Why you should consider blogging in grad school

Why you should consider blogging in grad school
By Melissa Fong

So you read the super cool GGAPSS newsletter and it was SO good you decided to visit the BLOG? Amazing. Read on, friend.

You know what I love about blogging? The above paragraph actually counts as a paragraph in the casual-colloquial-writing-world of blogging. Sentence fragments. Use sentence fragments for effect and nobody will crucify you for it.

Blog.
Weblog:
A regularly updated log published on the web.

I have been blogging since 2007 and it is the best decision I ever made for my career and mental health. There are many reasons why you should consider blogging. AntipodeFoundation.org just published a blog post titled, “Geographers, get blogging”, which talks about the benefits of blogging and finding a wider audience for your work.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of why you should consider blogging in grad school:

1) You have many ideas but not all are worth taking the time to write in an academic fashion for an academic journal.

Sometimes ideas take a little incubation before they can be published in an academic forum. Ideas on blogs go much beyond “peer reviewed” and are rigorously vetted and criticized by the public. In fact, public scrutiny IS one of the necessary steps for the scientific method. You may even consider your audience on the web to be the most critical and challenging. First of all, the ability for anonymous comments brings just about anyone out of the wood-work to say anything about your work. Yes, take this with a grain of salt, but also take it as an opportunity to read how people would respond if social convention and tact were not necessary. Also, your web audience is also your lay audience, in a way. What you write has to be accessible. You hear from professors to never use jargon. However, it may be tempting and, in some forums, even permissible to use jargon that is accepted in your field. Writing on the web helps you practice writing to a wide audience that you must explain, in accessible ways, the thoughts you are attempting to convey.
Small ideas bud into inspirational projects. Perhaps there was a news article or that you found interesting or made your blood boil. Yes, sometimes our most creative moments come when we have strong reactions to something that happens in popular culture or open media. Writing blogs about daily news events or creating posts that are Seinfelidian can not only help you coin words like, “Seinfeldian,” but also let-loose an array of more-thought-out-than-average ideas without having to go through the long process of academic publishing. And the best part? It’s instant and nobody has authority over what you are [not] allowed to say or how you are going to say it (except for the Google elves… yes, they are taking over the world one adsense box at a time).

2) You find alternative communities.

When I first decided blogging it was because I decided to play “political pundit” in Vancouver. I had dabbled in diary-type blogging prior, but it wasn’t until I decided to blog on issues that I discovered an established online community that was engaging in the same issues and attracting tens of thousands of hits a day. Not only this, but when you write about issues, people tend to leave comments, link to your post and may even respond with their own post. Eventually you get knees deep in comments and it even gets really exciting when more established pundits are in conversation with what you have written. Some bloggers would even find each other at blogger conventions (yes, those exist) and would “live blog” conversations they were having in person for their fans.
Which, leads me to my next point.

3) You have conversations with broader communities

If you build it they will come. (Cheesy reference to the iconic Field of Dreams [movie starring the very talented-I-don’t-care-what-you-say-because-Waterworld-was-NOT-a-crap-movie Kevin Costner], or life lessons for academia?).
When you write consistently place your opinions online and respond to others’ opinions in thoughtful and meaningful ways you will eventually gain fanfare of your own. You would be surprised with how many people will encounter your writing. This isn’t just a lesson on how the internet works. (Yes, of course anyone can search for your blog and, therefore, you will have a wider audience for your work.) Reading other blogs, responding to them with your own posts, linking to news articles and writing on an engine that aggregates similar blogs (such as Planetizen or Progressive Bloggers) will provide networking opportunities for you and your writing. All of these networks will take you to similar minded people who will enrich your experience and respond to you in equally meaningful ways.

4) You will leave a legacy of ideas

I was pretty astounded when some stranger sent me a message on LinkedIn and told me they would like me to be a copywriter for their firm. First of all, people actually get jobs from LinkedIn? I know that’s what it’s for but I didn’t know it actually happened. Secondly, why would you ever want ME to be a copywriter? Anyhow, a phone conversation later, the recruiter said she found me through my online writing and decided I would be a good fit. The job ended up being from a really terrible firm that basically wanted to extend capitalist-aimed advertising at the “Asian” market, but the next job offer could actually be something I want to do!
The point is that blogging is a really good way to build your brand. Obviously I didn’t do a good job of it, and/or she was a terrible recruiter if she thought I would be a “good fit,” but let’s be honest with one question: Have you ever googled or Facebook creeped someone?
Answer truthfully.

I rest my case.

Building an online presence is something you get to control and it will put you a step above anyone who has the same work with no presence.

*If you have a problem with putting yourself out there online, you can do what I did and blog under a pen name. I used to be terrified that my ideas would be there forever and/or I would be associated with ideas that were either too controversial or just plain wrong. It took me awhile to give myself permission to 1) Be wrong and 2) Be a work in progress.

5) You develop competencies in social media that will be valuable in bridging academia and activism.

Learning how to use WordPress, Blogger, Twitter, Facebook etc EFFECTIVLEY is actually really important in academia. Ideas easily disseminate over the web and bring people together in real life.  Organizing people over the web and internet activism can be crucial for getting messages out worldwide.  While we may or may not endorse things like Kony 2012, Generation WE, or the Thrive Movement, you have to admit that the only reason why they have millions of followers is because the web is a powerful medium and incessant viral postings and re-postings on social networks are going to get attention.   Afterall, didn’t you hear Blogging is the new Battle of Seattle?

If you haven’t already, you should check out some incredible bloggers in our department. Sheraz Khan writes on urban issues here: http://visualizingurbanfutures.wordpress.com and if you want to keep updated on the posts follow here: @FuturesUrban . Daniel Brown writes for The Starfish: http://www.thestarfish2010.com/, a blog that addresses climate change. Nehal El-Hadi, a fouth year planner, tweets here twitter.com/iamnehal

If you would like to add content to the website or blog, or add link love to your own website and blog to the main site please contact
Melissa Fong at fongm [at] geog [dot] utoronto [dot] ca

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