When I launched PunitaLearning.com and started blogging again, I shared why in this post. My reasons were: (1) so I could share my experiences as an Ed.D student, (2) so I could connect with people going through a similar experience, (3) so I could share my work, and (4) to get practice writing. So far, those reasons still stand; I’ve found maintaining this website does give me a means to reflect on being a doctoral student, it has allowed me to connect with others in the same boat, it has allowed me to share my research, and to especially to get plenty of practice writing. I also have a few new reasons for continuing this: (5) I’ve found maintaining this website to be a fun hobby, (6) I’ve realized writing about my work helps me refine my thinking, and (7) I’ve realized having an academic blog is a valuable way to build your online presence as a scholar. And there’s a bonus 8th reason, so read on to learn why you should start an academic blog.
Why you should start an academic blog
As I reflect on the reasons I’ve enjoyed maintaining an academic blog, lemme try and convince you to start your own. Here are 8 good reasons why you should start an academic blog.
Reason #1 – Start a blog so you can reflect on the journey of being a doctoral student.
Being a doctoral student is hard, and processing and writing about the experiences that come with it can make it a little easier. Or at least a little more manageable. Writing is cathartic and therapeutic for a lot of people. Maybe it will be for you?
Reason #2 – Start a blog so you can connect with people and build a community online.
Starting an academic blog lets you potentially connect with people researching the same things as you, or at the least, people going through a similar experience as you. If you put your writing out there, it’s possible that you’ll connect with potential research soulmates! Or your next employer! Or your next client! Or whatever. But if you don’t put your research and work out there, you won’t have the possibility of connecting with any of these people.
Half the battle is just showing up.
This works best if you’re sharing your research (see Reason #3) in addition to your experiences in your program.
Reason #3 – Start a blog so you can share your research.
Having an academic blog gives you a place to share your research and findings, thus allowing you to get feedback and input from people all over the world. It makes it possible for you to learn from others and potentially contribute to the research of people you didn’t even know existed (see Reason #2). AND it allows you to start collecting all your work in one place (see Reason #7).
So far, blogging has helped me articulate my thoughts about my academic work a lot more clearly. The weird example I gave back in my original post was this:
I stand by that odd analogy. Writing about your research in a colloquial voice gives you an opportunity to strengthen your writing and communicating muscles, not only because you get to practice writing in a different way. Blogging also gives you practice in being able to discuss and explain your academic work more effectively (and casually) in real life. How often have you been asked in a social setting what you’re researching, and watched the asker’s eyes glaze over as you explained? The solution isn’t to “dumb down” what you’re saying, but to practice finding ways to explain it in a more accessible (but not patronizing) way, and blogging helps you with that.
Good blogging should sound semi-casual, like how talk when discussing anything other than your research. You want your academic blog to sound casual, so your reader feels like you’re having a conversation with them. I definitely struggle with this a little bit, because my posts still tend toward the flavor of academic writing. Buuuuuut over the last few months, I have seen a change in my own ability to distinguish between academic and blog-friendly writing (if you’re so inclined, compare the writing style in this post to this one). I still have a ways to go until I sound the way I want in my blogging. But just fyi, I actually do kind of talk like this in real life…
If you want to see really excellent examples of blogging in a casual voice, visit some lifestyle blogs. When Kathleen Barnes tells you what she did in Palm Springs (via CarrieBradshawLied), or Andee Layne tells you what she wore in Hawaii (via TheHoneybee), you kind of feel like you’re listening to a real person tell you about their vacation over coffee. AND THEY’RE SO FUN TO READ. Yes, they’re sharing very different content than you or I would on our academic blogs, but really, there’s something to be learned from their writing styles.
Reason #5 – Start a blog because it’s fun!
I’ve found maintaining this website to be a fun hobby. But in the interest of full disclosure, my idea of fun is spending hours playing with this game-changer of a toy.
Reason #6 – Start a blog so you can refine your thinking.
