To blog, or not to blog: that is the question I posed to a few academics.

Bertram Holliss

Several weeks ago I published a post from Patrick Meier, a recent PhD graduate from the Fletcher school. I was intrigued to read his first piece of advice:

First: blog, blog, blog! The blog is the new CV. If you don’t exist dynamically online, then you’re not indexable on the web. And if you’re not indexable, then you’re not searchable or discoverable. You don’t exist! Blog-ergo-sum, simple as that. Chris and I have been blogging for years and this has enabled us to further our knowledge and credibility, not to mention our network of contacts. The blog allows you to build your own independent brand, not your advisor’s and not your program’s. This is critical. We’ve received consulting gigs and keynote invitations based on blog posts that we’ve published over the years. Do not underestimate the power of blogging for your professional (and yes, academic) career. In many ways, blogging is about getting credit for your ideas and to signal to others what you know and what your interests are.

Despite not agreeing with his entire criterion for why, I do share Patricks overall view that blogging is important (in-part, my reasoning for why is outlined under the ‘About’ heading of this blog and spurred me to start International Security Discipulus). But what do my opinions matter in isolation, I thought- so I contacted a number of International Relations and International Security academics, working at various institutions around the world, to find out theirs.

Forwarding Patrick’s first piece of advice I simply asked: “In your opinion, is blogging considered a useful or important skill to develop for practitioners or academics, is Patrick right or is blogging not really seen as being that significant.” Below, covering the full gamut of opinions, are the responses I received back- all to whom I am most grateful for being so generous with their time.

Professor Thomas Doyle Josef Korbel School of International studies, University of Denver

I think this is matter that is affected by generational issues, and so it will likely admit of significant variation.  For instance, universities with substantially older faculties are less likely (though not entirely) to care about blogging, relating it more to journalism than to rigorous scholarship.  Younger faculties are more likely to be interested in one’s blogging record.  Then, there’s the indeterminate middle ground.  Certainly, some scholars are quite active bloggers (Alan Gilbert, Stephen Walt), but when it comes to getting hired as tenure track faculty, nothing replaces peer-review journal publications or books.  And I would think that remains fairly firm for promotions to associate and full professor.  There are well-established metrics for determining the influence of one’s publications in citation counts and such.  I’m not aware that any count of ‘hits’ on blogs carries the same force.

Professor Jing Dong Yuan Centre for International Security Studies, Sydney University

I don’t have much time to blog; much of my time is consumed doing administrative work, research and teaching. One of my colleagues in the US, Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, developed a blog, ArmsControlWonk a few years ago, which has now become the ‘go to’ blog for students and scholars alike, who care about and, are interested in arms control and non-proliferation issues. So blogging is definitely important!

Professor Michael Krepon The Stimson Centre and blogger at armscontrol wonk

I don’t subscribe to the view that any publicity is good publicity.  This may apply to film stars, but I doubt it applies to Ph.D.’s looking for teaching positions.  If you are interested in teaching at the college level (at least in the US) it’s about publications in academic journals and turning your dissertation into a book.

I turned to blogging to complement my day job at the Stimson Centre and as a teaching device. Instead of twenty students, I have a very large classroom at armscontrolwonk. – including students who are planning to make a career in this field, as well as young professionals already working in it.

In my view, blogging is a great way to pass along information, analysis, and reading assignments.

Professor Robert Kelly Department of Political Science and Diplomacy, Pusan National University and blogger at Robert Kelly- Asian Security blog

I think this is right. The internet is changing the discipline obviously. We take blogging much more seriously than before. I think Walt’s flagship blog at FP changed a lot, brought a lot of credibility, but Drezner was the real pioneer. Now there are some really good IR blogs, like Duck of Minerva.

 I suppose a web presence is important. It is sort of the new CV I guess. I hadn’t thought about it like that, but that sounds right, especially for ABDs/PhDs younger than me.

 I would say 4 other things though:

1.       The real value of blogging is test-driving ideas that ultimately you should work up for journal submission. Blogging is not an end in itself or a replacement for real research. I try to use to it stimulate my brain on topics I like, and I try to recycle some of it into my more serious writing.

