Social Media in Sciences – Interview with P. Smith, Agilent Technologies

Social Media in Sciences – Interview with P. Smith, Agilent Technologies

Author: Vera Köster

The use of social media is increasing, also within the scientific community.
Vera Koester, ChemViews magazine, asks Paul Smith, EMEA and India Compliance Program Manager for Agilent Technologies, UK, Consultant, and moderator of the largest NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) group in LinkedIn, about his experiences with the use of social media and what benefits he sees from this.

You are a scientist, manager and consultant. How did your career develop?

I choose a chemistry degree. What made me choose chemistry? I was good at it at school and I am a visual learner. And science naturally has a lot of visual information in order to explain the concepts.

I specialized in spectroscopy and got a job in spectroscopy recording and interpreting infrared and Raman spectra, having specialized in this at Bradford University, UK. Then, when I got my Masters, I moved into general sciences in the analytical area. Spectroscopy is always a subject I will have an interest in. As my career progressed, I gained people and project responsibilities. When I left the pharmaceutical industry I was managing a Quality Control laboratory with a staff of over 75 people and a budget over one million pounds. I then moved into consultancy.

Then, when I moved back into “main stream” employment, I wanted to go for a job that was consultancy-like. And that lead me to move into the kind of job I have got now, where it is a mixture that I like very much (a lot like being a consultant, but with a regular salary!). There are intellectual or technical challenges and a lot of people contact. So my reframe and what I do is helping people and helping these companies. And I also enjoy sciences at my job, as well.

Ironically, in my current role, I am much more focused on understanding and monitoring changes that affect the pharmaceutical industry, such as the Food and Drug Administration focus on “Data Integrity”, than when I worked in it.

How do you use social media?

In terms of social media I tend to use LinkedIn more than any other. For me the mixture of the discussion forums and the possibility to contact somebody is important.

If I have something I want to find information about, I post a question in a forum. Also I want to get information on what people discuss. And I like to share information with people rather than to keep it to myself.

On the other hand, I connect with people. For example, every business contact I make, I will see if they are in LinkedIn to easily stay in contact.

Do you mostly find these people in LinkedIn?

It is about somewhere between a quarter and a third of the people I meet that I can find on LinkedIn.

What kind of people use LinkedIn?

I think there are more older people in LinkedIn than in something like facebook. LinkedIn tends to be more of a professional network.

In general, my experience is that people using facebook don’t mind sharing their personal life and what they did last night, but would be horrified of the thought of telling the people anything around their career or their work. Equally people who are scientists tend to chat more curiously. As they are more curious, they probably find networking with a specialist more intriguing than rather sharing their personal life.

Compared to networks like MyRSC or ResearchGate, what major differences do you see to LinkedIn?

I think there, with MyRSC and ResearchGate, more people from academia connect with each other. LinkedIn tends to be used more by industry people than by academia.

I think the academics have a much more precise focus on what they want. They don’t really want a discussion, they want a problem solved. They are very detail driven in what they share.

Maybe this leads to a polarity – where academics don’t really connect to industrial people and vice versa, where they don’t interact much and both stay in different networks.

How important do you think networking is?

Networking is a fundamental characteristic of a person. You either understand the value of a real network, do it naturally, or you cannot do it.

To give some examples, in LinkedIn many people tend to replicate their company’s phone book to their contacts, so some 75 % of a lot of people’s contacts tend to be internal. I am not quite sure what value that adds to them.
Some people will even use the default LinkedIn e-mail that says this ‘I’d like to add you to my professional network’ kind of thing. If somebody I know sends me this invite, it is not a problem as I already know them. However, if someone I don’t know sends me a blank invite like this, I will be much less likely to connect with them than with somebody who invests time to think of what might be a good reason why we should connect or work together. I am not a LION (LinkedIn Open Networker), but I am open to connections where someone reaches out and invests time in the invite. Some people are very “protective” over their networks.

What do you specifically like about LinkedIn?

One of my interests is taking information from one forum where industry may have a solution for a problem into another. How a problem is solved in one area could be fruitful to another area.

Different areas of industry think differently about problems so that communication like this prevents you from being constrained by your own thinking and your own knowledge and increases creativity.

What do you dislike?

