I’ve had this blog since 2010, but it was not until last year that I started writing anything else than popular/science in Swedish. There is lots of discussion on academic blogs about whether PhD students, or any academics, should write on blogs or not and also quite a bit of fear, uncertainty and doubt going around. This is what I think: I don’t think my blog is such a big deal. It’s just a small hobby project that makes me happy. And while I hope it doesn’t hurt my research or my chances to continue doing science, I don’t think it helps them much either.
Do I have a target audience? There was recently a small survey to find what academics blog about and why; they found that most blogs were directed at peers, not for outreach. I’m not surprised. As I’ve already mentioned, my posts in Swedish are more popular/science, less technical and sometimes deal with things published in Swedish media. I think the target audience is still geeks of some kind, but not necessarily genetics geeks. My posts in English are more directed at academical things, either related to my research and work as a PhD student or about the R language. So my posts are a mix of languages and themes. Is that a problem? From a popularity or readership perspective, probably yes. I can see little reason not to split the posts to two blogs, each concentrated on one theme, except that I don’t feel like running two blogs.
Does blogging hurt me because it hurts my work? I hardly think so. First, blogging is not part of my duties at the university, and I don’t do it instead of writing, working in the lab or analysing data. I do it in the evening after work, or in the case of some posts in the morning before. I’m not convinced blogging makes me in any way a better scientist, but it can hardly make me worse. Thinking about science or how to explain it for another hour now and then can’t hurt. And yes, the time spent blogging could theoretically be spent writing papers or something, but so could theoretically the time spent at the gym, with family or friends. If we grant that academics do other things, blogging could be one of those activities. My blog is not completely disconnected from my work, but I think it’s disconnected enough to be regarded as a fun pastime.
Does blogging hurt my reputation because people might read my blog and disapprove? I don’t think that many people read my blog; actually, I know that not many people do. Still, it is certainly possible that some of the readers might be important to my career and that they don’t like what they see. It will be found when people look me up with a search engine. Maybe someone thinks that I’m wasting my time, or maybe I’ve written something controversial — or more likely, something stupid. I think and say things that are mistaken all the time, and some of those mistakes might end up in a blog post. The point is, though, that expressing my opinion about things I care about is not something I do because I think it’ll further my career. I do it because I want to. If my writing is successful, the things on my blog will be the kinds of things I honestly know, think and believe about science.