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CAREER ADVICE

Should you enter the academic blogosphere?

A discussion on whether scholars should take the time to write a blog about their work.

By MELONIE FULLICK | OCT 11 2011

Blogging, the practice of updating a personal website with “posts” or short articles including news, commentary and journal-like content, is making inroads into Canadian academia. While the “blogosphere” has always included sites by students, professors, librarians, administrators and other university members, more scholars are now tying their blogs to their work-related activities and making the connection between online presence and career development.

Academic blogs by definition tend to focus on professional rather than personal topics, showing explicit connections between blog content, research issues and academic life. However, blogging is not viewed positively by all members of the academic community, and recent exchanges online – including on the Guardian UK and London School of Economics websites – reflect the controversial position of blogging in a new debate emerging around the issues of open access to research, public scholarship and expert knowledge.

Peer-reviewed articles are still the benchmark for academic professionalization, and some graduate students and early-career academics feel that blogging is a waste of precious time that could be spent on “legitimate” publishing. Because it’s a form of self-publishing that lacks peer review, blogging isn’t usually viewed as a legitimate form of scholarship. Chris Parsons, a PhD student in political science at the University of Victoria who writes the blog Technology, Thoughts, and Trinkets, has experienced “dismissal of my work because it’s online [and] criticisms that my work isn’t good enough to be published anywhere else.” Sometimes blogging is even seen as disseminating one’s ideas too freely. In a competitive academic field, research ideas could be “scooped” from a blog, while established journals may not want to publish work that’s available in some form online.

Yet, for a growing number of academics the benefits of blogging outweigh the drawbacks. Those who blog – including me – agree there are positive outcomes, such as networking and collaborating, finding new audiences and opportunities, disseminating research more widely, and building one’s reputation. Bloggers argue that far from diluting scholarly success, online writing can be a serious tool for academic practice.

David Phipps, director of the office of research services at York University and co-author of the ResearchImpact blog, explains that “rather than replacing traditional scholarly activity, blogging amplifies the reach and thus the impact of those messages derived from your research.” Academics can use blogs alongside formal research to form collaborative networks and to disseminate their work to different interest groups in new ways.

For example, Marie-Claire Shanahan, a professor from the University of Alberta, uses her Boundary Vision blog “primarily for outreach. I work in science education and there are lots of people (including scientists, science writers, museum staff and parents) that have an interest in science education, especially in schools.” The public, collaborative nature of blogging has helped writers to develop new relationships with students, peers and other audiences and to build new partnerships across disciplines.

Another benefit of blogging is that accessibility and exposure to different audiences tend to broaden academics’ reputations, which opens up new professional possibilities. Blogging can lead to contract and consulting work, public presentations and interviews, as well as invitations to write for academic publications. “This kind of exposure is important for graduate students … given that most of us lack established publishing records,” says Mr. Parsons, the PhD student at UVic.

Most academic departments don’t yet recognize blogging in any formal way – though this could change. Alfred Hermida, newly tenured at the University of British Columbia graduate school of journalism, saw his blog Reportr.net recognized as Best Blog at the 2010 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. Because of the blog’s success and the close relationship between his research, teaching and online work, Mr. Hermida included social media materials (including blog and Twitter statistics) in his tenure portfolio.

More formal recognition may come when academic administrators and established scholars begin to take more seriously the importance of engaging with publics in ways that show what academics do. This kind of transparency helps counter the assumptions that can circulate in the media and highlights the notion of knowledge as a public good, as something that shouldn’t be confined within university walls.

Melonie Fullick is a PhD candidate at York University, researching Canadian postsecondary education policy and its effects on the institutional environment in universities.

She continues the debate about academic blogging over on her blog,

Speculative Diction.

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  1. Dr. Janni Aragon / October 11, 2011 at 15:37

    Great post. Yes, I think that we should see more academics blogging about their work, which is so varied.

    Most universities strategic plans focus on community engagement or the internationalization of the campus community. What does this mean? Well, for some it can or does mean getting outside of our academic silos and blogging. Blogging can offer more engagement with the university community and more. I want to say more, but have to teach.

    Again, thoughtful and important post.

  2. Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd / October 12, 2011 at 09:26

    Great post, Melonie.

    At the Social Media Lab at Dalhousie University, we are currently conducting a study on how scholars are using social media and networking sites for information and knowledge dissemination, and it pretty much confirms many of the points you brought up in your post.

    In our recent survey of 367 respondents (primarily in Social Sciences, working in the US, Canada, and UK), we found that 46% actively maintain blogs (monthly or more frequently) and 84% read/comments on blogs. This suggests that there is an increasing acceptance among scholars that blogs are legitimate and trustworthy methods for gathering and disseminating scholarly information. But at the same time, our results also revealed that many academics simply don’t have the time to spare for such an endeavor and even if they do, many are fearful of potential negative exposure from maintaining an active blog or participating in social media.

    More information about this study can be found at our website at http://SocialMediaLab.ca.

  3. Pascal Lapointe / October 12, 2011 at 21:35

    I am surprised that the question “should they blog” is still asked, years after American and British academic bloggers have built a successful science blogosphere. When we wrote our book Science on blogue in 2007, we thought that French-speaking bloggers were late in the game, but I can see that a lot more people need to be convinced. What kind of arguments do you think are still missing for this debate?

  4. Christie / October 13, 2011 at 15:31

    I think that blogging is great for academics. I actually just wrote a series on this topic that you might find interesting…

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/2011/09/27/social-media-for-scientists-part-1-its-our-job/

  5. Jeffrey Keefer / October 21, 2011 at 10:28

    Great points, Melonie. I am also surprised how late academics are in the blogging world, though I think change comes to the academy even more slowly than anywhere else. Given that much of my study comes from a distance, I know many learners who are comfortable with technology, though still are hesitant to share online. It takes some time

    Pehaps the issue with blogging is more about sharing with a wide audience without the shield or burden or issue of peer review?

    Jeffrey

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