Biologists take over Twitter

by Anne Hilborn, guest blogger

Many scientists (myself included) are initially suspicious of using social media professionally, thinking it a bit too show offy, a bit too much like tooting your own horn, a bit too much of a waste of time.  However, many of us eventually discover it can be a great tool for finding and connecting with people doing interesting research both within and outside of our disciplines. Twitter especially has a vibrant scientific community, whose size and pointed sense of the ridiculous was illustrated this past week as the #fieldworkfail hashtag brought together thousands of pithy stories of fieldwork gone (sometimes seriously) wrong.

It initially started as Chris Rowe and I were looking for a way to share pictures of field vehicles stuck in the mud.

Although many of the contributors were terrestrial biologists, it became clear that aquatic scientists had their share of failures.  After all, the chances of things actually going right when weather, water, equipment, animals, and field techs combine are quite small.

Boats are always a source of trouble

Sometimes you can blame the tides, sometimes not


Dealing with aquatic organisms whether they are study species or not, leads to all sorts of shenanigans


Poise under pressure was sometimes lacking


Then there are the “Uh-oh” moments


I think part of the success of #fieldworkfail is due to the fact that we have all been there.  Doing fieldwork perfectly is impossible, we have all done something stupid, dangerous, clumsy, or idiotic, and thankfully most of us survive to laugh about it afterwards.

While our own mishaps are fun, reading about other people’s is doubly hilarious.  I am currently slogging through data analysis and writing up of my PhD and #fieldworkfail was a perfect way to remember why I got into science and why I love being a field researcher.  It allowed scientists across the globe to come together and share what is universal i.e. failure.


As the hashtag garnered thousands of tweets, mainstream media started paying attention.

Like this Article in the Huffington Post.

Or this one on Buzzfeed.


By the end of the weekend, these tales of scientific field humor became one of the most popular topics on social media



By emphasizing science’s failures with humor, #fieldworkfail has served to show the wider public the more human side of science


It also allowed us scientists to remember that we are not alone, that no matter what idiotic thing we have done, someone has always done something worse.  Which, in the trenches of science, is sometimes the best you can hope for.

If you want even more stories of #fieldworkfail, check out these Storify posts

#fieldworkfail Part I

#fieldworkfail Part II


IMG_0224Anne Hilborn is a student at Virginia Tech, doing her PhD on the hunting behavior of cheetahs in Tanzania.  But she worked on salmon in a former life.  She blogs about field research (mostly on cheetahs) here

Follow her on twitter:

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