I'm a Real Scientist, apparently
8 minutes read
19th May 2022
In the week from 9th of May to 15th of May, I was the curator of the German Real Scientists account on Twitter. That means, I was allowed to tweet to their over 17000 followers about my life and work as a scientist with very mild restrictions.1 Here, I want to write a bit about how that went.
Since my son’s birth was expected around the 17th of May, I tried to prepare as many threads as possible in advance. I only managed to prepare half of what I wanted to, which I count as a win.
My plan was to give an overview over most of my projects, foremost my Ph.D. project and my current post-doc project. Then I wanted to augment this self-advertising with some thoughts on teaching and on the ongoing outcry against the way scientific staff is treated in Germany; #IchBinHanna. In preparation, I started at random points in the list of topics I had and wrote down random thoughts2, but then no topic was actually finished when the week started. What I did manage to prepare was the thread to start off the week, in which I presented how I spent the last 15 years between grammar school and post-doc.
So, when my week started I was able to post that 14-tweets long thread right out the gate which was well received, as far as I can judge. Especially popular was the tweet about the three-stories tall parabolic slide in the maths/compsci building.
With a few steps in-between, this information also found famous maths communicator Matt Parker. He was offended that no one told him about that when was visiting Munich the last time. So, I took a first-person video of myself using the slide and wrote a tweet about it for him on my private account. I invited him to let me show him around our department building when he’s back in Munich; slide included. Alas, he didn’t react. My former Ph.D. advisor is on a first name basis with him, so it would be easy enough to get in contact with him if I had any concrete idea why. Currently, I just want senpai to notice me, I guess. Moreover, I would rather not rely on my former advisor all the time, but that’s a topic for another day.
Back on topic: The Monday I started tweeting, I also filled in for a colleague and took over his exercise group for the geometry lecture.3 One of the exercises that week was to finish the perspective drawing of a Tic Tac Toe field when only the outer frame is given. I like it a lot because you can tackle this problem from multiple angles, depending on which things you know and which things you’re allowed to use. In particular, one solution involves the cross-ratio4 which I wanted to use in another thread later that week. So, on a whim, I decided to post that exercise to Twitter and said I would present some solutions over the next few days.
One person was immediately annoyed and said how much they hate this kind of maths problems, that it was too vague, that they don’t know what Tic Tac Toe is and that they don’t know what to do with it. I tried to explain that this an exercise which lives in the bigger context of a lecture and, in particular, that the point is for students and tutors to discuss it together in the exercise classes. I was able to restrain myself from sending them a link to Let Me Google That For You.
There’s definitely some discussion to be had about how we always say that maths has to be super precise, while in the day-to-day work mathematicians are often much more sloppy. But I’m still not sure what I exactly mean by that…
On Tuesday morning, I already realized that I will be falling behind on my ambitious schedule. So I slowed down.
On Wednesday, I finished the explanations about the project I’m currently working in. Afterwards, I interjected a few tweets explaining how that project hasn’t much to do with either maths or research. As the admins of the account introduced me as a scientist who does maths, but interactive, I felt the need to put my work a bit into perspective. Studying maths is supposed to make you versatile and teach you how to get a grasp of new topics quickly. So, it’s easy to quickly find yourself in different fields of work. I still see myself as a mathematician, even though I’m firmly in the education bubble for a couple of years now.
Thereafter, I went on to my Ph.D. project and my dissertation itself. For the latter, I wanted to code and record some animations to show the inner workings of the handwriting recognition algorithm I created. At that point, I already ran out of most of my prepared tweets, so I wrote everything right before I posted it. But coding animations costs a lot of time! So, I only managed to do two of them. I still had a nice discussion afterwards with two people about my approach, so it was a success.
This was the end of Friday, and at that point I only managed to tweet one of the solutions to the Tic Tac Toe problem. And nothing about anything else regarding teaching.
Unfortunately, on Saturday, I crashed a little. I had absolutely no energy to do anything for the account. I can’t remember what I did that day, even though it was only a few days ago at the time of writing this. Maybe I slept all day, maybe I played The Outer Worlds all day.
On Sunday, I finally managed to tweet about #IchBinHanna. Due to the hashtags popularity and some retweets, that thread got a lot of traction. I only gave a short overview of the precarious working conditions in German academia and continued with my personal experiences. Some people complained that I wasn’t nuanced enough on Twitter, but I managed not to start fighting with those. There were also a few defenders of the status quo, but everyone ignored them. Ha!
I finished Sunday and the whole week with a sloppy thread on the second Tic Tac Toe solution. But it lacked details, pictures/animations and a proper conclusion.
Overall, it was a really great experience! I spent basically all week doing nothing else. In particular, I didn’t get much done for my actual work. I already planned for that, and I did spend a few days promoting my current project after all. So, it’s fine, I say. With a bit more experience as a science communicator (on social media) it might have been easier to plan ahead a bit better. But that’s always true, isn’t it. I definitely learned a lot, though.
My personal Twitter account grew from 295 followers to 350. And the account of my post-doc project grew from 280 or so to 312. Both are a success in my book. Of course, I still have no idea what to do with my followers.5 Since there are a few quite famous mathematicians and maths communicator among them, I always want to do some form of maths content; which might also delight the people who started to follow me after the Real Scientists stint. But I have no idea what exactly. I know, I know, “just get started”…
Don’t be a racist dick and don’t try to sell stuff. ↰
For scientific talks this always seemed to work. 🤷 ↰
It is just called ‘Geometry’ and covers introductions to projective, combinatoric and differential geometry. ↰
All the game developers among them baffle me something fiercly. Even Rami Ismail started following me after I told him where to find a cinema in Munich that shows movies in their original language. Weird. ↰