Post #OHBMx Twitter conference thoughts & also thank-yous…

So the Equinox is over & we are officially into Spring. Does not seem that way. I was recording my online lecture yesterday afternoon now that we are in COVID-19 social isolationg & had to pause the recording because I noticed it was snowing & we had plants outside! But that is the rollercoaster of Spring here in the US midwest.

In my previous post I featured most of the people in Team OHBMx – the machine behind & @OHBMequinoX, but I did not get to everyone. The Aussie Hub started us off with Michael Breakspear‘s Keynote – a fabulous investigation of brain activity modes in premature babies. Tour de force investigation in so many ways – hard to get this activity in the first place, difficult to source model because of fontanelles, lots of technical issues to solve… A great way to kick us off & with lots of excitement in response to his talk. Ppl were tweeting to signal the start of #OHBMx to draw attention to the meeting [#OHBMx program is here for those of you who missed it:]

Of course Michael’s Keynote Tweets can be viewed here: While Michael Breakspear [@DrBreaky] was keynote tweeting, behind the scenes the Aussie hub was working hard. Pressure was on – they were starting off the 24 hour meeting & were the ‘new kids on the block’ relative to the Euro & US hubs – no pressure… Incredible efforts by Megan Campbell [@MegaEJ_Campbell], Léonie Horne [@LeonieBorne] & Nikitas Koussis [@KoussisNikitas]!!! They started the meeting off beautifully – everything running smoothly. [And this is easier said than done…] Thank you so much for volunteering to do this! Their smiling faces appear below:

And from the US hub we also had Sheran Khan – his photo appears further down in our feed.

While the hubs were doing their thing, I was valiantly trying to stay awake for the duration – to try to ask questions, offer suggestions & make comments etc. So I decided that I would make my #OHBMx headquarters in our Man Cave at home – booted the other half out of there for 24 hours. Nah, not quite, he was coming in to follow along the fun while he was awake. Here is my ‘pajama’ picture from the couch around 11 pm or so – we started at 10 pm our time.


Over the course of next 24 hours, I confess: I lasted 23 24 hours. I had my two trusty editorial assistants helping out – initially they were on the couch watching the action, but later when everything was under control they decided to retire to the periphery of the Man Cave – in the right pic below you can see daylight as we are into the next day already here!

As the conference progressed the tweeting began to show more & more creative use of video, which prompted Team OHBMx Head Enrico Glerean [@eglerean] to issue a challenge: perhaps we might consider an award for the best video! There were many very amusing videos – which of course were right on track with the presentations, but my personal favorite was Léonie Horne’s. Why? Because she starred in it herself & it was very witty & fitted totally with her chosen theme!

The transition from the Aussie hub to Euro hub was seamless:

I confess that I missed the transition. I was practicing the ancient art of human brain napping. Why? In addition to taking rests between devoting my full attention to scientific presentations, in our location we had a deluge – 15 cm [6 inches] of rain in the 24 hour period that was #OHBMx. This meant that during the night I was also having to run down to our basement to make sure that the incoming water would not get out of control. Was able to contain it to one location & deal with it. Lucky thing I was up all night, otherwise it would have been quite an unpleasant surprise in the basement the next day!

So here are some action shots of Euro hub TeamOHBMx hard at work chairing their respective sessions during their stint at the control panel of the meeting: Michele V & Juulia, Onerva, Onerva & Narayan, & finally Baran & Koos.





And a reaction to something going awry – not necessarily on the ongoing [visible] Twitter feed, but behind the scenes – which we were all monitoring in Slack as well – I had it on my cell phone while looking at the #OHBMx Twitter feed on my laptop. [Permission by Juulia to post this shot…]


The hub baton was handed over a third time to the Team OHBMx US hub – with Dimitrios Pantazis & Sheraz Khan at the helm – again these are seasoned Twitter conference hubbers. So they approached things in a lay back way:


Dimitrios had it all under control using two computers & Sheran decided he wanted to be in a virtual Hawaii. Makes sense if you are in Boston at this time of year! They also tweeted that shot. That said though, here is a shot of Sheran’s screen:


