Ask a ScienceBlogger: Why Do Academics Blog?

i-54cced2edcf95f4db81bcbfc1c403d92-dice.jpgThe Corporate Masters have posted a new Ask a ScienceBlogger question:

The question (submitted by a reader) is this: There are many, many academic bloggers out there feverishly blogging about their areas of interest. Still, there are many, many more academics who don’t. So, why do you blog and how does blogging help with your research?

Taking these in the opposite order, how does blogging help with my research? The answer is simple: it doesn’t. Not one bit.

I am an experimental physicist, so my research is done in the lab, not
in my office (well, data analysis, when I have data to analyze, is
done in my office, but that’s a small fraction of my research time).
Talking to other people via the Internet doesn’t really do any good,
unless it’s in order to get the answers to narrow technical questions,
and that’s not scintillating blog fodder. To put it bluntly, if I
spent the time I spend blogging working in the lab, I’d get more done
than I do.

So, why do I blog? If blogging doesn’t help my research, why do I do it?

I blog because it amuses me to do so. It’s a hobby, not a part of my
job. Believe it or not– and contrary to a lot of the advice new
faculty receive– being an academic is not and should not be an
all-consuming avocation. We are allowed to have lives outside the
classroom and research lab, though deans and department chairs try to
downplay that fact.

Not every thing in an academic’s life has to be part of their research
program. The idea that there’s something wrong with people who have
outside interests is one of the most toxic ideas in all of academia,
and probably plays a role in driving some good people out of science.

The time that I spend blogging is not time that would be spent on
research if I didn’t have the blog. It’s time taken away from other
outside interests– reading fiction, watching tv, various domestic
chores. The blog doesn’t help my research, but it doesn’t hurt,

Now, it’s not true that the blog doesn’t do anything to help me in my
job– it’s actually been fairly helpful in my teaching, by allowing me
to test-drive some explanations, and pick up suggestions from readers.
And I’ve made a few tentative efforts to use it the platform provided
by blogging to do some good for the profession and science in general,
which I may expand in the future. The money doesn’t hurt, either.

But at bottom, I maintain this blog because it amuses me to do so. And
the minute it starts to be more annoying than amusing, I’ll stop.

8 thoughts on “Ask a ScienceBlogger: Why Do Academics Blog?

  1. Believe it or not– and contrary to a lot of the advice new faculty receive– being an academic is not and should not be an all-consuming avocation. We are allowed to have lives outside the classroom and research lab, though deans and department chairs try to downplay that fact.

    Thank you for saying this loud and clear.

    We have developed a system that rewards workaholism. I don’t know if it’s any better at small liberal arts colleges such as yours than at research universities like the places I have spent my career. The research pressures are perhaps not as high (you don’t have to feed your grad students–or yourself, as I, a soft money scientist, do), but that is at least partially offset by the fact that you are expected to teach, and teach well (I have no teaching duties and therefore no firsthand experience about the amount of time it takes).

    There are times when I start to feel that the pressure is too much, such as now (I have two major conferences and a proposal deadline in the next five weeks). Having some outside interest is a must. All work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a dull, burned-out professor.

    Thanks for writing an interesting blog. I can say that blogging is hard work: I tried it myself, last year, but gave it up after a few months.

  2. I blog because it amuses me to do so

    The original blogger: “אהיה אשר אהיה” Then Network‘s Howard Beale, “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!” The universe’s cruel affectation is that one’s life has the value one creates within it. Evolution is a hoot if you are a survivor.

  3. I don’t fall into the ‘academic’ category, but I find that I’m reading more as a result of blogging, and being aware of other research is arguably job-related. Keeping current is one of those things that tended to narrow over the years to exclude a lot of interesting physics.

  4. Seriously, though, Tom makes a very good point. While no one really reads my blog, the act of blogging itself forces me to look outward and keeps me current. Plus I think it can be a bit cathartic at times.

  5. It is true you can be a prof and have a “real life”, doing things like seeing your family, coaching little league and football, and playing loud music in bars. But almsost all of the “hard drivers” that get jobs at big places and such are not as well rounded. A very good friend of mine is at a big school, doesn’t do much besides physics, other than taking friends and guests around to see things when they visit. But he seems happy. The other ones I don’t know as well, I’m not so sure. But thats their choice, and I hope they enjoy it, I had to make that choice and took the easy win -time with family- over writing grants continuously to feed my grad students. I have fewer papers, less summer salary, but I get to teach undergrads and MS students, AND spend time with my family

    There is no right and wrong, just choices. I’m a peace with mine.

  6. and about what Deans tell you. Never is any amount enough. I had a dean tell us we had to do more of A. I asked him, OK, I work 50-55 hours a week now, so the only way to do more of A is to do less of C. I asked him to envision a double pan balance, and asked point blank do you mean move things from one side to the other, or just add more total weight. After starting with “I get up at 5 AM and do my cello playing, and still see my family all the time” he talked for 40 minutes. Not one bit of useful information. Executive summary was “these are hard decisions”

    I’ve met 1 person above chair level that I would be willing to have babysit my child, should he still need it. And he ended up dumping his wife and shagging his secretary, so HE had to come off the list (not just for the acts, but how he handled it, but theres probably not any great way). Also he started beginning to talk in Dean-speak after being there for 5 years. You know, you remember what was said, but have to wonder if that pregnant pause means a comma, which changes the meaning. Or just say nothing at all often and loudly……

    OK rant off. Our last year was dominated by battles between our Dean, the powerless grad Dean, and an inept chair that sees losing two grad positions “as an opportunity to show we can do better”, after not doing anything about the underlying problem for 18 months…..YUCK. I actually had fun making FIGURES FOR PAPERS….That is a mind numbing task, but it was so much better.

    OK, NOW rant off…….

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