Blogging for graduate students

John Hawks has an excellent series of essays on blogging, research and academia. John’s blog has been around for years – from at least 03 or 04 as far as I remember, and he’s also an active palaeoanthropologist. I must admit that not being a palaeoanthro, I find that some of his content is a little outside my areas of interest but I nevertheless do enjoy reading his blog. Anyway, the first couple of essays in his 4 part series are:

Graduate students and blogging

How to blog and get tenure

The most salient points for me is that blogging is not necessarily a bad thing for a professional to engage in and that there are some distinct benefits for graduate students who start out writing early in their careers. He writes:

I’d like to advocate for a model of blogging that many graduate students might find useful. If I were starting out today, I’d blog my dissertation. Why not? Is there really anything so secret in your history and literature review that it couldn’t be read by the few hundred people who will find your blog?

I think the other important point is that blogging is not research and one should not allow it to impact on writing grant applications, theses, publications and so on. He warns:

You start out writing a few posts about your work, and comment negatively on creationism. And then you spend your time online reading stupid posts from intelligent design blogs, just so that you can refute them. Soon your mind starts to decay, and then you can’t do your actual research anymore.

I run a small archaeology consultancy which is basically a full time job. I schedule dedicated time for my research and treat that time with the reverence it deserves, after all, at the end of the day what counts is the quality of the research I do and the level of my outputs – not my blog’s page rank or subscriber count. I approach blogging a little like the conversations that happen over coffee between sessions at conferences: a chance to talk informally about your research, recent news and new methods or ideas, as well as providing opportunities to meet new people. The great thing about the web though is that it is accessible to a much larger number of people with similar interests. There is a real potential for a blog to have negative impact on your career though. For example, gossip, poorly thought through arguments or just plain bad writing are just as damaging in a blog as they would be if you took the same approach to conversations at the conference bar.

Although I’ve been reading and commenting on blogs for years, this is the first time I have stuck with one (there were several abandoned attempts in 04 and 06), so I can’t really speak to the benefits of blogging yet. But John’s blog has been around for a good while and his tips and tricks are well worth taking note of. And if you’re an Australian archaeologist, consider starting something: as far as I am aware there are only a couple of active bloggers out there and the more the merrier!

Picture credits – Laughing Squid’s photostream on flickr (creative commons license)
Links – John Hawks Anthropology Weblog

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