I’m a pretty avid blogger. I’ve been writing online in some form or another for almost two decades and I can’t think of a better medium of getting your thoughts and opinions out into the wider world, especially as blogging is often free and pretty easy to start doing.
At Cambridge Judge Business School, I have been co-developing and teaching an ambitious summer course for staff called the Social Media Driving Licence. Between myself and several of my colleagues, we have developed an eight week programme that covers a wide range of platforms and techniques, with the overall aim of empowering and facilitating people in using social media more and better in their working (and personal) lives. Each of us have taken the lead on a few sessions and I just taught and led my first session this week which was all about blogging.
In the session, we got people set up on WordPress, explored the platform and all that it could offer, as well as discussing how to use blogging successfully as a form of communication and sharing.
As is already fairly obvious, I am a huge fan of blogging and I think that people should take it seriously as a part of a wider social media landscape where ideas can be shared and discussions can be had. This is why I think that anyone involved in research (academic or private) should blog about their work. Blogging about what you’re doing is especially pertinent for early career researchers, but can also have value for those who have established careers and are recognised in their fields.
But surely blogging is a frivolous waste of time…right? Wrong. If you have read my blog before, you will probably know that I am a vocal advocate for librarians doing outreach and education. I am also passionate about researchers doing the same, especially with regards to public engagement. Blogging is an integral part of this.
Let me explain a few benefits of why you should be blogging as a researcher, and why librarians should be supporting their users in developing blogging skills:
Sharing of ideas
I have heard time and time again that researchers find it difficult to translate their super-niche-specialist level research into something that the layman can understand, let alone a young child visiting on a school trip. Blogging can help you with this. By developing a writing style and engaging with your own research in this way means that you will develop not only a deeper understanding of your own work through reflecting upon it by blogging, but you will also understand how best to communicate it to a wide range of audiences.
“Oh but no-one cares what I have to say and they won’t find my research interesting”
Well you find your research interesting otherwise why have you dedicated your life and career to it? I can guarantee that there will be other people out there who are interested in your work, whether they are peers engaged in similar research or members of the public who are about to start university studies, or are just interested in learning stuff.
Public funding and goodwill
Universities and research bodies are sometimes described as being “ivory towers” and that researchers and academics are disconnected from real life. I know this to be untrue and often an unfair judgement but what are we doing to change that assumption? Through communicating and engaging with people on social media, these walls and barriers can be broken down. Twitter and Facebook are great for shorter conversations but blogging allows for larger discussions to be unpacked in an accessible way for all.
As tuition fees increase and people become more conscious of where their taxes are going, especially when the economy is bad as it is now, the public will quite rightly ask where their money is going and what projects are being funded with it. I’ll never forget Sarah Palin’s disparaging comments about a research project in Paris that was looking at fruit flies. She thought it was laughable and a waste of money. This not only conveyed a complete lack of understanding on her part (no surprise to most people I’m sure) but it also showed the gulf between public understanding of areas such as the sciences and how this understanding is hindered by the popular press. By blogging about your work, you are empowering not only yourself to ensure that your voice gets heard but also people who are looking for further information about a topic that isn’t hidden behind a paywall set up by a journal publisher.
Being active with blogging and other forms of social media not only gets your work out there but it also does a lot of positive promotion for the institution that you’re doing your research with. That surely is no bad thing! Plus it gets you out there, especially if you’re often hidden away in a lab or office somewhere. You never know, it could lead to a invitation to speak at a conference that you weren’t expecting. That has certainly happened to me very recently.
It is also especially useful for female researchers who may be a minority in their field. Get your voices out there ladies. People want and need to hear from you!
“Oh but people will steal my ideas!”
I’m not suggesting you put original research that hasn’t been published anywhere else online necessarily. Of course this can compromise your work and your funding. However, there is nothing wrong with discussing the concepts that you’re looking at or unpacking a particular element of your work for a different audience. This combined with formal academic publishing and journalistic content by having your working published by more formal media channels means that you have a really nicely well-rounded research portfolio. Plus if you have an outreach element as a requirement in your funding award, this can count towards that! Simple!
A blog is no good on its own
This is something I emphasised in my recent teaching session. Just writing on a blog is not enough. You need to use other social media tools to get your work out there. Promote your blog through a Twitter account…share it on Facebook…you can also share it on LinkedIn and other professional networking sites like academia.edu. That way you will encourage engagement with your work and you can start having conversations with people!
So get blogging today! You will learn a lot about yourself, your work and when people engage with your research, you may well be asked questions that completely change how your research progresses in a positive way and this can surely be a good thing.
Where do librarians fit it? We facilitate, we teach and we assist our users in their work, and social media training should not be outside of that remit. It certainly hasn’t been for me! Blogging does take an investment of time but it is a worthwhile one that we should be supporting and helping with.
If you have any questions about blogging or want some advice on getting started, or you want to teach and support researchers in their blogging and social media endeavours, get in touch! I’m always happy to advise!
Here is just a small handful of research bloggers that are great at what they do!
Why Evolution is True (Prof. Jerry Coyne)
The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice (Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris)
Image credit: Maia Weinstock via Flickr Creative Commons