Blog Lab: What to Blog About? A PhD Candidate Responds

A few weeks after starting this blog, I attended a public relations, marketing, and social media conference at my home institution. It was sponsored by the Public Relations Student Society of America, and lucky for me, the conference was open to the general public.

With my fledgling blog on my mind  as well as how I might wield it in my upcoming job search, two conference talks emerged as especially–and immediately–useful: Jeremy Dearringer’s talk about the significance of social media to search engine optimization (which I’ve written about in an earlier Blog Lab), and Mark Schaefer’s hilarious and helpful presentation on the ways in which businesses can benefit from blogging.

Some of what Mark discussed can be viewed on his blog in a post called “Ten reasons to blog — even if nobody reads it.” While his recommendations are explicitly geared towards owners of “business blogs,” many of his comments can be applied to blogs created by academics, and in particular, advanced PhD students who, like me, are searching for jobs within and outside of academia.

Mark’s talk has helped me to clarify how I’m using this blog to in my own marketing strategy–that is, as someone who will be presenting herself (in cover letters, interviews, etc.) to potential employers, including those within the realm of higher education.

Such insight is useful when graduate student colleagues ask about my blog. Typically, they want to know two things:

(1) Pragmatically, how do I fill this space? What do I write about? What do I reveal about myself, my work, etc., and what do I choose to keep private ?

(2) Theoretically, why I have I created this space? How does blogging move me closer to my employment goals?

What I Blog About

BOOKS. I ascribe to the adage, “write what you know.” As a PhD candidate in English who teaches introductory fiction courses, I know books, so I tend to post about what I’m reading but not necessarily writing about formally. (Finally! A space besides my dissertation to write about books!)

BACKPACKING. To differentiate my book blog from say, the thousands of other book blogs, I also write about my backpacking, hiking, and  wilderness adventures. Mark notes the central role blogs can play in marketing differentiation, and so I use my weird mash-up of books and backpacking to create a unique shape for my academic identity: the “ambulant scholar,” or someone who moves (or will be moving) among several worlds within higher education and the labor force.

EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. I don’t think I could only write about books and backpacking, although my blog perhaps could benefit from such constraint. I want my blog to be a really big sandbox–a place where I can dig into new research territory and still be free enough to move to the next shiny toy sitting beside me without a second thought. My blog, then, represents a foray into what Mark calls “new product development.” In that vein, I’ve posted on films like Black Swan, cultural phenomena like Daylight Savings Time, and the writerly aspects of blogging.  To maintain some semblance of continuity, though,  I’ve labeled such posts as my participation in the “life of the mind,” a concept that many PhD students erroneously view as being singularly accessible via tenure-track, research-focused positions in the academy.

RELEVANT, TIMELY CONTENT. Despite having a focused yet fluid content plan, I struggle with generating content. When this happens, I  often look to a calendar or the news for inspiration: What holidays, celebrations, and important dates are looming?  What is going on in the world?  For instance, I published a short piece on William Carlos Williams’ poem, “Spring and All,” on March 31, the day before the beginning of National Poetry Month. The piece garnered the most hits of any post on my blog thus far. [I’m still a little sad that I missed publishing something for Zombie Awareness Month (May), but at least I’ve netted one post for National Outdoors Month (June).] In creating an editorial calendar that links future content to significant, upcoming events, I have a nice supply of content ideas at my disposal that have broad appeal.

TEACHING AND RESEARCH.  While my blog  appears to present a skewed or incomplete portrait of who I am as a PhD candidate–a teacher-scholar–I do address my teaching and research endeavors on my blog. Instead of posting on these topics, however, I created fixed pages about my teaching activities and research interests. Blog pages can be accessed no matter which post a reader is browsing, and therefore, pages establish (and create easy access to) an important part of my identity, including my academic and professional credentials.

How do such writing endeavors move me closer to my employment goals?  Why do I blog as an academic?  See part 2 of this series.

In the meantime, I have some questions: Are you a grad student or PhD candidate who blogs?  What do you write about? Did (do) you think about differentiating your product–that is, making your blog stand out from the rest of the pack?

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Posted in Blog Lab, Everything in Between
3 comments on “Blog Lab: What to Blog About? A PhD Candidate Responds
  1. […] was a first. The conference was eye-opening, and I learned quite a bit about branding and blogging and, in turn, how I could use these concepts to communicate my scholarly identity. (I also […]

  2. […] about their research, mirrored my own when I started blogging. I’ve figured out how to negotiate those issues, but I still struggle with an important issue related to my professional, digital presence: Do I […]

  3. […] about their research, mirrored my own when I started blogging. I’ve figured out how to negotiate those issues, but I still struggle with an important issue related to my professional, digital presence: Do I […]

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Amy Rubens
Amy Rubens

I'm an Assistant Professor of English at a state-sponsored university in South Carolina and have over ten years of experience teaching at the college level.

I regularly teach courses in composition, professional writing, creative writing, and American literature.

My primary research interest is the medical humanities, particularly the depiction of contagious disease in American literature and lifewriting. I also have research interests in digital writing, social media, and the ways electronic environments shape notions of health.

I'm inspired by the great outdoors and enjoy hiking and backpacking. When I'm not reading, writing, or hiking, I like to blog and spend time with my family members (both human and animal).

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