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What's in a Blog?

What's in a Blog?

Image courtesy of @LucieWhitmore. Research bloggers blogging at the SGSAH 'Research Blogging in the Arts and Humanities' workshop 19th-20th August, 2015

Research Blogging in the Arts and Humanities

Back in August I worked with a group of PhD students from Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities to run a training workshop on 'research blogging'. I'm not going to go into too much detail about the workshop here as it's been written about elsewhere - here and here with a Storify of all the tweets from the event here!

This event came about from some conversations among ourselves about the importance of blogging and having an online presence as PhD and early-career researchers. We applied for funding from the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities and were lucky enough to receive funding to run a two-day training event for 20 students which focused on the practical skills of blogging (wordpress, copyright etc.) and the dos and dont's of blogging as an academic.

So what should an academic blog look like?

There seems to be no right or wrong answer to this. We asked a group of academic bloggers to come along and speak to us about their own experiences of blogging and answer our burning questions. A couple of my fellow workshop attendees have blogged about their approaches to their own blogs. Lucie Whitmore over at Costume & Conflict discusses her own reasons for starting a blog and Diljeet Bhachu asks what topics are suitable for blogging and what should be kept off-limit. (This is also a good excuse to check out some of the shiny blogs which were created as a result of the workshop - they're really, very good!) I think this seems to be what most PhD students ask themselves when they start a blog (or start thinking about starting a blog!) - What should I blog about? and Why am I bothering?

What should I blog about?

I have to admit that this is something I haven't quite figured out yet! I started this webpage early this year but didn't actually blog until a couple of months ago. I was largely concerned about putting too much of myself out there too soon, either too much of my research and ideas before they were fully formed, or too much of my personal life for future employers to find and judge me over!

My first blog post was a guest post for the 21st Century Book Historian blog. This reflected on a training workshop on methodologies and my own take on my methodology. I really enjoyed writing about my research but was still a bit concerned about saying too much too soon.

Since then, I have been experimenting with different types of posts and different topics. I seem to have been focusing quite a lot on PhD life and different events and conferences I've attended and I briefly flirted with a regular post about CFPs, events etc. (which I may still go back to as it does seem to get some readers) but I'm still not really sure where I'm going with it all and who or what it is for. Or how much of my personal life I should put out there.

A few weeks ago I blogged for SGSAH's social platform thegither about why I chose to research child readers. This is probably the most personal post I would be willing to put out there. I don't think there is anything in there that could come back and bite me but equally I also don't know how I'll feel about these reflections in five years time. (It still pains me slightly that there's a blog I wrote about my year abroad when I was 19 floating around the internet that I cannot get rid of, it doesn't contain anything particularly embarassing or incriminating - it just doesn't really reflect who I am anymore).

And I think it is this that worries PhD students in particular about blogging. It's that worry about what a potential employer will find when you attempt to get on to the first precarious step of the academic career ladder which puts a lot of people off blogging and definitely made me delay starting my own blog.

Someone who does read my blog regularly said that it comes across as my own take on the world and events from the perspective of someone doing a PhD on childhood reading practices which I quite liked.

Why bother blogging anyway?

So if there is so much worry about blogging and so many potential pitfalls and horror stories (This one from a couple of years ago would put anyone off...) why would you bother blogging at all?

For me, I really wanted to take control of my online presence and make sure I was putting out there what I wanted people to know (even if I'm not particularly sure what that is yet!) and I like talking to people about my research, which is why I love twitter so much.

This article from the Guardian talks a little bit about how starting a blog as a PhD student can help you feel more in control of the whole PhD process in general. Although aimed at Science PhDs, it makes a good point about how often things are outwith our control. Someone else controls whether you get funding, whether that abstract gets accepted or whether you get published. But you can control your own online presence and what you write about on your blog.

I am really interested in digital technologies and the potential of the internet in general, and particularly in academia. I love that this blog gets picked up in France, Germany, Canada, the US and Australia and that twitter allows me to talk to academics across the world working on really interesting things. Blogging and tweeting aren't additional chores that eat into my research time and that I begrudge doing; I really genuinely enjoy these activities and I think I am a better, more connected PhD student with a wider outlook for doing them.

So thanks, as always, for popping by, and thanks for your patience while I find my feet in this weird and wonderful world of academic blogging.

Do you blog as an academic? What are the advantages/disadvantages? What are your worries about blogging?

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