So he has it all going on on the monitor at once: the Tweetdeck #OHBMx feed, the #OHBMx program, Slack, & the Googledoc with the cue tweets to introduce each presentation. As you can see, there is a lot that has to be monitored at a time. Two people chairing at a time is needed – tweeters have to be contacted ahead of time to make sure they are ready, and current tweeters need to be monitored that they are keeping to time, posting appropriate content etc…

So here is a warning for those who want to do something like this. This is hard work. IMHO to organize this & run this meeting is in some ways is harder than running the main OHBM scientific meeting in June. The logistics are so complicated – presenters in multiple time zone to contend with [some regions with & without daylight saving], technical problems that tweeters might encounter that have to be solved remotely, alternate action plans needing to be implemented if a tweeter does not get their sequence of tweets right. And this happens, despite the given instructions to Tweeters. Why? Because we rely on technology to function perfectly. Sometimes this does not happen. I was a Keynote Tweeter in the #BrainTC conference in 2018. I was nervous & happily did not screw up, but I remember I had to totally keep my attention on task…

I am not going to feature the other Keynotes or Regular tweeters presentations here. They were all excellent – the quality of the science was truly exceptional – as one would expect of an activity tied to OHBM. What blew me away was the ability of the presenters to present incredibly complex work [data & analyses] using only 6 tweets. [Keynotes had 10.] Figures etc. were really informative for the viewer! Do check out the presentations by searching on the #OHBMx hashtag or the @OHBMequinoX feed. We had a plan to organize & make the contents accessible on the regular OHBM website. For now there are 2 options: 1. you can just search on Twitter using those #OHBMx hashtag or @OHBMequinoX. 2. Or, even better, why not use this newly minted tool created by Anibal Sólon [@anibalsolon]. He just told us about it today – see our Tweet below providing links to his resource, [thank you Anibal!!!]:

Now, also do not forget to check out the @OHBM_Trainees & their activities – get involved with the OHBM_Trainees, a special interest group [check them out on the OHBM website:]. They co-ordinate activities of our huge postdoc & graduate student membership. Lots of activities all year round – not just at the OHBM scientific meeting in June. Advice regarding careers & also chances to hook up with mentors who are senior scientists. [I have been a mentor thru this program – I recommend it. My mentee was a postdoc who went on to find a faculty position – I am delighted for him!] So check out OHBMx-73: their presentation at the Twitter conference for more information & of course also the OHBM website [see link above].

So, now that #OHBMx is over there is nothing else left to do but hunker down at home & teach & work the rest of the semester from home. That & LOTS of Zoom meetings! This means work & also play – we have already have had virtual dinners/drinks with friends in the evenings.

Stay well & remember to reach out to those who are isolated – people on their own that need to have some online/phone company…








Anatomy of a Twitter Conference


I recall mentioning the idea of a Scientific Twitter Conference to a large group of university administrators ~2 years ago, as an economical & green way to engage scientists across continents. This was  a joint meeting of our US university & a university in France – we were in Paris to pave a memorandum of understanding between our 2 institutions [which happily happened in February 2019]. So what was their reaction, I hear you cry? Universal laughter, amusement & disbelief, which I took in my stride because I have a pretty thick hide. How did I feel about that? Overwhelming sadness. Not embarrassment or anger or anything like that, just plain old vanilla-flavored sadness: sadness that people could not see the potential of social media in spreading a positive message of science & exchanging knowledge & valuable information…

I had participated in the 3 previous Brain Twitter conferences, organized by the very capable folks at Aalto University [see the 2019 meeting proceedings here ]. The very 1st year I was online as a participant & enjoyed it immensely – I learned a lot, met new scientists online, asked questions about their work. Altogether it was a wonderful experience. The 2nd year I was a ‘Keynote Tweeter’. That was an incredible lot of fun. The 3rd year I was again a participant – again I learned so much. I continually run into people at the main OHBM scientific face-to-face meeting that I got to know from Twitter & it is so delightful to meet them in real life!

