2020: TIR’s year in review

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A look back at our record-breaking 5th year.

The stats:
2020 was our most successful year ever for both visitors and page views. We averaged more than 1,500 visitors per month, and in fact only one month (January) failed to record under 1,000. A big thanks to everyone for stopping by!

In terms of page views, we averaged more than 2,000 per month and with no month recording fewer than 1,500. Four months broke the 3,000 views barrier (this had happened only once previously), ten of the twelve months recorded their highest-ever totals, and in fact 7 of our 10 best months of all time occurred in 2020.

It’s worth noting that these numbers were achieved without any one posting going viral, as happened in 2017 with our “Cell Biologist’s Guide to Fine Dining” – rather, they represent a significantly raised baseline. It’s notable too that 2020 actually had the fewest number of postings of any calendar year to date, an impact of the increased parenting load caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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TIR’s visitors in 2020. USA, UK, and Germany again topping the charts.

As always, a huge thanks goes to YOU, our readers. TIR began as a means of scratching a creative itch once parenting made it impossible to continue doing theatre as an extra-curricular activity, and it’s been amazing and wonderful and awe-inspiring to watch it slowly acquire a life of its own. The content is the most important thing, but the fact that the content is attracting traffic and seems to be striking a chord with people is just wonderful. Thank you all again for reading, sharing, liking, and commenting on the material. It means the world to me.

The top postings:
For the record, our top postings in 2020 were:
1. Seeing triple (a short guide to experiment reproducibility)
2. Please allow me to introduce myself… (a short guide to writing postdoc approach e-mails)
3. Check the technique (a short guide to critical reading of scientific papers)
4. Catechism (a short guide to asking questions in seminars)
5. Black Lives Matter – an interview with Dr. Calvin Tiengwe
6. Great scientists, great moustaches (A Movember posting)
7. Hat tip: let’s hear it for the good guys
8. Black Lives Matter – an interview with Professor Derek Applewhite
It’s worth noting here that our “how to…” guides are dominating the traffic listing, and we’ll continue to provide more advice on improving soft skills and other aspects of scientific training.

In terms of non-“how to…” postings, the top opinion/commentary/other postings in 2020 were:
1. Black Lives Matter – an interview with Dr. Calvin Tiengwe
2. Great scientists, great moustaches (a Movember posting)
3. Hat tip: let’s hear it for the good guys
4. Black Lives Matter – an interview with Professor Derek Applewhite
5. The cell biologist’s guide to fine dining
6. The 9 types of academic authors
7. Self isolation…with kids
8. The nine types of peer reviewer
The content:
Usually, TIR postings cycle through each of the category headings (mentoring, funding, life at the bench, etc.), but once the coronavirus pandemic had struck there seemed little point in writing about anything else. Consequently, a new posting category of “Coronavirus 2020” was started, and the opinion/commentary pieces began to track more closely to the news cycle. It’s been fun trying to keep up with a rapidly-evolving situation, while still attempting to provide a perspective that’s not necessarily found in the news media.

The other big change in terms of content was a belated but very welcome start to addressing the topic of racism in academia. We’ve had plenty of articles dealing with gender equality and parenting, but the topic of racism has long been an elephant in the room, if for no other reason than that as yet another white, privileged male, I’ve always felt very cagey about tackling it. The advent of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 seemed the right time to belatedly address this gaping hole in our coverage, and I’m indebted to Dr. Calvin Tiengwe for being the first interview subject and for acting as the discussion leader in the two subsequent postings. A big thanks too to Professor Derek Applewhite, Dr. Amma Simon, Dr. Izzy Jayasinghe, Dr. Aduragbemi Adesina, Dr. Geeta Hitch, Dr. Maaya Modha-Patel, and Dr. Shane Lo Fan Hin for contributing their thoughts and experiences to this category. Much more to come in 2021!

In terms of cross-postings, there was unfortunately no time to contribute opinion pieces to eLife or EMBO Reports as has happened in the previous two years, although the cross-postings to the FEBS Network have continued. A very exciting event though was the opportunity to participate as a panel member in an EMBL Careers Webinar on how to choose a postdoc position, alongside Dr. Kristina Havas-Cavalletti and Dr. Mariana De Niz. A big thanks to Dr. Rachel Coulthard-Graf and Dr. Patricia Cabezas for the invitation and organisation; a transcript of the questions and answers is available here on TIR.
The artwork:
TIR resident artist Dr. Oliver Hoeller had to scale back his contributions this year, but that opened the door to new faces. A huge thanks in this respect go to Dr. Mark Palfreyman who has provided the majority of the original artwork in 2020, and who in addition contributed significantly to the editing and writing of a number of postings. A big thanks too to Aparna Baxi who became a regular contributor, and to Dr. Carolin Wedel and Dr. Dorotea Fracchiolla. We’d love to hear from any more any more scientist-artists or artist-scientists out there who would be interested in contributing on either a one-off, semi-regular or even regular basis – just send me a DM or e-mail to get in contact.
The promotion:
Probably the single biggest change to the blog in how we show its face to the world has come via Twitter. We’ve been much more involved on that platform in 2020 (@TIRscienceblog – follow us!), and another notable change has been a willingness to highlight old postings in addition to recent ones. I’m always a bit shy about shouting about the content, and so I’m not really comfortable tweeting about each week’s posting more than once. Increasingly though, if there’s an interesting discussion on Twitter that we’ve already explored in one of the previous postings, then I’ve highlighted the posting. It’s been great to see some older postings – especially ones that I felt perhaps didn’t get the attention they deserved the first time around – being rediscovered in this way.

On a related note, a huge thanks to everyone on Twitter who’s been liking and retweeting the postings, and especially to Professor Prachee Avasthi and Professor Sabine Petry for personal shout-outs to highlight the blog itself. A big thanks too to anyone who’s been promoting the blog to their friends/colleagues/students.

The perspective:
Of course, all these numbers are pretty small fry in the grand scheme of things, but they are still way, way beyond my wildest expectations when I started this blog back in 2016. It’s a small operation – all postings are written by me, we only post original content, there’s no clickbait and only limited promotion, and we’re not tied to any particular research community or area – so the fact that it seems to be reaching so many people is fantastic. So thank you, one final time, for being around and showing an interest. It’s amazing to have you all on board.

You keep reading, we’ll keep reflecting,
Brooke Morriswood

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