Last year, Inger Mewburn & Pat Thomson published a paper (Studies in Higher Education 2013, DOI:10.1080/03075079.2013.835624) on a relatively small-scale research to analyze what academics blog about and why. Blogging has become increasingly common over the last few years, especially among young researchers, and this paper introduced a good summary of the current reasons why. According to their research based on 100 academic blogs “academics most commonly write about academic work conditions and policy contexts, share information and provide advice”. I read their paper when I was on the verge of deciding whether to go ahead and start writing a blog, and decided to do some searching of my own about what it is that academics blog about and if it was worth doing it. So, here is what I found.
Most of what I looked for was related to biology, obviously, because that is what I do. There are some pretty good ones out there, and for me, the best I get from them is information on topics that are a little outside of my scope and therefore would normally not read anywhere else. That is, it is a great way of being on the loop about other research topics that are not relevant to your own exactly, but that are fun to know about! Just a few of my favorite ones, in case you’re interested: The Molecular Ecologist, Dynamic Ecology, EEB and Flow, and The Loom. For me, there is nothing like a Sunday morning browsing through the lire app where all my feeds are combined.
There are people who really go all in and you can find inspiring stories out there of graduate students that started blogging about their own research and got so involved with it, they are developing part of their carriers though it. Jeremy Yoder, for example, tells the story of when he began blogging about things he found interesting while still in grad school and nowadays is the manager for the aforementioned blog, the Molecular Ecologist.
But, really, why do most academics blog? Does it help with readership of the articles that are being blogged about? I found that the answer to that seems to be yes, at least according to this experiment done by Melissa Terras with her own articles, where she introduces this interesting formula: If (social media interaction is often) then (open access + social media = increased downloads). However, Thompson and Mewburn suggest that what really gets this world spinning is the global meeting place it provides. It is not always about outreach. Research now has the potential to be collaborative in ways never achieved before, and blogging appears to play a significant role in this. There is a lot of discussion going on (yes, in the form of blogging, but also in journals like this one) about how social media is changing the way we do science. My personal opinion is that the change has indeed started, if not entirely revolutionizing yet, certainly a major force to be aware of. Social media is how a lot of us communicate, where we look for things that interest us.
Interested? Now, there are different scales to this. If you’re looking for a place to start, there are manuals on how to start microblogging through Twitter (“How to start tweeting”), but if you’re feeling brave, check out this A to Z guide on social media for academia. All in all, social media can certainly open up new forms of communication and dissemination.