July 10, 2014

Promoting our Discipline with Geology Selfies – from Mauna Loa to Mars

Posted by Laura Guertin

A "selfie" at the Mauna Loa Observatory (July 9, 2014).

A “selfie” at the Mauna Loa Observatory (July 9, 2014).

We like posting photos online, especially if we have a happy moment to share.  A recent study shows that photo posts on Twitter and Instagram are four times more likely to convey positive sentiment compared with text-only tweets (see The Wall Street Journal article by Wells, 2014).  And what could make us more happy than taking photos of ourselves and immediately sharing what we are up to?

Welcome to the era of the “selfie” – the Oxford Dictionaries 2013 Word of the Year, now included as an entry in the 2014 AP Stylebook.  A selfie may be taken by anyone and may include anyone.  For example,  Pope Francis has been known to pose for a “Papal selfie,”  and the most retweeted selfie was the one by Ellen DeGeneres at the 2014 Oscars.  General Colin Powell says he has been taking selfies for over 60 years (and has the image to prove it)!  But Thelma and Louise still like to take credit for the first selfie (via Polaroid) in their 1991 film.

Note that selfies can even come from “out of this world”…


It is not just individuals (and rovers) that are taking selfies.  Organizations are jumping on the selfie bandwagon to encourage participation by scientists and to engage the general public.  This year, NASA asked people to take a #GlobalSelfie for Earth Day, which they then compiled in to a mosaic image of Earth from space.  Two months later, the organizers of World Oceans Day asked everyone to Take a Selfie for the Sea.  Currently, Sigma Xi is asking their members to send in a Science Selfie from the lab, classroom, or field, to share with other members on social media and on their upcoming virtual professional collaboration platform. So why would geologists want to take a selfie?  I can think of two very good reasons we should all make a greater effort to have photos of ourselves in the field, in the lab, doing research with students, etc.

    • Show students you were there! Have you ever shown students images from national parks and/or shared your stories of your fieldwork and travels – only to have a student question if you just “googled” the location and copied an image you found online?  I find by showing a photo that includes myself makes the lecture more “authentic” to students, that I’ve actually been to that location and observed the geology myself.  I also use these images as an online profile image on websites and social media channels.
    • Send to your admissions and university public relations offices!  We Earth scientists need to do a much better job becoming a part of the public image of the university.  Since the staff creating the presentations and shiny color brochures for the university are not in the field with us, we should be more pro-active in taking many photos and sending copies to the University Relations and Admissions offices.  This will help the “front line” on campus be informed of what is going on in our geology programs and give them images to use for promotional purposes.  Below is an example of an image of a geology class on a field trip (and I would recommend including the university Twitter handle in these tweets – I have found this a very effective practice for catching the eye of the person in charge of our campus Twitter feed, and he will typically retweet to all the university Twitter followers – great advertising and promotion for what I do in my courses!).



As you can tell by my selfie above from the Mauna Loa Observatory, “taking selfies” is not quite a skill set in my tool box (taking a photo of myself standing next to a sign isn’t all that exciting).  Whenever I travel, I always take my school mascot with me, the Nittany Lion, and have him pose in photos at different field sites (example below).  This documents for students that I visited these locations.  But I am leaning towards trying to take at least one photo of myself at different sites, as I think having students see me enjoying geologic sites might help them make an even more personal connection to my teaching and to the discipline.



And don’t forget that AGU has asked us to send them a Postcard from the Field for their Tumblr site.  I bet we will see a selfie or two appear in their collection!

One additional photo opportunity available is the Life in the Field Photo Contest, hosted by AGI, AIPG, AGU, and GSA.  Note that the deadline for this contest is July 25.