A student? A pre-tenure educator? Don’t blog.
No, this isn’t my position, obviously (since you are reading my blog), but I have had some good discussions over the last year about this topic. Does blogging do more harm than good if you are a student or a pre-tenure educator? Many say “yes!” with stories and examples to support it.
The other day I listed some of the pros and cons of blogging as a student (see “The pros of blogging as a student” and “The cons of blogging as a student”). Robert Holmstedt of the University of Toronto commented on my post about the “cons” and he said that these were some of the reasons, “…I ‘request’ that my graduate students not start blogging (or stop, if they have already begun).” We chatted about the topic via email, where he gave me an unnamed example of a case where a student’s doctoral program application process was derailed at a university because the student’s blog was brought to the attention of some faculty. Ever since this event he has advised his students to avoid blogging.
Holmstedt has written a blog post on the topic which includes a witty retelling of the aforementioned example in the form of a 19th century correspondence via hand-written letters: see “Blogging–should pre-tenure faculty and students do it? In my opinion, ‘no.'”
FWIW, I think this may be a hot topic at the 2013 AAR/SBL Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, this November. I know of two different sections that may be addressing this topic. Last November, during the Blogging and Online Publication section, this topic began to be discussed following Joel Watt’s presentation where he documented how blogging has helped him during his academic journey. I asked him if blogging could derail his efforts to be admitted into a doctoral program someday or receive employment later. There wasn’t enough time to delve too deeply into a discussion during the Q&A section, but I got the sense that the stage may have been set for next year. I think a healthy, heated debate over the role of blogging for students and pre-tenured educators is on the horizon.
What are your thoughts? Should a student or a pre-tenured educator avoid blogging? Can you provide an example of how blogging has been beneficial at this stage?
To clarify, the student in question didn’t “lose” funding, but never received it in the first place because the blog became an issue during this doctoral application process.
Thank you the clarification. I will edit it.
Part of what’s at stake is the financial outlook of the given student–blogging your way through gratis review copies of required course texts, for example, makes schooling more affordable/doable for some.
Very true, though I imagine some might push back by asking what percentage of books came as gratis copies and does it make a big enough impact financially. On the other hand, if someone’s blog is done safely, containing content like book reviews rather than declarations on major political issues, it could be that this sort of blog isn’t a concern for many.
For what it’s worth, I have been unilaterally turned down (not even an interview) in three straight years of PhD applications (except for an offer from Oxford without funding). Several professors familiar with my research and education (not involved with my apps) have told me it simply defies reason, with only one offering a possible explanation: my blog. I never took that explanation seriously until now.
That is very, very surprising b/c (1) I’ve seen some of your work and I know your doing good scholarship and (2) as far as I can tell you’ve been cautious with your blog, not saying anything absurd.
Brian – That’s exactly how I feel. My work is not ill-received within the academy, and beyond the occasional engagement of Latter-day Saint oriented topics, and my general criticism of religious fundamentalism, I make every effort to remain as neutral and scholarly as possible. On the other hand, I really have no idea how it is that I continue to be unsuccessful.
I can understand a blog hindering someone if it is full of political rants or edgy posts on topics that aren’t related to one’s field of study, but I don’t get how a blog in and of itself can be seen as a reason to reject someone. What if these blog posts were merely notes on a Word.doc? Would anyone be upset that someone took the time to write out there thoughts? I’ve been told over and over again that one of the best ways to shape one’s thoughts is to write them out. The only difference? Blogs are those notes being made public.
I’m being puzzled a bit, too. Not a current PhD student and when I was, there were no blogs. But I’m finding the discussion interesting, esp. in your case, Daniel. (Sorry, but hadn’t known of you before and will now check your blog out.) I have almost no insight into the inner workings of universities and seminaries these days but I do know some things about institutions in general and the scholarly/academic process. So admin people digging into blogs would NOT surprise me, and maybe using trifling stuff to try to sift applicants or to wash out a student later, even. Frankly, I’d expect that a lot more at Evangelical or generally conservative schools (where I have the most personal exposure, but decades ago). A classic that is about academic scientific processes and “insider” issues might be instructive here: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (ck. the 1969 revised ed. for its helpful epilogue). This used to be read by virtually every academic for a couple decades (60s, 70s) or so, but I don’t hear much about it anymore. I know its gotten lots of critical reaction, and some probably valid… But one wonders if some isn’t bec. he was hitting too close to home!
as i suggested at the end of january, academic freedom is a lie perpetrated by liars and those should blog who are willing to speak truth to power and risk whatever they need risk in order to do so. – http://wp.me/pLvic-ff6 . academic freedom. now there’s a joke.
I think Jim makes a valuable point: there is always something that can prevent a student from being admitted or an applicant from being employed that has nothing to do with merit. Institutions classified as “conservative” may have their quirks (at least, usually, those stipulations are posted publicly in a confession statement), but so do other institutions. Academic freedom is a very subjective idea. There isn’t an admissions department or faculty supervisor in the world who is completely free of bias.
To my knowledge, having a blog hasn’t had a negative impact on my academic life. My blog has even resulted in some writing (and other sorts of) opportunities that wouldn’t have come along if I had not had the web presence and writing samples.
Scholarly expectations for everything a scholar (or scholar-in-training) puts online is absurd and boring. The great thing about blogs is that one is free to not read them if one so chooses, for whatever reason. But for the pros in the field to begin making rules to which their academic underlings must adhere while online takes academic guidance to a new, inappropriate level. Warnings are helpful. That a student’s application was rejected due to blogging is an appropriate warning for students. But telling students how to blog and what their content should be is an Orwellian overstep. I hope students in biblical studies continue to pry the sacred cow of knowledge that only the tenured are supposed to have away from the ivory towers and freely give it to those who will read their beginner mistakes and missteps. I also hope they continue to post about TV shows, music, and give us links to funny YouTube videos cause we’re all gonna die. So lets occasionally quit taking ourselves so seriously.
I actually think my blogging has helped my academics (personally). As someone who was approved for three different PhD programs (and dropped a fourth application only days separated from finding out I was going to be accepted with full funding), and as someone who blogs for four different blogs, it has proven beneficial for bouncing certain ideas off of others and getting some feedback. It has also helped me to think more deeply about my writing skills. In one case, it seems that my blogging was actually a benefit to my application (though in the others it is unclear if this played into the application at all). So…with that said, I would still say that it could be academically or (worse still) employability harmful if one is not careful in the sorts of things they choose to publish. The danger of blogging is being able to make ANYTHING public…and that is not a great trait if one is not careful about what they choose and when they choose to do it. Just saying.
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