Blogging about your own research and science could help set you apart from others when applying for a job.
Contributor James Hadfield
The impact of social media on our lives is undeniable, most people have heard of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Blogging even if they do not actively participate. And although the impact of these media on science is still a matter of debate, their increasing use, i.e. blog commentary of journals, and non-traditional metrics (altmetrics) to assess scientific impact, does appear to be changing the way we work. Blogging about your science can be part of this non-traditional commentary and can also add something to differentiate your CV from the pile.
A scientific blog does not have to be anything more than a way for you to organise your thoughts. One of the most interesting examples (at least I think so) of how a blog can be used in a research group is by the Redfield lab. The group blogs about its projects and plans, as well as presenting experimental results and is a very open-access operation.
Like many other researchers, I started my blog (core-genomics.blogspot.co.uk) as a way to get more writing experience. I manage a genomics core facility lab at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and wanted to do more technical writing, a blog seemed an easy way in. I set myself the challenge of writing two or three posts a month and I hoped a few people would find it interesting. Three years on and my technical writing probably hasn’t improved as much as I’d hoped, but then again my Blog is not a technical one. I’ve managed to keep up the pace but have suffered from writers block and having too much else to do. However it has been incredibly rewarding to see large numbers of people reading what I have to say. And even more so are the comments I get on the blog, at meetings or conferences, although no-one’s bought me a beer because of my blog – yet!
Based on my experience, I’ve been thinking about what it takes to start a scientific blog, particularly one that reviews research and shares results. So, here’s a list of things to consider if you’re thinking about doing just that.
Check the boundaries: Consider what you will talk about and check your employer allows you to blog, and certainly check that your boss is happy for you to do this as well. Don’t be put off asking for advice if you think a topic might be sensitive and don’t be surprised in there are no policies in place.
Think about what message you want to share: Is your blog about your research project?; will you discuss the field you work in?; is it simply a journal club?; or will you use it as part of your lab notebook? Think of your blog as you own personal writing laboratory, you can experiment here; and you don’t even need to let others see those failed experiments, just don’t publish them! You can blog about you, your PhD project, your life as a post-doc, a technician or a professor, but you can also blog about technology, science politics or ethics; anything goes! But it does help to have a focus if you’re hoping for readers to return.
Define your audience: Blogs can be very widely read, often receiving more page views in a month than your academic citations in a year, so try to make sure your posts stand up to academic scrutiny. This is especially vital if you want to be taken seriously as an expert in your field.
What to use: WordPress and Blogger are two commonly used platforms, find something that works for you. Often going for something simple is better. Pick a catchy name for your blog; it does help people remember you. Use the “about me” to let people find out more about you. There are many widgets or apps you can incorporate to make your blog more interactive. Using these makes it easy to link to other blogs, Twitter, etc and pointing your readers to other material can make your blog part of the centre of a community.
Start writing: Blogging does not have to take huge amounts of time. Don’t agonise over every post; think about the message you want to convey, do some research, sit down a write a draft, and publish after a short reflection. Many of my own posts take under 30 minutes to write; this one took a couple of hours.
Make it visible: Make the most of your efforts by linking your blog to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn so that people can access it easily. Interacting with fellow bloggers via comments can also be a way to draw in a relevant audience. And make sure there’s a link in your email signature so that anyone you speak to can also take a look. It is also easy for a prospective employer to follow a link in your covering letter or CV to your blog, quickly getting an idea of who you are and what you are interested in.
Be careful: Anything you put out on a blog is pretty much there for eternity, indexed by Google and difficult to erase. You can say things that are controversial, it is why many people like to read blogs (less editorial influence), but as long as you avoid open criticism then you should not get yourself into too much hot water.
Ultimately your next job is likely to rest on the work you’ve published in peer-reviewed journals and a blog does not count. There are pro’s and con’s of adding your blog to your CV to be considered. Whilst many employers will see blogging as somewhat positive it can also demonstrate that you want to have a presence outside of work, and employers might ask if you will be over-committed, or might you say something that impact them. Your blog is likely to show how you write and think as much as whether you can write and think! A blog is very different from academic papers, or laboratory experience. But it is also something that can be judged outside of an interview, an addendum to your covering letter perhaps.
If you’ve got any questions for James about core Facilities or blogging as a scientist, leave them in the comments section below and he’ll get back to you.