2.       Be ready to defend what you say. Don’t just go off half-cocked on some tirade, because you might have to explain something you wrote to a committee somewhere. If you say something stupid, walk it back. Besides, if you admit you make mistakes, you build credibility as a blogger.

3.       If you don’t blog regularly, it doesn’t really count. Blogging is really time-consuming actually.

4.       Probably the best part about for people just starting out is that it makes you write all the time. It’s great, regular practice. The grad school model of writing a paper is to read a lot first, and then write the essay in a big burst over a few weeks. But in between, one doesn’t write. That makes it hard to get the juices flowing again. By contrast, blogging forces you to write all the time and will raise your comfort level with the language and make it easier to write for real research later, at least in my experience. 

Professor Alan Gilbert Josef Korbel School of International studies, University of Denver and blogger at Democratic Individuality

I don’t have a lot of advice, just a note. Bloggo, ergo sum is clever, but probably the quality of the blog, i.e whether one has something to say is the main point. Probably each of us does…But international studies schools often speak of branding now, as if each person were some sort of alienated product or commodity which  a war contractor or intelligence agency might wish to purchase. Perhaps that is not what one went into international studies for (or if one did, cipher in, nullity out). I doubt that this should be confused with a person having something to say.

Professor Hugh White Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, the Australian National University

Yes, young scholars, do blog – but not just to get your name on the net.  It gives you practice in clear, crisp, concise non-scholarly writing, which is the kind of writing you need to learn.  It sharpens your skills in debate on the big current issues, which are the skills you need.  And it helps teach you to give, and take, criticism gracefully, which is essential to anyone who intends to argue for a living.  But one word of caution: blogging is publishing, so always think very carefully before hitting ‘send’.

Professor Taylor Fravel Security Studies Program, Michigan Institute of Technology and blogger at M.Taylor Fravel

I have mixed feelings about the utility of blogging by PhD students who are pursuing tenure-track teaching positions in Political Science.  For these types of students, the key to getting a job is writing a great dissertation.  Anything that takes time away from writing such a dissertation will not be career-promoting.  This would include not just blogging, but also writing articles that are not related to thesis, side-line consulting projects and the like.  An effective blog requires a good deal of effort that will likely come at the expense of the thesis.  Of course, under certain circumstances, occasional blogging may help, if it is related to one’s thesis and helps to develop ideas that will be in the thesis. Exceptions will always exist.  But I don’t see a natural harmony between blogging and writing a great thesis for the academic job market.  

If PhD students are interested in pursuing career options other than a tenure-track teaching position, then perhaps blogging might be more career-promoting.  

I do agree that an online presence helps graduate students and that graduate students should use these actively, especially to publicize and promote their academic work.  Being engaged on Twitter in areas that are related to one’s research will certainly help one to become part of different communities without a commitment to maintaining an active blog that gets attention.  Guest-posting, and linking to one’s own site, can also help.  

Regardless, the metric for one’s online activity should be whether or not it promotes and aids the writing of a great dissertation.  Blogging or tweeting that takes time away from this dissertation is probably not worth the investment for those pursuing tenure-track teaching positions.

Professor Robert Ayson Centre for Strategic Studies, University of Victoria Wellington

Blogging can certainly be a way for post-grads to establish their own academic personality on line, to engage in wider debates and expand networks. Getting yourself known is important and because you can start a blog without anyone else’s permission, the entry requirements are far less imposing than getting published in a journal, or even getting an opinion piece published. But I think there are a couple of trade-offs.

First, the more that postgrads blog the less distinctive it will be. A potential employer wants you to stand out from the crowd.

Second, blogging means writing but not necessarily with the discipline an academic article requires.

Third, I have never been on a hiring committee where bogging has been seen as part of an applicant’s portfolio of work so if you have a choice between blogging and making progress on a difficult article do the latter.

Fourth, if you are seeing a job in government, you’ll probably have to stop blogging when you get your first role. Only a few get jobs with think tanks.

