Blog(it)o, Ergo Sum

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The most recent “Ask a Science Blogger” question submitted by a reader is [ask a question of your own];
There are many, many academic bloggers out there feverishly blogging about their areas of interest. Still, there are many, many more academics who don’t. So, why do you blog and how does blogging help with your research?

There are a lot of reasons that I write a blog. First and foremost, I love writing. Writing has been my voice in a world that refused to hear me, it has been my invisible companion that kept me from being lonely, and sometimes it has been my dirty little secret since, on those rare occasions when it had become known that I write, it was strongly discouraged and occasionally ridiculed. Yet, I persisted because writing provides me with the opportunity to develop and maintain a strong intellectual connection to the world, it allows me to develop and clarify my thoughts about a variety of topics and issues that I am passionate about, and it provides me with a vehicle to communicate with others.
Writing helps me to make sense of my place in an often confusing and contradictory world, and helps me to think clearly about the issues I care about. But publishing my thoughts on a blog goes one step farther; it helps me to make sense of other people’s often confusing and contradictory behaviors and motives, particularly since my readers respond to each blog entry with their own insights. So for this reason, writing a blog is more than “just writing”, it is a public and collaborative process because a blog’s readers make the experience more enriching, interesting and entertaining than writing in secret otherwise would be.
Because writing a blog is inherently a public act, it keeps me from becoming complacent about a world where politics and greed and hatred might easily crush the spirit and the life out of most people, including me. It reminds me that I am not alone, that there are a lot of good people in the world who are “fighting the good fight.” Writing a blog keeps me actively thinking about what is right and wrong in this world, and how I think things should change so that we, as a society, can hear the voices of the weak, the disenfranchised, and the outsiders, and respond to their plights in a constructive and positive way.
As I’ve alluded to, my readers’ comments are a powerful reason that I write a blog instead of hiding my essays in a drawer as I once did. Every morning when I wake up, I wonder what my readers have written on my blog, so I put aside my worries and despair, climb out of bed and rush to my coffee shop, where I access the internet and read all your comments. Additionally, I love the near-immediate feedback that my readers provide; witty, thoughtful and educational, I learn as much from my readers as they claim they learn from me.
Publishing my writing on a blog allows me to connect to the world in a positive and satisfying way, and to build a social network that I would otherwise lack. My readers are a constant reminder that my writing allows me to connect to an international world — it gives me tremendous pride to know that my words alone can accomplish this valuable task.
Because I focus on the sciences, writing a blog keeps me aware of what’s happening in the world of science as well as in the rest of the world that impinges upon science. Writing about science also forms a positive feedback system where the more that I write about science, the more science there is to write about. And when I run out of ideas, there’s always a reader or a lurker or a former scientist-colleague of mine who contacts me with fresh ideas to pursue.
There is only one “drawback” to writing a blog: it does not help my research at all. This is mostly because I am not currently gainfully employed as a scientist (nor as anything else), although I survive by working odd jobs for cash and by doing some volunteer work. Further, even though I started writing my blog while I was employed as a postdoc, shortly after I first began writing it, my supervisors discovered it and took a very dim view of this activity. They made it abundantly clear to me that a blog was incompatible with a career in science and — just in case I missed their point — I was then given a choice: my blog or my career in science.
Of course, I did not — and still do not — see a blog as conflicting with or detracting from a career in science, so I continued to write it (obviously). For awhile, I indulged myself in the fantasy that my blog would help me find another position in scientific research, but this has not happened. I also indulged myself in the fantasy that writing a blog would allow my writing skills to be magically discovered by an editor so I could then begin to make some money as a writer. This hasn’t happened, either. Since my employability in science and academics has been seriously, and probably irretrievably, damaged, my blog is the one thing that keeps me going because it is the source of everything that I value in my life. So in a sense, I can reword Descartes’ original aphorism; I blog, therefore, I am.


About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Blog(it)o, Ergo Sum

  1. Cairnarvon says:

    I disagree that the Latin for “to blog” would be “blogitare”.
    “Blogare” seems more natural, and Google suggests that’s also what’s being used, so the title of this post would more correctly be “Blogo ergo sum”.
    (Yes, I know you were alluding to Descartes. I just enjoy being pedantic about Latin.)

  2. Louis Savain says:

    I applaud you for continuing to blog and express yourself in spite of the hardships. It’s too bad that freedom of speech is not a concept that is favored in the scientific community. There is a certain fascism that permeates science, one that is reminiscent of the one true church. It’s better to be free than to be a scientist, or anything else for that matter. Hang in there.

  3. ellew says:

    Thank you for this gem of insight on your bloggish workings! Sadly, your academic story sounds kind of familiar, but I didn’t quite make it as far… keep the faith, or if not, keep the blog – it’s wonderful.

  4. Chardyspal says:

    I have a few questions for those who consider blogging to not be a good thing for scientists to do…hopefully the connections to blogging will not be difficult to make –
    What do they think of teaching (in particular, since they were postdoc advisors)?
    Of seminars?
    Of conferences?
    Of committees and advisory groups?
    Of consultations?
    Of talking to colleagues, other scientists or other interested people about their subject?
    Of interpreting their subject(s) for the public?
    Of interpreting their subject(s) for grants and fundraising?
    Of interpreting their subject(s) for developing a curriculum or to a college/university for employment or development of a research or academic program?
    Of collaborating?
    Of writing, editing or reviewing papers, articles and books?
    Of writing letters, making telephone calls or other personal communications about their subject(s) to colleagues or other interested persons?
    Isn’t it a joy to be working on research, a project or out in the field, to report on the progress of your work, perhaps your life’s dream, and find that others are interested in it, people you never would have thought of perhaps, and that you are not alone in your interest? Your work in the dusty libraries, museum specimen drawers or itchy, lonely outback is exciting to many, many other people?
    That you may inspire others?
    And isn’t it a joy when students, colleagues and other interested persons or groups show their interest in measurable ways such as by visiting – site meters – (and presumably reading and contemplating) what has been written and offer thoughts or ask questions? Participating in seeking, queestioning, learning, understanding, and sharing? Is that not what science is about?
    The point, basically, is that blogging is communication. It is a relatively new form/forum/format, but is communication, just like the above. It is the content of the communication, just like the above, that determines whether or not it is of benefit to scientists (from a scientific point of view).
    I will be merciful and stop now.