Should you start a blog?
It used to be easier, I think, this whole business of being a person. I was in the second year of my PhD when someone suggested that I start thinking about my academic brand. I wasn't shocked, having transitioned from "Facebook as wild wild west" to "Facebook as a place where your parents can monitor your every move" and fairly conscious of the way I present myself online. And yet, I felt uncomfortable about the idea of having an academic brand that I had to manage: wouldn't my work speak for itself?
In the year that I've been blogging regularly, I've come around and realized the wisdom of that academic brand advice. In fact, I'd extrapolate it out to the idea of a "professional brand." So today, I'm laying out the case for professional blogging, or simply starting and maintaining a web presence. Because everyone is going to Google you, probably for the rest of your professional life. You might as well control the top hit.
- Put the information up that you want people to see. This is my case for why you should have at least a basic website up - with a website that you maintain, you can control what information people see first. Of course, a well-curated LinkedIn page can do the same (and is free!) but investing in a basic website is a great first step in developing your professional web presence. Put your (updated!) CV there, as well as any information about your current research, your future projects, your successes. Think of it like a portfolio! It doesn't have to be expensive, it doesn't have to be at a domain name that you own - check with your librarian, as there might be services that your University hosts that you can use for free.
- Try your hand at writing about your research for several different audiences. Many of us focus on writing about our academic research for academic audiences, but a blog is a great, low-stakes way to practice writing about your research for a more general audience. Pitching to online journals, news sources, or even other blogs can be really intimidating, so writing a few "practice" posts can be a great way to warm up.
- Have samples of your writing that you can use for job search purposes. Many jobs (not just communication focused ones!) want to see evidence that you can write clearly and efficiently. What better way to demonstrate that skill by having a blog full of samples? This is a great reason to write about topics beyond your dissertation research, by the way - unlike your academic publishing profile, there's no reason that you can't mix posts about your research focus with reviews of your favorite coloring books!
- Build a writing habit in a lower-stakes way. Different kinds of writing demand different skills, but if you're struggling with confidence issues, writing in a lower-stakes way can help build you up. Writing blog posts (and bypassing the peer review process) can help you write more regularly - set a goal to post once a week, or once a month. Getting into the habit of setting and regularly meeting writing goals is a confidence boost like none other.
- Create community around your writing. Invite your lab mates to submit a guest post! Enlist a friend to write about their experience in a completely different discipline. Join a group like The Academic Blogging Network. Post your blog posts on LinkedIn. Share the links on Twitter. You control the access to your blog, and that means you can share the posts as widely as you like, and use your voice to connect with others!
My blog has allowed me to connect with people all around the world - it's given me confidence in my writing abilities that my dissertation did not. Even if you just make a basic website to post your CV, controlling your web presence (at least a little) can be a great exercise in taking ownership over your professional path, and more of that is always good.