Aging reflects molecular changes that occur over the course of life. Our bodies react to various challenges every day. A high dose of radiation can kill you in minutes, while high fructose levels in food will negatively impact you sooner or later. How soon or late depends on your genetic background. Aging is a predictable process that can be altered by positive and negative influences. An interesting positive influence that can affect aging is social interaction. Social interaction is obviously good for your health. Before the advent of social networking, researchers reported improved healthspan in individuals with more social contact. But whether social interaction has anti-aging potential is still under question.
Internet and social media are channels to communicate concerns, seek solutions, and voice opinions. In 2013, around 39% of the world’s population uses the internet, and the numbers are much higher in the developed world (77%). A standard approach to finding information about a topic usually involves internet searches. Social media platforms hosted on the internet have now become mainstream. One study reports that online social networking services are instrumental for the exchange of information between overweight patients and their healthcare providers, and that these interactions could result in superior weight-loss outcomes. The studies’ systematic review and meta-analysis of these services in modifying body mass index (BMI) found that interventions using social networking services produced a modest but significant 0.64% reduction in BMI in obese patients. So it seems the internet and social media platforms have the potential to effect healthspan.
The internet can also affect our scientific careers and in a big way. In a 2011 survey based study, only 2.5% of UK and US active scientists were found to have Twitter accounts. So the question is as researchers are we making the best use of this medium? Short answer is: NO. Often we find ourselves grappling with the novelty of these resources, which undermines their measurable impacts and long-term utility. Social media and internet-based resources are ubiquitous, and for introverted scientists, social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, ResearchGate and Twitter can be intimidating.
Increasingly, search committees collecting information about faculty candidates depend on information found within the World Wide Web. In today’s technology-driven world, lack of an online presence can severely limit a researcher’s visibility and lower their probability of getting job offers. Not surprisingly, career advisors strongly recommend that postdocs use online networking tools to make new connections and exchange scientific ideas to advance their careers. Online platforms are perfect for researchers to cogitate and make informed opinions. As the benefits of social media have unraveled over the last decade, major IT players like Google have developed dedicated metrics to enhance scientists’ portfolios (Google Scholar), thus making social media an integral part of a researcher’s toolkit. Publishers such as PLOS offer article-level metrics that log the number of article views, PDF downloads, social media discussions, and associated blog/media coverage.
What else can help you advance your scientific career? Resources like LinkedIn are good for making connections, but their scope is limited. Your own website or electronic CV, can help in your personal search engine optimization (SEO) potential. You can post media highlighting your research, like those great confocal images or time-lapse videos of tissue regeneration. Some of us are of the modest opinion that our science should speak for itself, but consider the buzz around certain talks or posters at the last conference you attended. A professional website showcasing your skills can pay off in the same way. There are lots of inexpensive options that include blogging platforms hosted by Google and WordPress. Researchers and healthcare givers can use it in a more potent way.
So the next time you hop on the Internet or log on to Facebook, take a second to think about how you can take advantage of these everyday activities to benefit your long-term health and your career. Knowing what’s out there and making use of these tools could make all the difference.
Tools that showcase your output:
Tools that help you network:
For more on the author, check out Amit Khanna’s website.