My Twitter journey so far

It is an honest confession about what I have been able to achieve and put it in perspective. Is the social microblogging website, beneficial?

  1. I have been lucky to come across many excellent individuals! Medical Physicists, Radiation Oncologists and the fraternity which gets together and deliberates on matters of mutual interest.
  2. I had to use a lot of muted words because most people don’t realise that Twitter is meant for “manufactured outrage”. It is lazy person’s means of “activism”.
  3. I follow many accounts, but some of them are muted because their tweets add no value to the discourse here.
  4. Some Twitter users are great. They read whats on their platter, but Twitter sorts out interaction based on algorithms. It means you are likely to miss out on a lot of important things. Your likes, re-tweets or other signals are factored in what you ultimately see. It isn’t educative nor informative.
  5. I participated in my first virtual conference for ESTRO. It was an enjoyable experience, and I have written and shared my ideas extensively. If you wish to factor in Twitter as part of an interactive platform, you need to have a coherent strategy. A generic hashtag adds little value to the overwhelming noise. I would, on any given day, have a Telegram channel, instead.
  6. I am dismayed by the constant barrage of advertisements by many organisations. It is good to promote diversity of thought; however, it is clear that these accounts have been outsourced to different agencies. It appears phoney; as if they are drunk of kool-aid. My bullshit filters typically go up at the very thought. I am not naming them, of course, but it gets my goat. Likewise, for a respected “physician-scientist”. It may be acceptable to make political statements, but it is like mixing wine with water. The result- academics+politics doesn’t make any sense.
  7. Gender politics on Twitter is too stupefying; I am gender neutral (if that is the term) and I prefer to see individuals as such. There is no meaning of gender for me (as far as academics is concerned). Using your Twitter account to wash your dirty linen in public (because you have a specific gender) is labelling your back with the tag of “stupid”. Ultimately, it is your choice as to what you wish to achieve with social media. I usually prefer to stick to a personal account on Twitter or better still; I prefer Telegram.
  8. The click-through rate for articles is abysmal. If you wish to see an improved version of click-throughs for the posted links, you will need to have a large number of followers.

Has there been any luck with getting people to switch over to Telegram? Nope. Nada. Zilch. It is because of my tacit understanding as follows- Twitter as a medium for beginners is intimidating. Many users prefer to stick with the known than to start with something new. It is not laziness, but everyone has a motive to be online using Twitter. Some wish to have a more significant exposure; some users want to interact with peers, some want to express outrage or crib about life’s not fair. There is no one reason. Telegram is much more personal compared to Twitter. I have a couple of groups and channels with me on Telegram. It is good to spend time by consuming content passively. Groups allow more fine-grained control and better-nuanced interaction. And the recent moves by Twitter to force users to access it through web-alone is a stupid move.

Twitter is a bitter-sweet experience. Yes, the constant stream can be tiring and distract you cognitively but it is fun in parts. On the flip side, you end up meeting amazing individuals and people from different departments across the world.

Social media: Caveat emptor!

The debate about doctors being on social media hasn’t ended. Most people, I have spoken to, have very negative connotations about it. They feel, very strongly feel, that Twitter is nothing but an echo chamber of bigotry, lies and cussedness. It “might” be true but then technology is what you make it out to be!

Facebook is another different beast. Their claimed usage is about 2 billion users, but no has independently verified these numbers. They have been able to grow this because of powerful network effects. Most users feel comfortable here because it allows them to interact with “friends and family”. It also means that most users are reckless about it.

Facebook is a global surveillance system that gives dopamine fuelled high to be voyeuristic or exhibitionist. Their terms of service point towards collecting the data and being able to share it with “third party affiliates”. I often chuckle when people get horrified that the service they depend on its utility, for administrators, for psychological manipulation. What would it take to learn the lessons?

Social media is as good as we make it out to be. The best ideas for the blog post appear in my Twitter timeline. I get ideas, dwell on them and then write. One way out could be to learn from different specialities, see how they are using it and adapt it yours. The ideas take their shape and pretty soon, a rich interactive web form that enriches it even further.

(I prefer Telegram app).

Why blogging is essential

When you face an empty sheet, the hardest part is to define the direction you want to give to your words.

This post was in response to a brilliant blog post on 33charts, which is peddled by an influential paediatrician. I love the way he wraps up his ideas which is both a joy and a delight to read.

I have flirted and experimented with blogging consistently over the past few years (a decade or more). I am aware of how the blogging landscape evolved.

This neuroblog was set up later in response to many recommendations by those who had been there. Blogging is the best way to be able to get your ideas out. It showcases what is on your mind.

If you are clear in your mind, you can set out to do what you wish to achieve. Hence, this blogging platform is essential to categorise as well as firm up the opinion.

Twitter is sorely limited to express both the nuance as well as context. A blogging platform only explains the background, but spoken word or personal interactions best explain nuance.

Each one of these leads to a more vibrant diversity of opinion.