Fifth, blogging is being overshadowed by twitter. So anything you blog that is not being twittered may remain unread.

Sixth, be aware of the hierarchy of blogs. One piece on the blog of a prestigious think tank is worth 40 of your blogs on your own amateur site that no one reads. 

Professor Joseph Nye Kennedy School, Harvard University

Thanks. I read this and found it so well argued that I tweeted it. Smart advice at Graduation time!

Well, to blog or not to blog: that is, and was, the question I posed at the beginning of this post. I look forward to reading any of your thoughts or comments on the utility of blogging and very much hope that having read this you err on the side of the former and decide to write and submit a blog post to International Security Discipulus for publication soon.

Bertram Holliss bwrholliss@gmail.com

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49 thoughts on “To blog, or not to blog: that is the question I posed to a few academics.

  1. This is an important testimony regarding the utility of blogging and will be extremely helpful to me in convincing young researchers and senior scholars in participating in a new blogging project on Japan’s foreign policy (see profile). Surely you still find people with a keen awareness of the latent benefits of blogging, but this post – along with Chris and Patrick Meier’s – makes it evidently clear to those still left unconvinced. This “Ivory tower” syndrome is something modern scholarship and academia should tackle for the improvement of its own knowledge base and advancement of human understanding. Thank you for providing such categorical evidence.

    • Thank you for your positive response. From my brief look into it, there certainly appears to exist a disconnect between blogging and academia and the perceived utility of blogging for academics- when to me at least- they needn’t be so mutually exclusive. I believe Thomas Doyle is correct when he says though, that this is largely a generational issue.

      You seem to imply that academia is in away a cosseted institution- an interesting perspective worthy of further examination I believe. Perhaps the apparent success of academics blogging in the US, compared to say the UK or Australia for example, could be attributed to the ‘revolving door’ situation, where transit from academic, to policy think tank, to government- is more fluid.

      Sadly in academia, we work within a time poor environment. Many people I contacted simply didn’t respond, some did expressing that sadly they were too busy to contribute, or too busy to even think about blogging, or that they simply didn’t have any interest in blogging at all (though asked me not to link their name with this final position as part of my post).

      However, the fact that we work within a time poor environment could also be a double edged sword- look at blogging as a slightly longer abstract, a hook, it could be a means of enabling the ‘time poor’ reader to decide what to read (a nudge in the right direction), I know I certainly don’t have time to read half the publications that fill my inbox. Furthermore, you are potentially reaching out to a far larger audience, than just that of one specific journal, and larger still if your post is re-blogged or ‘tweeted.’

      Blogging needn’t take time away from producing scholarly work for Journals but could complement it. As Hugh White and Rob Kelly pointed to- it enables you to test drive, argue and have your ideas challenged, and this process can only add value when writing and crafting a paper for journal publication.

      Thank you for your response. Feel free to form your own thoughts and experiences into a blog post and send it this way and I’ll put it up on the blog.

      • I continue agreeing with everything you say. The whole issue is indeed complicated to fully grasp. I know of a few cases in which professors tried to incorporate blogging into their courses’ syllabi and thus foster class discussion, further reading and extra-curricular debates but in all instances it was utterly dismissed by the students.

        This may suggest a few elations. Firstly, that blogging is primarily fueled by an individual’s self-interest and motivation to do the extra mile. Secondly, it can only develop and prosperous within a receptive environment that is external to the blogger itself. From the first premiss we conclude that bloggers tend to be scholars with a greater research output and more prone to participate in collaborative projects. The second premiss, on the other hand, can be used to justify the argument that a lively and engaging blogosphere is an indication of an equally lively and engaging academic environment in which it is inserted in.

        Speaking for myself, I knew of King’s College London War Studies Department’s “Kings of War” blog before applying for my graduate studies there. Note that it’s a blog backed by a faculty’s department and run by its own staff. I applied the same reasoning and was not disappointed when I was eventually accepted. Perhaps this could serve as a case study and be applied by other departments around the world as yet another indicator of teaching and research quality standards. It is certainly an idea worth exploring.

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