What are your concerns about being an academic blogger?

So where are the blogs? In my first post, I promised a variety of educators a platform for expressing their vision to the world. I believe I was inspiring. The feedback I have had from colleagues has me motivated. The blog was shared more than any other I’ve written.

But where are the blogs? Shouldn’t they be pouring in, responding to my evangelism?

Of course not.

Stepping into the online world and making transparent your thought processes is challenging. Especially when you are a part of an industry that economises people’s thinking. The better the quality, the better the value.

Below are a few of my colleagues’ concerns. I can only address them from my own experience. I am not going to evangelise any more. Maybe gentle nudging is a better approach.

1. Blogging is not what my PhD and the Academy has trained me to do.

I agree. The linear progression towards a PhD is about learning to review problems, write ethics and grant applications, craft a very long paper (a book even), publish and promote yourself in well established and regarded places.

(But!) The PhD journey, for many including myself, is long and lonely. I had many things I wanted to discuss and no one to discuss them with. I realised that doing a PhD is a life-experience, not just a degree. I noticed many decisions I made about my degree were influenced by my personal life. I wanted to share these experiences and the traditional PhD track would not allow me. I discovered Twitter and I blogged.

idea avalancheSometimes my brain activity would not allow me to sleep. So I blogged. Sometimes I wanted to try out an idea in public. So I blogged and tweeted.

The social media process allowed me to organise my thoughts, think through the useful, set aside others for further development, and get things off my chest.

I thoroughly believe that I wouldn’t have the same product without social media. I think the publicness was useful because it kicked in a different way of thinking about my ideas. Even though it was a largely positive experience online, it was nerve-wracking to put a thought out there. I didn’t know what anyone would say. Maybe I would pull down hell?

All in all nothing really noteworthy happened. A few kind and generous people virtually patted me on the back and my confidence grew.

2. I have a brand to establish/maintain. Will blogging negatively affect that brand?

I have to say that I don’t have any real experience in this way of thinking. I did a PhD on Facebook data so my brand from the start was in the social media realm. But I do think that if social media does not suit your brand, then don’t do it. The added stress will not improve your academic profile because real engagement and enjoyment in the medium is needed to maintain use. Mark Carrigan, a digital sociologist, explores this idea. In a nutshell, the Academy is getting faster and purely engaging in social media to keep up with it could lead to the devaluation of the industry.

Furthermore, social media is simply a tool. If you can engage audiences successfully in a different way, why change? However, if your offline audience is diminishing, then consider whether they have moved online. You might not have to sprint alongside the Academy, but what happens when the race changes?

3. I like the idea of hiding behind academic papers and jargon. I want my thoughts to be crafted over several months until I am happy for them to be published. A misplaced word can be a real problem in my field.

I can also understand this point of view. I’ve met a troll or two. You only have to peruse the online press to find out that people who are controversial or make a stand (or are famous) can experience real danger by irate tweeters.

But in regard to writing, I use a blog as part of my academic writing process. Academic writing is public and it is social. When someone references a paper, they are engaging in a social act. I just start the social earlier than a conference.

writing cycle

Personal notebook/Twitter: I have a personal notebook where I write down ideas I am thinking through. When I want to try them out, I tweet them. I find that putting an idea into 140 characters is a neat technique for clarifying an idea.

Personal blog: When my ideas are further developed, I try them out in my personal blog. I promote that blog on Twitter and work on greater clarity of ideas.

Curator blog: I have only once contributed to a curator. I need to explore this further, but when you look down the bottom of a blog post from a research institute like The London School of Economics and Political Science Impact Blog you may see that the blog was extracted from a personal weblog. Contributing to a curator can spread your ideas, further testing them out.

Conference paper: The real first public test of an idea. I could see the faces of those asking the questions. Here is where I had to make sure I knew what I was talking about and have the grace to listen to the critics. The questions asked became papers and the theme of the conference helped frame my thesis.

Journal article/Thesis: As a colleague said, the act of writing a journal article and referencing other academic writers is a social act. You are engaging in a conversation that has been snowballing since philosophers were first recorded. The questions asked and the gaps found lead to another conversation/debate, which I start all over again on Twitter.

4. What makes this blog any different from all the other ones out there? Won’t we get lost in the crowd? Is it worth the time and effort?

I think it is easy to think that social media is the answer to increasing academic impact, but if everyone is doing it, then there is no advantage. In my opinion, social media is a tool, not an environment. It should enhances my writing process. This feedback from the first blog in our experiment sums up my reason for blogging:

Increasingly, I think it is important to share the journey of this labor of work with different audiences. Why? Because such writing will make public the process of learning and thinking involved in the academic writing journey, and hopefully others learn why we academics think this is important work.

In a nutshell, writing a blog can bring academic/philosophical/sociological thought down from an ivory tower. It can make transparent the creativity in the profession. It is open access. The narrative voice can be is engaging.

It’s worth a try.

What are your concerns about academic blogging? What are your experiences?

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15 thoughts on “What are your concerns about being an academic blogger?