One of the trends I have seen lately is that increasingly discussion forums are used to promote something. This is an issue in those forums that do not have strong policies, when somebody publishes pure marketing just to get a link or even worse, just “spams” the discussion with promotion. Ironically, some of the groups I am in where this is not an issue are the Sales ones. They have got a really clear set of rules (only discussion, no promotion), which are enforced with the message “if you break these, I will delete you”.

I am actually one of the moderators of the largest NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) group. And the people said “we do not want any rules”. But because there are no rules, it makes the moderator’s job hard to decide if something is spam or if I should delete somebody. There was one guy, for example, who consistently changed the discussion to his own agenda.

The level of spamming has reached the point where, in some groups, people have stopped being comfortable. This is disappointing, but not a surprise.

Will the percentage of our communication via social media increase?

I think it will continue to increase. On the other hand, I think there will also be a group of people who rebel against what they perceive as the intrusion of social media and the power that it has.

What got you interested in LinkedIn?

I had a number of invites which I kind of ignored. Eventually I was stuck at an airport for a few hours and I thought “why don’t I look at this LinkedIn thing?”. I made the decision that I was going to give it a try. And in making that decision, I was going to try and use it and find out as much as I could about it before I evaluated how useful it could be to me. So for me, “trying” meant I was going to do quite a lot of reading and use that knowledge to develop my LinkedIn profile. I have the natural pattern that if I find interest in a subject, I research it. In doing this I found LinkedIn very useful and beneficial.

How do you benefit from it?

My current job I got, in part, through LinkedIn. I have been invited to speak at conferences and invited to write research articles based on my LinkedIn profile. So also my company benefits from me having a “full profile”.

Social media has the potential to “cut through” formality, so for example, many people will respond to an e-mail sent through LinkedIn much faster than one sent through formal business to business e-mail addresses (many people use a personal e-mail address).

LinkedIn is a very powerful tool in business to keep in touch with contacts. There are a number of people, and I am actually connected to some of them, whose whole career now is in revamping somebody’s LinkedIn profile to help their career (so, somewhere between coaching and career development) and people can make some good money out of it if they are good enough. I think strategically about LinkedIn both from a business and also a career perspective.

What do you mean by this?

LinkedIn has a powerful relationship with Google. People who are “power users” of LinkedIn will tend to try and influence their profile like a webpage and, for example, have keywords in certain places so that those keywords contribute to their LinkedIn “ranking” and therefore to both their ability to be found on LinkedIn and also on the web. For example, “Paul Smith” is a common name and if used in a Google search, will highlight over 500,000,000 entries! However, if I use terms such as “Paul Smith IQ OQ” or “Paul Smith NLP” my LinkedIn profile will be the number 1 “hit”. Many people are not aware of this LinkedIn–Google relationship.

What do you like doing outside of sciences?

I enjoy traveling in my job, but often this can mean hotels, airports, and meeting rooms, so I especially enjoy traveling with my wife, where we can explore and see the country more. Beyond that, I enjoy spending time with family and I balance traveling through work with working from my home office. So, when I am not traveling, I see much more of my family. I have quite a strong creative focus and enjoy building things, doing something with my hands. And I always travel with a camera and look for photo opportunities. I like watching films. As I am a visual learner, I prefer to watch the film rather than read the book – my wife, on the other hand, would prefer to read the book and then watch the film. Nevertheless, I enjoy buying lots and lots of books and sometimes, I even find time to read them.

Thank you for the interview.

Paul Smith studied chemistry at the University of Bradford, UK, gaining his BSc in 1985. He moved to Birkbeck College, University of London, UK, to complete his MSc in analytical chemistry from 1987–1989. He combined his MSc thesis work with a work-based research project at SmithKline Beecham, now GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), UK, from 1985–1989. Smith remained at GSK until 2002, during which time he performed several roles centered around quality assurance and analysis.

In 2002, Smith set up a consultancy business, Tera Solutions, Ltd., and developed his Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) skills by gaining his Master Practitioner certification. In 2006, he was a consultant lecturer at the University of Greenwich, London, UK, in the areas of pharmaceutical science and technology transfer. He joined PerkinElmer, UK, in 2006 as Validation Program Manager for Europe and in 2011 he took up his current position as EMEA and India Compliance Program Manager for Agilent Technologies, UK. He also owns a professional development consultancy focusing on NLP solutions, coaching and training and is a member of the editorial advisory board for the Journal of Validation Technology.

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