(Images are subject to copyright of their owners)

How I have refined my academic workflow?

(Estimated reading time: around 8 minutes).

I have been trying to establish an academic workflow for quite some time now. Writing about it helps me to organise my thoughts better. I’ll highlight what I have found useful. This list is by no means exhaustive. This is also in line with my idea of documenting everything as I hurtle towards the goal of academia. Its an ongoing struggle but I am hoping that someone more knowledgeable than me would take time out to point any obvious flaws. I also hope to spur on discussion about their own workflows.

Mind Map and how ideas could flow

Created in scapple; a basic mind map

Step 1: Creating a mind map.

I use Scapple for it. There are other alternatives available but I haven’t explored them. Stare at a blank canvas and start writing randomly. Identify the thoughts as they come to you. They help in brainstorming. This involves identifying the parameters that I have to use/cover, all the ideas I have to write about and how I need to be able to distinguish my write up from other published ones.

That, I believe, is the most important part, since the first part of any research is identifying the question and being able to coherently frame it. This is followed by supportive evidence (if any) and the strength of the protocol that you are out to write. If you don’t want to use Scapple from the outset, you can always write it down; see all the ideas that form a feedback loop, if any, and then take it forward.

Key takeaway: Identify the idea first!

Step 2: Pubmed

Once I have done it, I hit Pubmed. The search on Pubmed has improved vastly although a compelling use case exists for Quertle as well. Previously, Quertle had a free tier but its a paid option now. I haven’t used it recently though. Nevertheless, I use advanced search and booleans to drill down to the specifics on pubmed. Once I have identified my key words that give me adequate results, the fun starts.

A specific keyword is likely to give a river of publications. Most of them are usually contextually related and Pubmed has complex algorithms to sort them out. I prefer to subscribe the whole list by RSS feeds (which I covered recently). These RSS feeds then pipe into Inoreader. Few people might prefer to get email for it but this is easily lost in the sea of email that we get (I hit on a specific actionable inbox zero protocol long time back and its serving me very well). Email is a bad idea.

Step 3: Inoreader for RSS feeds

Inoreader is a fantastic resource. Apart from the specific Twitter searches, I can filter out the feeds.

Lets say, if the feed is showing up keywords for canine oligodendroglioma (which is irrelevant for me), it can be filtered out. Once its done, I can set up several other rules in conjunction with IFTTT.

Inoreader and IFTTT (If This, Then That) allows you to create applets that links various services. For example, I pipe articles related to specific keywords, IFTTT can be triggered each time the article comes in. I add specific hashtags to it and viola! All articles that are of relevance (from specific keywords/filtered) are pushed out to Twitter. A bit of human curation also occurs in this river of articles. I usually “star” the articles (things I have to follow) and IFTTT appends separate hash tag to it and pushes out to Twitter.

In this, specific write ups that are relevant to my work (starred articles, for example), are saved and downloaded (usually from Sci-Hub or through institutional paywalls).

Step 4: HighlightsApp on Mac

I use Highlights App on Mac (I think it was created by a PhD student himself). The coolest thing about it is the annotations come as a note (which now happens in Bookends as well). These notes are exported as TextBundle and opened up via Ulysses. I add meaning to these notes (needed to learn a little Markdown; enough for me to get going) and Ulysses pushes it to my publishing website on word press.com

Step 5: Using Ulysses to craft your ideas

The beauty about Ulysses (apart from the simplicity, writing long form, ability to preview in various formats etc) is stellar customer support. I faced an issue with Highlights app and Ulysses and it was addressed by the developer himself. They moved towards a subscription based model and I think it was a wise sensible decision.

Step 6: Always use a Bibliography manager for your papers!

Nevertheless, I have found peace with using Bookends. It is (I think) a one man show (Sonny Software) and is one of the most comprehensive solutions. Sente/Papers 3 are gasping but Bookends has thrived on a payment model (upgrade every 2 years) with stellar support; both on forums and email. Bookends serves as a bibliography tool (this deserves another blog post some day).

Step 7: Scrivener for writing papers. A must have and a life saver!

After annotations/note taking, I prefer to write using Scrivener; especially the long form. I break up the article in several parts and I can work on them at different intervals. This also requires another blog post!

Scrivener pipes out the output in rtf (for example) where Bookends can scan it, add the citations which then requires some more formatting to be pushed to journals for submission (and then hope that the anonymous reviewer would be nice to you!)

Starting from Pubmed, this train of thought may sound complex (but it isn’t) and is straightforward. Each one of them serves a specific purpose.

Ulysses works perfectly to write these blog posts since I prefer to use a distraction free environment. I use Vivaldi browser as my preferred software; has tons of shortcuts and muscle thats absolutely amazing.

Don’t forget cups of tea/coffee and some Spotify lists to keep things interesting! (meditative music helps me :))

Disclosure: None of them are affiliate links and I have paid for the software in full. They deserve to be highlighted!