I’ve written about academic blogging before, but recently I was asked some questions.
1) How did you get into doing a blog?
It was quite by accident. A colleague of mine created a private blog to capture her experiences of conducting fieldwork. She was using her blog to create a forum where she could get feedback from others and reflect on what she was learning. So I received an invitation to create an account and I did, and then I thought it would be an interesting experiment. It’s turned out to be an interesting experiment indeed.
Early on, my blog was unread and largely just a private (although entirely public) experiment. When I started pushing my posts to facebook and twitter it got more public. Another way I acquired audience was through timely posts where I just happened to have an early hit in Google searches. Another way, and this turns on my research interests, was to prepare a commentary on a Facebook meme. Using my research expertise I commented on the importance of this.
2) What is your blog about?
My blog is a mixture of topics. I’m aware that this is rather different from other blogs and I wonder whether it affects the readership. On the other hand, it’s a creative outlet and also within the scope of my research, so exploration is important.
Two persistent non-work themes:
- Cross cultural adventures, for example, being British in the U.S. and encounters with my accent and living in France and coping with culture shock.
- My family from whom I learnt skills that have morphed into my off-script crafting hobbies and a passion for family history and the way it transforms history from monarchy and war into ones of poverty and survival.
Work-related topics fall into four categories.
- I write about research, e.g. Computing at the Margins, Wellness Informatics, digital housekeeping and synthesize discussion of those agendas in real time (e.g. at a workshop). I also use the blog to synthesize research for example ICT4D, and critique the the formulation of various intellectual agendas.
- I am also fascinated by disciplinary business (how a field constructs and maintains itself). Computer Science is in a period of devolution.
- I write about about the experiences I’ve had in my career as a researcher. I’ve offered advice on CV’s and webpages and being part of a dual body opportunity. I’ve shared good experiences, such as reflections on working at Bell Laboratories in the Software Production Research Department and the Computer Science Lab at Xerox PARC. Working for two companies whose innovations laid many (most?) of the foundations of the field of Computer Science was a hard won privilege. I’ve also written about bad times, I experienced sexual harassment, something I didn’t plan on sharing in a blog, but then wrote about what happened.
- Another class of experiences turn I was an academic administrator and I have an interest in management tools and philosophies as well as understanding administration and service and the future of the academy.
3) How much work is doing a blog?
As much as you want it to be!
When I’m writing about non-work related topics, the posts come pretty quickly and the only thing they do is share something with colleagues and friends. Although, like facebook, they start very interesting conversations. For example, the one about the convict in my family started discussions with several work colleagues at Georgia Tech and beyond. I’d written about it partially to document the journey of discovery and detective work that is genealogy, but by sharing it broadly I got not just advice on how to learn more, but also on literature that would help set context.
The work related ones take longer. Some of them do double duty, for example, I needed to synthesize the literature in ICT4D, and I was going to give a report about the workshop so I needed to have some means to collect all that information together. My blog helps me think about making arguments, it complements and extends my two decades of research experience. It’s not just a set of notes I draw on, but because it’s simultaneously unreviewed but read by scholars it improves my arguments.
4) What impact has it had on your professional life?
My colleagues in Computer Science and beyond have enthusiastically responded to my blog. The strength in diversity of topics has been that people have asked me to write on a variety of issues. I’ve been asked to discuss the disciplinary devolution, and asked to review manuscripts on this topic. I’ve written posts on writing for conferences and had others not explicitly invited picked up by the conference organization. I’ve been tweeted and retweeted. While I have not been asked to write about my cross-cultural experiences, I’ve had face to face conversations about them. This is also true of the sexual harassment post, it generated lots of community support.
5) How would you advise a student concerning the advantages and disadvantages of academic blogging?
I tried to answer this, and then decided that I would answer it in the form of some different questions.
What do I write about?
Things you’d feel comfortable with an audience of a) your Dad whose an academic b) your Mum who started her own business (intelligent layman with interest in “application”) c) your community of practice and d) anyone else reading. Perhaps you could explain a paper in your field? Assume that the authors are in your audience and as its been published the members of your community have not deemed to be serious.
Perhaps you could write about the related work in your area. Synthesis is a challenge in academic writing. Related work is not a stream of text that describes each paper in turn. It synthesizes the results from multiple papers, groupings form pro and con arguments that help make your case. The case is a) the aggregate findings that your research builds on and extends b) the novelty of your approach and c) the contribution of your research. Synthesis is also an exercise in being inclusive and humble, how do you engage and invest a community in your results otherwise/
What about your experiences in graduate school? What are your time management strategies? What do you know about the Ph.D. program at various points in the program.
Anonymous versus known?
There are good reasons to write an anonymous blog. Anonymity supports candor. Career experiences can fit into this category. The downside of anonymity is that no-one knows you. When it comes to your research, it’s good to be associated with it! Academic branding requires being able to associate a name to the research brand.