So, when OHBM was looking for ways to engage its Members with online methods, I approached the good folks at Aalto University & asked them if they would like to do the conference again, but this time as part of OHBM. I am delighted that they agreed! Everyone involved in the OHBM machine also got really excited about it – lots of people offering their help in different ways including the OHBM Communications Committee [headed by Nils Muhlert @nilsmuhlert] & the OHBM Student & Postdoc SIG [Special Interest Group headed by Mengxia Gao @Mengxia_Gao]. Even the OHBM Scientific Board has been enthusiastic with Peter Bandettini as its current Chair [@fMRI_today]. So it has been a really marvelous community supported effort – with also additional co-ordination from the OHBM Executive Office. Huge shout out to Emily & JoAnn, in particular!


So, here we are a few days out from OHBMx [or @OHBMequinox] – the online neuroimaging meeting that will run for ~24 hours on Friday March 20th – on the Equinox – that magical time of the year when daytime & nighttime are equal in the world! It is also Brain Awareness Week in so many parts of the world – so it is a nice way to end that week. Check out – it gives details of the meeting & highlights the Keynote Tweeters – no need for me to do it here. So we have 3 organizational hubs which progressively kick in as the Earth turns: Newcastle University in Australia, Aalto University in Helsinki & MIT in Boston. These ‘hubs’ co-ordinate the continuing scientific tweetstorm [is this a word?]. So, yes there is order in the chaos. There is a program – see it on

I want to feature the smart & engaged people who are the brains behind this enterprise on this blog. I asked them for photos & the opinion was divided between providing photos of people in pajamas [given the nature of the conference!] & providing professional photos… So I am going to use the photos where everyone looks their best!

First up is Enrico Glerean [@eglerean] – he is co-ordinating all of our efforts & making sure that no-one goes off into the ruff in organizing OHBMx overall… He is also leading the European hub!

Image from iOS

In the European hub, as well as the OHBMx Organizational Team, we also have Onerva Korhonen [@OnervaKorhonen], Juulia Suvilehto [@JSuvilehto], Koos Zevenhoven [@@k7hoven] [nice pics below]!

… & also Baran Aydogan [@baranaydogan] & Narayan Subramaniyam [nice pics below, with Narayan looking extra scientific!].

Michele Veldsman [@micheleveldsman] from Oxford has also been helping out in addition to yours truly – so here are our [non]pajama photos – Michele’s is a lot more glamorous than mine, of course. Proud to say that Michele is also my intellectual granddaughter – via Amy Brodtmann [in the Land of Oz]! I have had an absolute blast working with all of these guys. Not only are they clever & efficient, but they are also very funny!

Then we have Michael Breakspear [@DrBreaky] & Dimitrios Pantazis [@dimitrpantazis] leading the charge of the Aussie and American hubs… We are lucky to have folks from around the world working together like this.

Their folks will come to the forefront soon enough & I will try to feature them in another post. Why? Because running one of these Twitter events is bloody hard work – it is hard to organize beforehand, & it takes a lot of dedicated people working round the clock to keep the meeting’s flow going. Let me try & explain why this is so labor intensive.

Keynote selection. If scientists are not on Twitter, then it is probably unfair to ask them to be a keynote. It is stressful to be a Keynote Tweeter – you want to do a good job & inform the audience. You must be very familiar with all the features of Twitter! So it is best to try to find seasoned users of the medium, but they need to be influencers & excellent scientists to boot! Rest assured that they are also stressing out over presenting their work via this medium – in some ways very similar to the anxiety that accompanies a real scientific meeting. Why? You cannot see your audience – it could be large, it could be small… you have no body language cues to tell you whether they are engaged or not, whether they understand etc.

