Why you may want to start an academic blog

Blogging is natural, conversational, and even somewhat cathartic in its casual-diary-ness. Plus, it's a reasonably constructive hobby. If you're an academic, there may be some valuable reasons to start a blog.

 

1. Chronicle the journey

Being a doctoral student is hard, and processing and writing about the experiences that come with it can make it a little easier. Or at least a little more manageable. Writing is cathartic and therapeutic for a lot of people. Maybe it will be for you?

Start a blog so you can reflect on the journey.

No matter how hard pursuing a graduate degree can be, it can be important to remind yourself that you want and chose to do this. This is something you get to do. And when things get busy/overwhelming/stressful, it becomes easy to forget that. Chronicling the journey -- not just the research thoughts, feelings, experiences, etc. along the way, can help. Someday you will look back on this time period and maybe think it wasn't so bad, and you don't want to wish you'd stopped to experience and think about the process (as opposed to trying to rush through it). Having a documented history of your experience can give you something tangible to look through as you reflect.

2. Connect with people

Blogging through a doctorate/teaching/research journey might help you find or reach folks who are in the same, or a similar, boat as you. Maybe someone who's researching almost the same thing as you will stumble onto your site, and you'll be able to support one another professionally and academically. Or maybe someone who is also a full time teacher and doctorate student (which was the situation I was in when I started my program) will reach out with advice on work/life balance. Or maybe somebody will find something you write useful, or relatable. Or maybe you'll end up in touch with a future collaborator (or employer). Or maybe none of those things will happen, but if you don't put my stuff out there, they really will not happen. 

Start a blog so you can connect with people and build a community online.

Starting an academic blog lets you potentially connect with people researching the same things as you, or at the least, people going through a similar experience as you. If you put your writing out there, it's possible that you'll connect with potential research soulmates! Or your next employer! Or your next client! Or whatever. But if you don't put your research and work out there, you won't have the possibility of connecting with any of these people. Half the battle is just showing up. This works best if you're sharing your research (see Reason #3) in addition to your experiences in your program.

3. Share work

My professor Dr. Chris Sessums shared with my colleagues that academic blogging is "a bit like conducting lectures in public, or... 'giving away your intellectual property for free.'" (And if you had qualms with giving away my intellectual property, then you probably wouldn't be in research/higher ed, right?). Assuming you're pursuing your degree because of a desire to create and help spread knowledge, it makes sense to share findings and research with the academic/internet community.

Having an academic blog gives you a place to share your research and findings, thus allowing you to get feedback and input from people all over the world. It makes it possible for you to learn from others and potentially contribute to the research of people you didn't even know existed. AND it allows you to start collecting all your work in one place.

And... the world needs you. 

I love hearing about people's experiences, particularly when I can relate to those experiences. And since so much of my life right now revolves around the experience of working on my doctorate, it makes sense that some of my favorite places online include the Twitter chats/hashtags #edchat and #phdchat (even though my doctorate is an EdD). But what I really wish there were more of was websites like The Thesis Whisperer.

The Thesis Whisperer is a "blog newspaper dedicated to the topic of doing a thesis" and it's edited by Dr. Inger Mewburn, Director of research training at the Australian National University. The website shares a lot of valuable stuff, written by Ph.D students and folks who work with researchers, but see that's only one website; it's not enough, and it's definitely not reflective of all the voices out there that could and should be contributing to the academic blogosphere. This is where you come in. We need more actively maintained academic blogs out there, where people share not only their research, but their experiences and guidance related to their doctorates. It should go without saying, but having more blogs on academic survival is about sharing and collaborating in order to promote growth (as opposed to competition... duh).

4. Practice writing

Blogging can help you practice articulating thoughts associated with your academic work more clearly. The way working on barbell glute bridges helps improve your deadlift, colloquial blogging might help improve your scholarly writing (and vice versa). It can also help prepare you for writing a book later on.

Starting a blog so you can improve and practice your writing (and your voice).

Writing about your research in a colloquial voice gives you an opportunity to strengthen your writing and communicating muscles, not only because you get to practice writing in a different way. Blogging also gives you practice in being able to discuss and explain your academic work more effectively (and casually) in real life. How often have you been asked in a social setting what you're researching, and watched the asker's eyes glaze over as you explained? The solution isn't to "dumb down" what you're saying, but to practice finding ways to explain it in a more accessible (but not patronizing) way, and blogging helps you with that.

5. Build stamina

As they say, the more you do, the more you can do. Taking on the task of maintaining an academic blog while pursuing your degree can help you build the skills you'll need further in your academic career.

6. Build your credibility

Having an academic blog is a valuable way to get your writing out there, start connecting with others in your field, start building an academic community, begin establishing yourself as an authority in your field of expertise, and begin to build your online presence as a scholar. Having an academic blog also allows you to start thinking about and building your "brand."

"Okay, you've convinced me! How do I start?"

So first, here's a post with 4 tips on starting an academic blog from Dr. Tanya Boza at Get a Life, Ph.D. Here's an article on effective academic blogging by Joe Essid, the Writing Center Director at the University of Richmond. Here's one called Blogging 101 for academics, by Dr. Jonathan Sterne, Professor at the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. Read those first. Then, just... start writing!

There are a ton of places you can start blogging for free, including blogspot.com, wordpress.com, tumblr.com, and others. With all of these, you can still get your own custom domain name and have one of these free services host your website if you want.

Or, if you want full customization power, get your own web hosting and develop your own complete site. I use the wordpress.org platform for my blog, and use BlueHost for my web hosting. If you go this route, I highly recommend using BlueHost (prices are competitive, and more importantly, their customer service is amazing). But I really wouldn't recommend going the fully custom route unless you already understand the fundamentals of web design or have plenty of time and patience to teach yourself. If you don't already know about the fundamentals of web design, then start simple with one of the free blogging services.

"Wait, but I don't have time..."

You know how they say "the more you do, the more you can do?" This is true of blogging. When you're doing an online doctoral program (and writing your dissertation, and working and/or raising kids) you're already stretched pretty thin. But adding in an enriching new "thing" you enjoy can help you find some balance.

Sometimes I have more time, and sometimes I have less time. While in the blogging world, sporadic posting is inferior to consistent, frequent posting, I can't make that happen. But I don't beat myself up about it either. I do my blog for me, and I really like doing it, so I make time when I can, and when I can't, I don't. I gave up playing Warcraft to make more time for this blog, because even though I tried, I just couldn't fit both in. So WoW had to go (missutho). If you end up enjoying blogging, you'll also make time for it.

If there is interest, I am happy to write something up with more advice on how to get started. Otherwise, good luck on your journey, and if you decide to start sharing, please connect with me!

Have I convinced you to start an academic blog? Do you have any other good reasons for academic blogging that I left out? Please share in the comments below!