Thursday, June 10, 2010

Should Grad Students Blog?

. Thursday, June 10, 2010

Drew Conway has a post up arguing that more grad students should blog. In fact, he sees nearly no downside to it; he has 10 points in favor and none against. I am in broad agreement of course, and made many similar points during the roundtable on blogging at this year's ISA conference. I especially agree with Conway's points #1-4, 6-7, and 10. As for point #5... I think different peoples' mileage varies. Some departments seem to be nonplussed or even encouraging of blogging by faculty and grad students. Others are downright hostile.

I can speak best about my own experience. Obviously the Poli-Sci faculty at UNC is not uniformly against grad students blogging, since this blog was founded by a faculty member. That doesn't mean that all of them are excited by the idea either. While I've never had a faculty member tell me that I shouldn't blog, I have had a few express reservations. An academic's stock-in-trade is intellectual reputation, and faculty members get nervous that thinking dumb thoughts out loud can have deleterious effects on their students' job prospects. While this is also a risk in conference presentations, job interviews, and other settings, those situations can often be controlled more easily. When you blog, you are exposed in public and are especially vulnerable to criticism. As I said at ISA, and as Conway indicates (#6), this can be viewed as a very good thing. But not everyone sees it that way, and that view has to be respected as well. In a worst-case scenario, public stupidity from their grad students could even have a negative effect on their reputations as intellectual mentors. At least, one line of thinking runs this way.

I don't necessarily think that more grad students should blog, although I do think it provides a valuable medium for thinking about theory and scholarship in a different context than we get in seminars, conferences, and brown-bag lunches. However, I do think that more grad students should have the option to blog without fear of repercussions, so long as it does not have an adverse effect on their other work. And I think that those critical of grad students (or faculty members) blogging should articulate their concerns in a public, coherent way, and be willing to hear counter-arguments. Ironically, a cross-blog conversation would be a great way to have that conversation, but putting those concerns out in the open in any way would be beneficial to everyone. I think people who are concerned that there is a bias against blogging in some corners of the academy are probably right, but I don't think the reasons why are very well articulated. I also don't find them very persuasive, which is why I still blog, but that could just be because no one has ever presented the case to me.

In short, like Conway I have found the experience of blogging to be positive almost without reservation. It has provided me with academic opportunities that I would not otherwise have had, and allowed me to network with other grad students and faculty that I would have been hard-pressed to know otherwise. The only downside has been a (relatively modest) time commitment, but even that time is not lost; it is spent applying the tools my discipline provides for understanding the world to try to... understand the world. Sometimes I get things wrong, I know, but that's okay too. It's part of learning and growing. Isn't that what grad school is supposed to be about?

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Should Grad Students Blog?
 
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