  1. Naomi, A fascinating summary. But I think you missed one key point raised by a colleague. Academic writing took a particular form because of the technologies available at the time, namely the printing press and A4 size paper. This in turn meant that writing was confined to a limited space because of the costs of printing. Is social media not only changing the ways in which knowledge is disseminated but also produced?. So from the examples you have given during the PhD journey, knowledge production is increasingly a social event not an isolated individual exercise. Of course, one could argue, that the labor of knowledge production has always been social, but perhaps the social dimensions were not as explicit in the past as they are now. And of course, with time-space compression it is easier to collaborate with colleagues across vast distances.

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  2. Thank you! Many points you’ve made resonate with me. I am a late stage PhD candidate and have started a science blog to disconnect from it (the PhD) a bit, but also give me some writing practice and practice with formulating ideas. Look forward to reading more 🙂

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  3. Thanks Naomi for putting your voice and thoughts ‘out there’. And to Parlo for responding ‘publicly’! Your reasoning in your first blog, and this one, all resonate with me and my experiences. The desire for the conversation, the reticence to put out ideas still in formulation, the ‘getting lost in the online environment’. I have gone through stages of avid engagement online, to feeling as lost, lonely and invisible as I do in my academic career (as a sessional) – craving engagement, and then feeling I need to climb back in my (lonely) box and get those acceptable peer reviewed publications with all the shields in place, out there.

    One notable point about online engagement is that long after the moment of writing, it is still possible for someone to notice something you’ve written, even in its ‘buried’ state. And utilising links as you’ve demonstrated, that are then re-opened to new audiences and re-engagement.

    As for ‘branding’, ‘jargon’, ‘misplaced words’, and ‘academic training’, I still want to express my passions, frustrations, creativity, ideas, and to provoke – even if this doesn’t necessarily promote my professionalism (or earnings, reputation, ongoing work etc) – so perhaps that is a price that some (many?) professional academics are unwilling to pay/risk, and therefore unwilling to participate.

    Nevertheless, keep up with the nudging, evangelism, provocations, or simply writing and sharing, there are people listening and reacting, just perhaps not as publicly as we’d like.

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    1. Hi Annabelle. Thank you for your kind feedback and encouragement. I’d like to tease out your point about academics unwilling to participate because of the risk. Do you think that this is generational (similar to Parlo’s comment about changes in the medium)? I wonder if we reviewed the proliferation of WHO is blogging, I hypothesis that the larger percentage would be sessional academics. People with less to lose. Thoughts?

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      1. Hi Naomi
        I certainly wouldn’t call it ‘less to lose’ – my ‘outspokenness’ could perhaps be a part of the reason why I am still ‘just hanging in there’ as a sessional, as I know any kind of boat rocking is not appreciated by those that make the decisions about who gets to be employed. So which comes first, propensity to blog, to be willing to get your ideas out there, no matter how unpalatable (or apparently ‘unprofessional’), or the inability to secure a permanent position as a trusted employee willing to compromise in order to stay on the right side of the employer? I think the link you picked up on notions of ‘professionalism’ is a very profound one. As are the linked notions of ‘reputation’, ‘image/brand’ and ‘risk’. However I also believe that many active bloggers are also retired/ing academics who can finally say their piece and drop the facade expected as a secure ‘professional’, and I love reading what they have to say.
        One of my favourite blog sites is “a space for scholars on the margins of academia” which is certainly how I feel, and what I relate to – and what I want to talk about. Through this and a number of other sites, I have been really drawn by blogs written by those that are marginalised, particularly in academia – I’m not sure whether I am less interested in those written by ‘tenured professionals’, or perhaps you are quite right, they just aren’t out there. But the way/s that the blogosphere is structured, with links, sharing, tagging etc, does tend to mean that the same/similar audiences are accessing and commenting on the same sites. So maybe, as I have sometimes wondered, we are just talking amongst ourselves. Perhaps.
        And by the way, I know of only a couple of colleagues, sessional or otherwise, who are active bloggers, it still seems to be a very rare thing in the offline/real world.

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  4. Yes. I agree.

    Maybe my comment should have read “more to gain”. The new online medium has given us access to people we never would have thought possible and new ways of doing things and interacting. Not so long ago (during my PhD) I had to convince people that social media data was valuable. Now it seems everyone thinks it is but are yet to take the step. I see a niche for myself. I remember being warned at a teaching conference once that we should be wary of saying that Gen Y will never get a job *acting that way* because Gen Y will just turn around and make a job that suits them (eg Mark Zuckerberg). In fact, I brazenly asked for this job (with Parlo’s support)… and now I am paid to do this.

    Here is an example of someone that has taken the online CV to the next level http://www.nina4airbnb.com/. The “younger” (I’m 40 so young for the Academy and *technically* Gen X) generation are creating their own jobs rather than conforming to the traditional route. Eventually enough people will be doing this that how to apply for a job will change.

    So if you already have a job, why bother?

    Thanks for putting yourself out there and contributing to our experiment.

