A few months ago I attended a conference at my home institution where I sat in on a talk by Mark Schaefer about the multiple, dynamic benefits of business blogs. (A version of his talk can be found here.) Although his comments explicitly dealt with business and corporate blogging, academics and PhD candidates with blogs also could benefit from this information. In fact, his talk they helped me to clarify how to use my blog in my career search within and outside of academia.
I’ve talked to quite a few grad students lately who are, like me, entertaining career options beyond the tenure-track position at a four-year university. Invariably during these conversations, I often am asked about my blog as it relates to my job search and career goals. I’m typically asked to address two concerns:
(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?
I addressed (1) — what I write about here — in an earlier “Blog Lab” post. Now, I want to get a little more theoretical–meta, if you will–and discuss my responses to question (2) — why do I blog as a PhD candidate?
Why I Blog as PhD Candidate
ESTABLISH A (DIGITAL) IDENTITY. Because I’m looking for employment in two arenas (higher education, albeit it not tenure-track research positions, and the broader labor force), I have to wear multiple hats at once. That is, when posed these questions — Who am I? What do I know, and what can I do? What is my value to a potential employer? — I necessarily will have different responses, depending on my audience. My blog allows me to not only establish an accessible as well as versatile professional identity.
MANAGE AN ALREADY-FORMED DIGITAL PRESENCE. Have you googled yourself? More likely that not, an employer will take to the the internet for information about you. What do you want them to discover? While you can’t entirely control the search results associated with your name, you at least can manage them by creating materials that search engines will rank highly. Blogs typically fit the bill because, as Mark notes,
search engines give preference to websites that have fresh, relevant content. Hubspot research shows that sites with blogs get 55% more traffic than sites without blogs — even if there are no readers!
Of course, a blog represents only one approach to managing an emerging digital identity. A unprotected twitter account (i.e., one that can be viewed by anyone) can be another tool in service of this goal. From my view as a twitter user (follow me at @ambulantscholar) this approach to managing a digital identity is far less time-consuming than blogging; however, twitter lacks many of the finer customization options that are associated open-source blogging platforms. (For instance, I use WordPress.)
NETWORKING. PhD students, particularly those in the humanities, do this poorly: it simply isn’t a skill we often have the opportunity to cultivate. In fact, networking is discouraged (and flatly, at that) in certain contexts. On the other hand, blogs encourage community building via dialogue and the exchange of ideas. Blogs, then, can be an easy, rewarding, and relatively risk-free approach to building academic and professional relationships.
Why Grad Students Should Blog*
*Three more reasons, in no particular order
Mark references an important feature of blogs: their infinite search life. A blog allows you to maintain a digital presence and network even when you don’t have time to actively engage in these endeavors. I recently took a month-long blogging break due to a teaching responsibility, yet I still had a decent amount of traffic on my blog during this period.
The dissertation stage of the PhD can be lonely and isolating for those working in academic disciplines that are not oriented around the lab structure (um, ENGLISH, comes to mind). A blog can replicate some features of a lab environment–collaboration, feedback, support, collegiality, accountability.
Blogs allow PhD candidates to hone an essential research and teaching skill: the ability to communicate clearly and compellingly to a variety of audiences. Can you easily explain your research to academics in a different specialization, field, department, college? Can you clearly and compellingly relate your research to an undergraduate or simply someone who has an inquiring mind? A blog can help you to simultaneously move closer to these communication goals.