and so meeting the right people to discuss work or even collaborate with, can be challenging. It’s also incredibly awkward for a lot of us! Thankfully, there are scientists out there working hard to make this a whole lot easier. A whole lot more streamlined and accessible. Enter, Danielle Tomasello. Danielle is the creator of The Social Scientist (trademark pending): an online platform that allows scientist to meet other scientists. And I can assure you, it’s something pretty awesome and we should all be grateful! Okay, enough from me, I’ll let Danielle fill you in.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m originally from Buffalo NY and completed my PhD in Neuroscience at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Currently, I’m a postdoctoral fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, associated with MIT, in Cambridge MA. I am working to determine underlying biochemical changes that contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders. I also recently bought a house with my awesome husband and two kitties, so Boston is really starting to feel like home.
What is The Social Scientist?
The Social Scientist is an outreach and networking site created to help our scientific community. Essentially, scientists volunteer themselves to the site and allow others to contact them with any questions that they might have, like what they do and how they got where they are.
The idea behind The Social Scientist came from my frustrations at my first scientific conference as a postdoc. I had put a lot of pressure on myself to network and talk with new people. However, I find it very difficult to walk straight up to a person and start a conversation. During coffee breaks or the lunches that were provided, I would do a lap of the conference area to look for people whose talks I’d seen or posters I’d read. If I couldn’t find anyone, I would run away back to my hotel until the next session. I was always left feeling so disappointed in myself for not making any worthwhile connections. This was made worse when everyone in the scientific community tells you that these connections are essential to furthering your career.
What prompted you to create it?
While I am by no means an introvert, making new and beneficial connections is difficult – and that’s true for a lot of people I know. It is especially challenging in science where each field can very isolated, which makes it extremely difficult to get your foot in the door of a different area. So, I sat in my hotel room, eating my lunch, alone, thinking there must be a better way for us to connect with one another. I thought about the friends and colleagues I have and how they have helped me along my career path. The idea slowly took shape from there, and I reached out to those friends and colleagues to see if they were interested in donating some of their time as volunteers.
How do you think it will benefit the community?
I wanted to provide a way to contact science professionals who sincerely want to help others in the community. So, I had the idea of a website where scientists could easily display their position and interests and invite questions from anyone. This initial contact could then be followed up with a call or even just a series of email. Since this is an informal setting, there’s no need for awkward cold calling or difficult introductions. The volunteer scientists can speak freely about their experiences, offer advice, and answer a person’s specific questions. Here’s Assistant Professor Amy Gancarz-Kaush at Cal State on the website:
These scientists are putting aside time to specifically talk to others to give guidance and assistance. We even have a section for alternative careers in science, where volunteers with a science degree have leveraged their experience to head down a different path. I believe the Social Scientist can benefit all members of the scientific community by providing an open atmosphere to reach out and ask for advice.
What have been people’s attitudes toward it so far?
The site went live this August (2018), and so far the response has been fantastic! However, with us being newcomers, our biggest hurdle right now is getting the word out. We are here to help! I have a quote from an inquirer who contacted the site recently:
“thesocialscientist.org is a wonderful brainchild, which allows facilitated communication and assistance among scientists of several generations.”
-Dr. Robert P Weinberg, after speaking to a few of our volunteers.
Where would you like see the social scientist go over the next few years?
We want to be a reliable resource for current and prospective scientists regardless of their path. To that end, we envision The Social Scientist to be something like LinkedIn meets Life Coaching, but for science. Above all else, we want to help progress the science community.
How can people get involved and help?!
Sign up to be a Social Scientist volunteer! You’re not only helping others in the scientific community, but it’s also a great way to network and give something back by helping prospective and current scientists. Another huge help is spreading the word! Please encourage colleagues and friends to check out the site.