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Importance of academic blogs

3 MINUTE READ

 

Everyone can agree about the powerful benefits of networking—and for academics looking to raise their profile in the digital arena, writing an academic blog is a great way to gain a host of both direct and indirect advantages.

Ultimately, “visibility is good for any academic career,” says professor Claus Wilke, department chair in Integrative Biology at the University of Texas. “There are definitely scientists in my area who I know mostly through their academic blogs and their social media postings.”

Although academics typically have listings on departmental websites, and often have personal websites and a robust Twitter presence, blogging is a way to develop a distinct online persona, build a reputation, and establish a presence in the field, all while having the run of a space to discuss and workshop your ideas. And all of those can lead to exciting opportunities, from academic job search success to other, more indirect kinds of impact.

“Being known for a good blog will have benefits down the road, and may lead to more speaking invitations, more citations to academic works,” says Wilke. But an academic blog can also help in your day-to-day work, rather than being one extra thing on your to-do list. His academic blog is also useful as a simple note-taking device. Instead of giving students the same advice, over and over, he started writing it down. “That makes it easier on me,” he explains “because I can just point them to that post.”

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Blogging is a way to develop a distinct online persona, build a reputation, and establish a presence in the field

For Oscar Olvera, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia, his scholarly blog has opened doors and helped him strike gold in his career. It was “instrumental in getting me a job,” he explains— His blog meant that the hiring committee was already familiar with his work. Olvera, whose blog focuses on quantitative methods in the social sciences, thinks of it as his online portfolio.

On top of his job offer, it has opened another vital door in his career. “Before I started blogging, I rarely got any review invites,” he says. “Now I review around two articles per month”—and on top of that, he’s a member of a journal’s advisory board. “Without this kind of online presence, I’m not sure if anybody would notice what I do aside from my small, immediate circle of collaborators.”

As Hugh McGuire points out in an article for HuffPost, there are some similarities between blogging and writing for journals— both can define your reputation, and neither is usually paid. But one of the benefits of blogging is the freedom not to be dependent on the approval of journal reviewers and editors before sharing your thoughts about your research, or developments in the field. Building a community in a more informal setting also means you can share your work in a different context, even if it’s not as polished as you’d expect for peer-reviewed publications. And keeping your blogging accessible in tone and complexity also means that you can hear from, and bounce ideas off, people in a variety of fields.

This easy ability to share your thoughts with your colleagues means that academic blogging has advantages beyond the pragmatic benefits of career progression. Blogging means writing clearly, lucidly, and regularly—which is an essential skill for any academic career, notes University of Exeter sports scientist Gavin Buckingham: “Writing is a muscle that you need to exercise, and blogging is a lot easier than any other writing job you will have on your plate.”

So how do you get started? Think about your online voice. How do you pitch it at the right level of formality and find a distinct persona? Although representing your university means that it’s important to remain professional, Olvera believes it’s okay to have a conversational tone. “It humanizes us in the eyes of the public. … I tell people about what I was doing in my day before an idea struck—it’s important for everyone to be reminded that scientists are people just as much as everyone else is.”

Another consideration is choosing the blogging platform that’s best for your needs. Changing from one to another can be a frustrating or time-consuming process, so think carefully about which features are more important for you and do some research before you commit.

Keeping to a regular publishing schedule is a good idea—it certainly helps with building trust and establishing your professionalism—but it’s not vital. You can earn many of the benefits of blogging we’ve mentioned by simply writing a few blog posts a year. Engaging in conversation with other people, on their blogs as well as on social media, is a crucial part of building your audience and means you’re both contributing to the conversation and learning from others while you’re at it.

There’s a lot to be gained for relatively little effort—and you might even find yourself having fun.

 
 
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