Attention conservation notice: this is a navel gazing post that probably won’t be of wide interest. Stop reading now unless you care about things like how I got into blogging, how much time I spend on it, what I think I get out of it, etc.
Quite busy at the moment, will try to get back to writing real posts ASAP.
Increasingly when I visit other universities and attend conferences, I find I’m getting asked about my blogging. Indeed, I’ve already given one invited talk on my blogging, and will be giving another one in September.* So I thought I’d do a quick post answering some of the blogging-related questions I get asked most often.
I emphasize that these are my own personal answers. Other bloggers no doubt would give different answers to the same questions, which is totally fine. There’s no one right way to blog.
How did you get into blogging?
I have a post on that.
How much time do you spend on blogging?
Probably less than you think, because I write pretty fast. Though I hesitate to put a number on it both because it fluctuates, and because I haven’t tracked my time. As Meg and Brian have noted, unless you track your time you’re probably going to be bad at estimating how much time you spend on anything. At a very rough guess, it’s usually 1-3 hours per week. Very occasionally it’s more. For instance, if I accomplish something big, like getting a couple of papers off my desk, I’ll reward myself by taking a day or half a day to crank out some posts I’ve been meaning to write. Or if a post starts getting a lot of comments, that means I have to spend more time than usual replying to comments.
No, it doesn’t take away time from research or other duties (see next question).
How do you find time to do it?
Blogging is part of how I procrastinate now. I like blogging. So instead of checking the sports scores, or checking Facebook (which I’m not on), or going for a coffee, or etc., I often procrastinate by banging out a quick post or making some notes for a longer one. So it’s not that I work longer hours than anyone else (I don’t), or that I procrastinate less than anyone else (I don’t), it’s that I get something out of some of the time I spend procrastinating.
I’ve also been doing it for long enough that it’s just part of my normal routine. It doesn’t usually feel like it’s taking time away from other stuff (well, unless I have pressing deadlines that I really should quit procrastinating on…).
I wish I could carve out more time to do it, but that’s never going to happen. It’s important to me to continue pursuing my other professional activities as I always have.
How do you force yourself to do it?
Do you get rewarded for it? Does it help you get grants? Raises or promotions? Some other reward?
Yes, I do get rewarded for blogging, and it’s those rewards that keep me going. But they may not be the rewards you’re thinking of.
I include blogging on my annual performance reviews. And my head of department views it quite positively, in particular because I can show him that the blog is widely read and seems to have raised my profile in my field. But it’s just one element among many others on my annual performance reviews, so I doubt it makes much difference one way or the other to my raises and promotions. And I doubt my head of department would be happy with me if I let other aspects of my job (doing research, writing papers, teaching, mentoring, committee service, etc.) slide in order to focus on the blog. So raises and promotions aren’t really among the rewards of blogging for me.
I’m going to try to incorporate my blogging into my next grant application, though I’m not sure how to do that. There’s not really any obvious “slot” for it in an NSERC Discovery Grant application and as far as I know no one’s ever done so (advice welcome in the comments, Andrew and Marc!) I really have no idea if/how it will make much of a difference to how my application is evaluated, though I suspect it won’t make much difference one way or the other. (As an aside, your mileage may vary on this. Depending on the rules of the funding agency, it may be quite clear that you can’t include blogging on your application).
There are some tangible rewards I’ve gotten from blogging. As noted above, I have now gotten two seminar invitations due to my blogging, which is cool. Some blog posts I wrote led to me getting invited to help guest edit a planned special feature for a journal, despite me never having published a paper on the topic of the special feature. I have two papers that grew out of blog posts and that I wouldn’t have written had I not been blogging. One of them is in a top journal, I think it’s one of my best papers, and it’s proven more popular than most of my other papers. But while those rewards are nice, I see them as a bonus–like finding money on the sidewalk. I don’t blog in hopes of getting invited to give seminars, or to edit special features, or to get more publications.
By far the biggest rewards are intangible, though no less real for that. Dynamic Ecology has a pretty good-sized audience, and many of our posts do seem to get taken seriously (e.g., this, though on the other hand we’re not nearly as influential as some folks think). I’ve gotten positive feedback, from people I know and people I don’t.** Students seem to appreciate the advice we offer, which is really flattering (also a little scary!) I’ve learned a lot from Meg and Brian, our guest authors, and not least our commenters. And those intangible rewards are really important to me. I enjoy blogging, but I’d probably quit doing it if no one was reading it and discussing it. I’m an academic–I care about ideas. I want to talk about ideas with other people who share my own admittedly-narrow and idiosyncratic interests. I want to see good ideas spread. I want to see flawed ideas improved or abandoned. Etc. So while I don’t want readers for their own sake (what would be the point?), I do want readers. If no one reads what I write, then I’m just talking to myself, not talking with others about ideas that are worth talking about.
And it’s through blogging that I’ve gotten to know Meg and Brian. I now consider them close colleagues and good friends.
UPDATE: keep in mind that Dynamic Ecology is somewhat atypical in that it’s mostly not an “outreach” blog. Brian, Meg, and I write for ecology grad students and academic ecologists, and sometimes for scientists or academics more broadly. If you’re writing an outreach/popular science blog, which is what most science bloggers do, then the rewards–tangible and otherwise–might be somewhat different.
How do you, Brian, and Meg coordinate your efforts?
We email back and forth as needed. It’s pretty informal. None of us has any editorial oversight over the others–we all just post what we want, post as often as we want, etc. We coordinate timing of posts. We talk about admin-type stuff. Occasionally we chat about how the blog is doing, how it seems to be changing, interesting topics that came up, etc. And we give each other encouragement.
Do you have to filter out lots of spam or do lots of comment moderation?
No. The WordPress spam filter is excellent in my experience. Hardly any spam gets through and legitimate comments never get flagged as spam. And out of 9,300+ comments all time, we’ve only had to block about a dozen. As our audience grows and changes, it’s possible we might have to do more comment moderation, but I hope not.
*Which is really flattering, but also still feels a little weird to me. Blogging for me is just part of what I do as a scientist. I certainly hope nobody thinks that I’m dialing back on doing science in order to blog about it, because I’m not!
**And negative feedback, which I do take seriously. But positive feedback has been more common.