Thursday, September 3, 2015

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to start blogging as a researcher

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!


Maybe you heard from a fellow scientist that to be a researcher of the 21st century, you should have an online presence. Maybe you enjoy reading blogs of other academics and would like to share your two cents with the world too. Maybe you have other reasons for being interested in starting a blog, such as wanting to document your research and reflect upon it.

Whatever reason attracts you to blogging, you might feel intimidated by the task at hand. If you want to start writing on the internet, here are some of the steps you could consider taking.

1. Write a guest post

If you are not sure if blogging is for you, or that you would have enough time and material to keep a blog of your own, you can always test the waters by writing a guest post for another blog (feel free to pitch me if you'd like to share your story and experiences on PhD Talk). When you want to write a guest post for another blog, reach out to the editor of the blog, explain what you would like to write about (consider this your short abstract), and how your post could benefit the readers of the blog you are reaching out to. A clear, concise e-mail could secure your little spot on the internet. Typically, the editor will get back to you with some guidelines for posting on the blog, which you can consider similar to the paper formatting guidelines for a publication, and possible thoughts on how you can develop your topic further into a blog post.

2. Start or join a shared blog


If you feel ready to write on a more regular basis, but don't want to commit too much, you can join a shared blog, such as GradHacker, or start a collective blog for your research group or project. Sharing responsibilities can be an excellent way to grow a blog as a project without having to carry all the responsibilities yourself.

3. Select a blogging platform

If you are ready to start a shared blog, or perhaps a blog of your very own, you will need to think about the following:

- Where do I want my blog to go on the internet?
Do you want your blog to be part of a website or do you want it to stand on its own? Do you want your own domain, or are you fine with a blogger or Wordpress account.

- What will the name of my blog be?
Once you know where you want your blog to appear on the internet, you will need to select a name for your blog. Do you want to use your name, or do you want to give the blog a name of its own?

Once you have these questions sorted out, you can sign up and register for your place on the world wide web. From then on, you're all set to start writing or to start tinkering with your layout.

4. Write about your weekly experiences


Now that you have your space on the world wide web, let's discuss some topics you can write about. One way you could be sharing your research experiences is by writing a weekly update about what you are working on, what you have been doing for the past week and what caught your attention on the internet about your research topic or academia in general. While I do not keep logs like this on PhD Talk, I do really enjoy reading these kind of longer status updates from researchers whose blogs I follow.

5. Share your publications and presentations

Your blog is an excellent place to share your publications and presentations. While a blog solely consisting of entries with abstracts of papers of yours when they are published might be too niche for your (future) readers, you can write short posts in which you bring together some information about the conference you attended, the abstract of the paper you presented, and a SlideShare presentation of your slides. You can see an example of how I share my presentations after conferences here, and how I write about recently published journal papers.

6. Explain your research

Your blog could as well be a great place to write about your science in a more popular way. You can find some of my tips on how to share your research with friends and family in a previous post of mine. You could share videos of your experiments online - something you cannot do in your journal papers. You can make a series of photographs with explanation about steps you go through in the laboratory - again, something we do not have a set medium for in our scientific community.

7. Share what you learned


Once you publish research in a paper, you mostly published the results of the technique that actually worked. I've suggested blogging in the past as a possible means to tackle publication bias - and eradicate the skewed version of reality we sometimes find from research because of publication bias.

If you do not feel like sharing online what did not work for you in the laboratory (although I think you should; we can only disrupt higher education and academia once we truly embrace open science), you can also share stories about little hacks and things that work for you in the laboratory or in your research. Over the years, I've mostly focused on this type of posts, since I like writing these and enjoy reaching out to a broader academic audience. An example of this type of posts is this article in which I share how I write my abstracts.

8. Critique another article

You might read a blog post by another academic, and realize that in your field, reality is different. You can react to the author by writing in the comments section of the original post, but you could take it one step further, and write a full reply on your own blog. Note that with "critique" here I mean a civilized critique and not a complete bashing of someone else's opinions. An example of this type of posts is my (very old) reflection on a list of things to let go of in 2011.

9. Describe how you implemented another article

Did you read about someone's experiences (the type of post from number 7, for example) and decided to try it out? Why not write a post about your experiences after trying a certain technique for some time? Especially when it comes to hacks and productivity tricks, you can try out what other bloggers recommend, and see how it fits your field of work and activities. You might run into problems that are typical for your field - write about how you solved these. You could find that some methods feel too rigid for you, and discuss how you blend these methods into the messy reality of daily life.

10. Link to videos or Storify

Did you film some of your research and experiments? Upload it to Youtube, and write a post about what you were testing and what you found.
Did you have an interesting discussion on Twitter with fellow academics? Make a Storify out of it and share it on your blog.
An example is my post on Gender in Academia.

With these ideas you can get started - blogging as a guest author, blogging on a collective project or blogging on your own blog. Let me know where you will start writing, and what type of post from this list you will try out!

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