The buzz on blogging

Posted by | December 05, 2017 | Uncategorized | No Comments

So you’ve thought about blogging but have been too nervous to take the next step. UNE ecologist Dr Manu Saunders, a post-doctoral research fellow and avid blogger, offers a few tips and suggestions.

How long have you been blogging?

I’ve been blogging since 2009. I started just before I commenced my PhD. It worked out well for me because I was at a regional university and wasn’t part of a big lab group. There were no other students or post-docs on campus with similar interests to me and I often felt isolated. Blogging really helped to grow my confidence and to feel part of the broader academic community.

How would you describe your blog, Ecology is Not a Dirty Word?

It’s a platform for me to share my stories, opinions and ideas about how relevant ecology is to all of us. I started writing about science for a non-academic audience but as I’ve progressed through my career I often write more about academic issues.

I post when I have something to say, about 2-3 times a month. There are not a lot of Australian ecologists writing blogs, so it has helped my peers to get to know me. The website is also a place to store my CV, research interests and publications in the one location, which is handy for job and grant applications.

Who reads your blog?

I’ve got over 500 followers registered, which is not big in the land of blogging, but that’s good for me and the numbers grow every week. There are probably many more readers that I don’t know about, because sharing of posts by regular readers is a huge part of bringing in new readers. It’s a broad mix of people – a balance of academic and non-academic people, because I write both science communication posts and science community (or academic) posts.

What is a science community blog?

As distinct from science communication blogs, which are blogs written for a non-specialist audience, science community blogs are where scientists share scientific ideas. These blogs are more concerned with the process and culture of science and academia – things like teaching issues, peer review and publishing.

What have you enjoyed about blogging?

I feel like I have got to know many of my followers really well. Sometimes I think I know more about some of them than I do colleagues in my own building! The blog provides an opportunity for me to share opinions and feelings about issues and that helps people to get to know me as a person, too.

I also find it easier to formulate an argument when I am writing. I can take my time. So it’s a style of communication that suits me.

Why are blogs useful?

I think my blog has increased my exposure and helped me career-wise. It has been a great tool for networking nationally and internationally. It has helped me to connect with other scientists and develop a community of peers.

Blogs can play an important role in advancing scientific ideas and mentoring the next generation of scientists, especially younger women. When I was a PhD student and reading the blogs of others, especially senior women in tenured positions, it really boosted my confidence. It made me feel that I was not alone when I was having specific difficulties.

Blogging is a great form of outreach and can be a quick source of indirect advice. When you share experiences online it can provide valuable feedback and sometimes a different perspective. Blogs prompt discussion and serve as a medium for post-publication peer review and analysis. They can also raise the profile of your university, especially if you have a following and write regularly.

I think blogging is an important, alternative form of journalism. Often the public only get certain stories from the media about academics and how academia functions, and that can be a biased perspective. Blogs can allow more people to join the conversation, and if non-academic people happen to read your blog, then they can gain a better understanding of how academia works.

I recently co-authored a paper, with seven other ecologists who blog, about the reach and impact of science community blogging, which has been published in Royal Society Open Science (http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/4/10/170957). We agree that not everyone wants to blog. But if you do have the urge, regular blogging is a great way to improve your writing and communications skills, free of scientific and publishing conventions. It can encourage more scientists to disseminate their work, especially material that’s unlikely to find its way into the academic literature, like short notes, failed experiments or natural history observations. Blogs are also a primary source that can provide valuable citations.

What have been your most popular blog posts?

Anything to do with bees is always popular, as are my posts about scientific writing or presenting results and general science communication.

One of my most read posts lately was one I wrote to cast some scientific perspective on a recently published German paper about insect decline. My blog attracted quite a few comments. Another popular one was on the importance of observation in ecology, and the fact that we can sometimes overlook or ignore important things in the world around us. The foundation of ecology, after all, is to observe interactions in nature.

What advice do you have for a new or contemplating blogger?

Some scientists don’t think of themselves as bloggers – but it’s not just a niche market for foodies, travellers and parents. It’s a valuable way of communicating and networking. And if communicating with non-specialists doesn’t come naturally, science community blogging, aimed at a peer audience, can be really useful.

Not everyone loves writing, but you don’t have to have your own site. You can contribute to group blogs – where multiple authors take turns to post around a theme – or contribute guest blogs to another blogger’s site.

I encourage academics to blog about academia and how it works. It helps to break down barriers and helps some people to see that academia is just another valuable sector of society, not an elitist camp. Often it’s the story behind the published paper that’s interesting, and this is rarely portrayed in media coverage.

If you’re contemplating blogging, also consider the complementary role of other social media. For me personally, I have found that engaging with other social media platforms (particularly Twitter) has significantly extended the reach of my blog and expanded my following.

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