Meet a scientific community manager: Anna Boyum

This month, we’re asking all community engagement professionals within science to complete our state of scientific community management survey. The survey’s intended to determine the variety of community-building roles that exist within science, and is the first activity of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows program. We’ll be sharing a report of the survey results once we’ve analyzed them.

But just who are the scientific community engagement professionals? To help answer that question we’re running a series of Q&As with people in existing community-building roles. If any of these stories resonate, please do take 12 minutes to complete the survey! The more input we have to the survey, the more detailed our view of the overall landscape will be.

Today we’re featuring Anna Boyum:

Anna Boyum is a biomedical scientist passionate about all things brain. Having spent a decade in research, she is now fully focused on science communications. Anna manages ARVO Connect, an online community of vision researchers. In this role, she helps community members connect and have meaningful conversations about research.
Anna Boyum is a biomedical scientist passionate about all things brain. Having spent a decade in research, she is now fully focused on science communications. Anna manages ARVO Connect, an online community of vision researchers. In this role, she helps community members connect and have meaningful conversations about research.

Thank you for agreeing to speak with us about your work as a scientific community engagement manager! Could you introduce yourself to our readers? Tell us a little bit about yourself and the community you manage.

I’m the Science Communications Fellow of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO). ARVO is the largest and most respected eye and vision research organization in the world. Its mission is to advance research into understanding the visual system and preventing, treating and curing its disorders. With its nearly 12,000 members, most of whom are clinical and basic researchers from over 75 countries, ARVO has been very successful in this mission.

My fellowship started in March of this year, so I have been in this role for just a few months. My primary goal is to manage ARVOConnect, the association’s online community of 11000+ vision scientists.

ARVOConnect serves as one of ARVO’s primary communication tools, providing members with a members-only community to collaborate on research activities, discuss issues related to the vision and eye research community, and share resources to further advance the science and careers of vision and eye scientists.

 

What was your path to community management? Were you trained as a scientist or did you come by another route?

My background is in biomedical research. After receiving my PhD in medicine and working briefly as a postdoc, I launched a career in science and medical writing. This experience became my launching pad into online community management.

 

Can you describe the key responsibilities of your role? What does an average week look like for you at the moment?

The goal of my position is to increase the number and quality of conversations on ARVOConnect. I spend my time identifying new conversation topics and seeding these topics in the community, i.e. pitching them to active community members. Very few posts come from me; these are limited to announcements and technical tips on using our community platform.

I also try to make sure that questions that members ask are answered; I reach out to members with relevant expertise and invite them to join the discussion. I encourage and/or help members to complete their profiles, which is a known way to boost engagement.

And finally, I occasionally help members and staff to resolve technical issues with the community platform.

 

Do you share the task of managing your community with anyone else – and do you belong to a team or wider group working on the project?

I work very closely with ARVO’s internal communications team, which is very involved in managing the community. Senior team members provide high-level guidance while I handle daily tasks. Also, I am the only biomedical scientist on the team, which makes me responsible for the selection of research-related conversation topics for seeding in the community.

 

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a scientific community manager? Are there ways in which your role could be made easier – such as professional development opportunities or something else?

The lack of understanding of the purpose and value of the online community among the members is a big challenge, in my opinion. Members tend use the community in a limited capacity: as a directory, as a news source, or as an advertisement board. Our community is every one of these things and more.

At the most recent Annual Meeting, I invited members to view the community as an extension of the Annual Meeting, a place where any member can start any conversation with any other member(s) and have a written record of a conversation for others to refer to in the future. My role would be easier if more members viewed the community this way. Education and hands-on experience with the community can change that.

 

And zooming out a little, why do you think community engagement important to science? How have you seen active management improve your community?

Online communities allow us to link limited clusters of knowledge that scientists possess individually into an unlimited network. Communities have a potential to exponentially expand the scientific conversation, which is key to the advancement of science. Community management helps to maximize this potential. We have seen positive impact of our management efforts on ARVOConnect and hope to see more in the future.

 

Find all of the interviews in this series by clicking the “community engagement Q&As” tag at the top of any blog post.