Can blogging boost your research career?

Man­u­fac­tur­ol­ogy turned two months. For me, becom­ing a blog­ger also meant that I had to learn to become a blog reader. Yes, I did visit a cou­ple of blogs occa­sion­ally before I started my own, but none in my own field of exper­tise. Now sud­denly I realised that I must keep up with what oth­ers in my niche are writ­ing, some­thing that I’m still strug­gling with.

Why did I want to start my own blog? The ques­tion is rel­e­vant, because I must con­fess that for a long time I was quite neg­a­tive about the whole social networking/Web 2.0 thing. As a mat­ter of fact I know of nobody else in my pro­fes­sional net­work who runs a blog. And I doubt that any of my col­leagues have read mine.

Read­ing and writ­ing about blog­ging appears to be a hot topic for blog­gers. I came across this post by John Dupuis, where he makes the point that research blog­ging can build your rep­u­ta­tion, but it may not nec­es­sar­ily help improve your career. Mar­tin Rund­kvist thinks of his sci­en­tific pub­lish­ing as the equiv­a­lent of what Stephen Jay Gould referred to as his “tech­ni­cal work”, prob­a­bly not read by many, while blog­ging per­mits him to reach a wider audi­ence. Appar­ently, there are also those who believe that seri­ous researchers have no time for blog­ging.

I sus­pect that those who hope that blog­ging will boost their career as researchers will be dis­ap­pointed. Instead, I want to sug­gest another rea­son why you may want to con­sider run­ning your own research blog: Writ­ing infor­mally but pub­licly about your research gen­er­ates new ideas and helps to improve your logic of reasoning.

Con­sider why you want to present your research at con­fer­ences and at infor­mal pre­sen­ta­tions. I’ve spent the last few years writ­ing research papers. While doing so, I’ve found that the occa­sional pre­sen­ta­tions that I make, at con­fer­ences, but more impor­tantly, at my uni­ver­sity and at com­pa­nies that I work with, are great for test­ing and evolv­ing new ideas.

Often, I return to the same topic over a num­ber of pre­sen­ta­tions. I reuse some mate­r­ial, but I never give exactly the same pre­sen­ta­tion twice. Every time, I find that my pre­vi­ous talk led to new insights or ideas that improve the logic of my argu­men­ta­tion. I col­lect more empir­i­cal data, and after some time I have enough mate­r­ial and a logic that I can elab­o­rate in more for­mal writing.

It seems to me that blog­ging can serve a sim­i­lar pur­pose. It forces you to use a clear logic, espe­cially since the typ­i­cal blog post is fairly short — usu­ally less than 1000 words, often less than 500. You have to be con­cise and clear, while at the same time you’re totally free to explore those ideas that inter­est you most for the moment.

So, return­ing to the ini­tial ques­tion, can blog­ging boost your research career? Per­haps not directly, but I sus­pect that it can help you indi­rectly. Because sub­ject­ing your ideas to pub­lic scrutiny is a great way to develop your own rea­son­ing. And its fun too…

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