Having an academic blog forces you to explain your writing in new ways. As I mentioned back in Reason #4, writing in a blog is different than writing for a class, and in that way, it challenges you to think about your work and research in a different light. Writing about my research for the internet is a good exercise in clarifying my research goals and think about them in different ways.
Reason #7 – Start a blog so you can build your academic street cred.
Having an academic blog is a valuable way to get your writing out there, start connecting with others in your field, start building an academic community, begin establishing yourself as an authority in your field of expertise, and begin to build your online presence as a scholar. Having an academic blog also allows you to start thinking about and building your “brand.”
Also, as I mentioned back in my original post on why I started blogging again, blogging is a way to put our research out there into the academic realm. To re-quote my former professor Dr. Chris Sessums:
Academic blogging is “a bit like conducting lectures in public, or… ‘giving away your intellectual property for free.'” – Dr. Sessums
But… that’s why we do what we do. Teachers and doctoral students are in the businesses of creating and ‘giving away’ new knowledge, and it’s why we’re leaders in education in the first place. So start building your academic street cred.
Reason #8 – Start an academic blog — because we need you!
I love hearing about people’s experiences, particularly when I can relate to those experiences. And since so much of my life right now revolves around the experience of working on my doctorate, it makes sense that some of my favorite places online include the Twitter chats/hashtags #edchat and #phdchat (even though my doctorate is an EdD). But what I really wish there were more of was websites like The Thesis Whisperer.
The Thesis Whisperer is a “blog newspaper dedicated to the topic of doing a thesis” and it’s edited by Dr. Inger Mewburn, Director of research training at the Australian National University. The website shares a lot of valuable stuff, written by Ph.D students and folks who work with researchers, but see that’s only one website; it’s not enough, and it’s definitely not reflective of all the voices out there that could and should be contributing to the academic blogosphere. This is where you come in. We need more actively maintained academic blogs out there, where people share not only their research, but their experiences and guidance related to their doctorates. It should go without saying, but having more blogs on academic survival is about sharing and collaborating in order to promote growth (as opposed to competition… duh).
I really want to start one, but I don’t have time!
You know how they say “the more you do, the more you can do?” This is true of blogging. When you’re doing an online doctoral program (and writing your dissertation, and working and/or raising kids) you’re already stretched pretty thin. But adding in an enriching new “thing” you enjoy can help you find some balance.
Sometimes I have more time, and sometimes I have less time. While in the blogging world, sporadic posting is inferior to consistent, frequent posting, I can’t make that happen. But I don’t beat myself up about it either. I do my blog for me, and I really like doing it, so I make time when I can, and when I can’t, I don’t. I gave up playing Warcraft to make more time for this blog, because even though I tried, I just couldn’t fit both in. So WoW had to go (missutho). If you end up enjoying blogging, you’ll also make time for it.
Okay, you’ve convinced me! How do I start?
So first, here’s a post with 4 tips on starting an academic blog from Dr. Tanya Boza at Get a Life, Ph.D. Here’s an article on effective academic blogging by Joe Essid, the Writing Center Director at the University of Richmond. Here’s one called Blogging 101 for academics, by Dr. Jonathan Sterne, Professor at the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. Read those first. Also, feel free to browse my website.
Then, just… start writing!
There are a ton of places you can start blogging for free, including blogspot.com, wordpress.com, tumblr.com, and others. With all of these, you can still get your own custom domain name and have one of these free services host your website if you want.
Or, if you want full customization power, get your own web hosting and develop your own complete site. I use the wordpress.org platform for my blog, and use BlueHost for my web hosting. If you go this route, I highly recommend using BlueHost (prices are competitive, and more importantly, their customer service is amazing). But I really wouldn’t recommend going the fully custom route unless you already understand the fundamentals of web design or have plenty of time and patience to teach yourself. If you don’t already know about the fundamentals of web design, then start simple with one of the free blogging services.
If there is interest, I am happy to write something up with more advice on how to get started. Otherwise, good luck on your journey, and if you decide to start sharing, please connect with me!