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  5. On concerns about academic blogging: communicating via scribbles

    Firstly – for Naomi and Parlo and everyone else involved in the discussion (publicly or privately) – thank you for `modelling’ this gently nudging approach.

    DELAYED ADOPTION
    Well, I’m definitely not – how would you say – an “early adopter” of the blog mode for communicating, although (when I think about it) I have been making good use of other people’s blogs, increasingly, over the last 2-5 years. When nudged to reflect on this, the types of blogs I remember as being useful are for fixing technical issues (with computers or whitegoods or a hobby) or for talking about a new idea just making it over the academic horizon, which may vary across disciplines :).

    BARRIERS TO BLOGGING?
    If I sit back and think about why I haven’t chosen to author a blog yet, then I would probably provide a whole host of reasons, mostly terribly banal to do with work/life balance. However, a reason that these banal issues present such a barrier is simply that starting to blog will take me a little time, not least because of the reasons mentioned above (untimely exposure, etc). Another reason is an extreme case of blogger’s block – I’m still getting my head around how to make the best use of blogging as a medium.

    SCRIBBLES!
    Since I am a researcher in quantitative methods, the main way that I find myself communicating – with myself in a diary/notes, with “clients” or collaborators, or with colleagues – actually makes use of a great deal of scribbling. There are lots of pictures and equations with a few carefully chosen words, as well as lots of squiggles (circles, arrows, etc) showing how these all connect together.

    As a case in point, the interface for this blog is just not encouraging me to express myself directly in scribbles. Perhaps I need to scribble somewhere else and import it into the blog? But … conundrum … that lacks flow and immediacy, and all those purported benefits of blogs!

    THE PITCH – TO WHOM?
    Then again, the words for explaining these hieroglyphs to the intended recipient tend to be (again) carefully tailored – to adjust to their particular backgrounds and sensitivities to numbers (e.g. Are they fond of saying they failed maths in grade 2? I had better put things this way … Or do they get impatient with words, I’d better use an equation.) So the way that I explain (what I consider to be) the exact same concept to one person can be completely different to the way that it is explained to another person. This may be because of their different thinking processes, different discipline, or differing backgrounds or experience in quantitative methods.

    In a Hermann(or Myers-Briggs) kind of way, you might categorize these recipients (of quantitative thoughts) as having different quantitative personality profiles: * concrete hands-on thinkers (give me an example, preferably just like mine, and demonstrate very specifically what you mean); * procedural thinkers (tell me the recipe or algorithm for doing this, a bit more generally to cover many specific cases); * visual thinkers (show me in pictures); and * abstract thinkers (I prefer the equation, this boils things down to the essence.)

    So you might say that I am having trouble with pitching, what is essentially the “core” of an idea to multiple potential readers, all of unknown quant profiles! However … you might also just say that I’m procrastinating!

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    1. Hi Statsy
      Thank you for engaging with us. I think you raise some very valuable points.

      I think that time is a consideration for people in all professions and it is worth discussion. The thing is that you won’t get anything out of social media unless you invest time in it. Consistency is key. I’m sure those more experienced than I in Research Gate and Academia.edu can help answer how they balance their online presence and their workload.

      In regard to your scribbles, I think that is a great question. Is blogging only a useful tool for qualitative thinkers/researchers? I like blogging because my mind is constantly telling stories. That transfers very easily to blogging. I have a couple of suggestions: Could you photograph and caption your scribbles? Or maybe you could film them? I did a quick google and found this forum which may be of interest: https://forums.creativecow.net/thread/2/1018537

      In regard to audience, I can only speak for myself. Other bloggers could add their points of view.

      My blogging is metacognitive. To me that means I am writing to myself or a past version of myself that wishes someone had told me what I now know. My personal advice is to blog first for yourself and if something you say resonates with readers, that’s a bonus.

      I also think thinking like a journalist (explaining big idea first to capture attention then working through the facts in order of importance) can also be a good frame of reference.

      I hope there are other readers that can add to my comments! Thanks again for engaging

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    2. Intriguing response Statsy – reminds me of teaching in oh so many ways, but what we teach and how we go about it is not recorded in the same way as putting yourself ‘out there’ online. As a school teacher I felt that I could ‘shut the door’ and work with my students with little interference. Then as a lecturer/tutor in education, working with all different kinds of students, and realising the advantages of collaboration, I wanted to throw those doors open, getting involved in peer support, team teaching, and doing everything I could to encourage collaborative and constructive participation.
      But those ‘differences’ you mention continue to thwart my efforts – dialogue rather than competing on which approach is better/right, different perspectives being invaluable, languages/discourses that don’t exclude Others, and yet … the real or the online world(s) don’t quite work that way. We chose when to speak, where to speak, what we say and where we say it. And how we want to viewed by others (perhaps). Perhaps getting involved in such dialogue is part of my effort to keep that door open, and to hope that what I am pitching (and when, how, where) at least gets out to somebody out there. I wonder, does it really matter who they are? And as a chronic comment-er, does it matter whether I know or not, who might be reading (or not reading) what I say?
      “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

      Liked by 1 person

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