Abstract submission. Information to be gathered for a Twitter conference involves asking potential tweeters [including Keynotes] when they would be available to tweet. We give Keynote Tweeters 30 minutes [& 10 tweets] & Regular Tweeters 15 minutes [& 6 tweets]. The flood of abstracts came in & we had more than we could fit in the time periods. So abstracts had to be reviewed & some had to be culled so that we could fit the rest into the program. So now we have Tweeters from many different timezones who all have to be accommodated into the program. You can see where I am going to go with this…

Scheduling the program itself. First, it is lots of work to set-up abstract submission to get additional data that are not gathered for a regular conference. Second, once the abstracts come in & are reviewed, scheduling the meeting is actually pretty difficult. I have been on OHBM Program Committee for 4 years, where we have thousands of abstracts to deal with. This has its own difficulties, but in my opinion, the Twitter conference is trickier to schedule. Why? Because everyone is in their home location & we do our best to try to fit into their lives. Family routines need to be respected etc… So this means that the program order might not flow as thematically as you might see in a regular conference.  I had a couple of goes at trying different thematic orders for the Aussie & American hubs…was never entirely happy with any of them & I left it to the experts on our team to finnish it off [pun intended!] & get them into the final order, because they know best how to do that – they have already done this for 3 years previously!

Advertising the meeting – getting neuroimaging community to support the effort. This is tricky because tweeting for science is not ubiquitous. I have already implied that it is somewhat of a generational thing – a lot of older scientists scoff at the idea… I confess that I myself had to be convinced by Olaf Sporns [@spornslab] & John Foxe [@JohnnyFoxe] – they both nagged me for years. One day they both were at the same small scientific meeting that I was at, so resistance was futile. I signed up & have never looked back…

The hub: Organizing the logistics of the meeting. This is also a complicated business – the hubs need to co-ordinate their activities with each other. Each hub takes a turn at curating the tweeting – every tweeter, irrespective of whether they are a Keynote or Regular Tweeter has to be electronically contacted to see if they are ready to go in their time slot – as a first step. Then a hub member sends out an introductory tweet to announce their presentation. The tweeter then replies to the introductory tweet & to their own subsequent tweets, so that each presentation forms its own thread. So the folks in the hub need to be on top of the action for hours at a time – something that most people might not realize & appreciate… This is why we need multiple hubs – because running this type of meeting is very labor-intensive & would be impossible for a single hub to do alone. So while you are enjoying the conference, spare a thought for the folks manning the current hub – they are working really hard & there are often moments of mad panic when things don’t quite go to plan – a Keynote Tweeter might suddenly encounter a problem or someone who is due to start presenting is not online…

Accessing the Twitter conference feed. The #OHBMx hashtag links the entire conference together. One can zone in on the hashtag & then view what is going on in the conference as a continuous feed. This includes seeing what types of questions the presenter gets & who is asking them. One way I personally prefer to do this is to use the app called Tweetdeck [see]. Tweetdeck allows you to focus in on a particular set of activities on Twitter in a way the regular Twitter app does not. You can set it up so that you can follow only what is going on in the conference [via the hashtag]. This is pretty easy to do – the help webpages are decent. There may well be other Apps that people find useful. Tweetdeck is one I am familiar with & like – hence my plug of it here. What ever you decide to use – do practice a bit with the App you plan to use beforehand – that way you won’t miss the science because of a technical issue.

In the lead up to the OHBMx this week, if I have some time I will try to put out another blog post with a beginners guide to Twitter, so that others who have not yet joined the Twitter Science community can also come online & join us. I will try & post links that people who are new to the medium might find useful to check out.

So, in the meantime, stay well everyone! Difficult times ahead for us in the world with Corona virus on the loose. Don’t let it getcha – don’t touch your face, wash your hands a lot & practice social isolation. The idea is to ‘flatten the curve’ – let’s slow it’s spread so that people who need hospital bed can actually get one. It is not rocket science, but it is common sense that is grounded in science. We seem to have forgotten why we got rid of the bubonic plague & communicable diseases like that in this really weird period in our 21st century… If there is a silver lining on this cloud: as we socially isolate, we will at least be able to enjoy OHBMx !

In the meantime: enjoy this image of Spring – it is almost here for us in the Northern hemisphere! It is a picture of a Red Shouldered Hawk baby reposing in its nest in our yard last spring. Linda Smith took the picture below with her 400 mm lens. My 300 mm one could not hold a candle to it!