As we near the end of the semester and, for some of us, the last of our blogging activity, I thought I would share an Advice column from The Chronicle of Higher Education by David Perry, “3 Rules for Academic Blogging.” The first rule is to select the appropriate blogging platform that can handle the volume of posts an individual writes or, alternatively, offers various design options to create an aesthetically-pleasing professional website. Incidentally, Perry suggests WordPress, which most of us in class already use. The second rule is to “write whatever you want.” I agree that blogs are a suitable space to share honest commentary and opinions, but I also think that the trend towards “no filter” on social media, blogs, public comments, and websites is not always optimal. The ease with which we can share our thoughts, at the press of a button, can also lead to rash and belligerent remarks before we really have the chance to take a step back and give a rational response as opposed to an emotional one. Not convinced? Read any public comments section of news articles, YouTube videos, etc. Perry also talks about how some of his favorite blogs to follow are academic and related to the discipline of the author. Such academic blogs allow professors, researchers, or graduate students to focus on the delivery of their message to a broad audience rather than on the content of the work itself. This variety of “informal[,] self-published writing” offers a different avenue for sharing research and recent developments than traditional academic circles, like scholarly journals and conferences. This point reminded me of our class about communicating science. Later that week, I wrote a journal entry about how, in my opinion, we can improve our ability to communicate science by, first and foremost, practicing communication, of any kind! As Perry mentions, blogging can be an excellent way to share ideas with colleagues but also engage the public in the work. The last rule is to “write for the sake of writing.” Perry admits that the so-called “Golden Age of Blogging” is past, having occurred in the early 2000s, while Twitter and other social media are now the mouthpieces of choice. Therefore, Perry does not suggest starting a blog unless one actually wants to, since dedicated readers will be hard to recruit now that the blogging heyday is over. He goes on to admit that blogs primarily “preach to choirs” and “convert the already converted,” in that the people that read a blog probably seek it out because they already like or agree with what it has to say. I think there is a term for this practice that I am trying to remember from an Environmental Policy course, but I am coming up short. Does anybody know what I am talking about? For example, people that watch Fox News (or any other news source) go to this media outlet because they know that it will reinforce opinions they already possess. I think that this observation that blogs rarely bring about change, so to speak, is somewhat valid. So, for example, little is usually gained by irate comments found below news articles; yelling at someone from the safety of an anonymous public comment hardly ever causes the recipients to realize the error of their ways. However, blogs and social media can also build awareness and inform the public, little by little, to one day induce small changes. In any case, Perry states that the real benefit of blogging is to regularly practice writing, kind of like a modern-day, digital version of a journal or diary. I am not sure if I will continue blogging after it is no longer a class requirement, but I certainly see the advantages of this platform to build a discipline of writing and communicating coherently with the world outside of our normal social or academic confines.
To provide some food for thought at the end of the semester as we either return to work on our dissertations or look forward to graduation, I wanted to share the Advice column, “Figuring out where you want to land after graduate school,” by Eric Grollman in The Chronicle of Higher Education. During the first class of the semester, we all introduced ourselves and talked about why we were taking the Preparing the Future Professoriate course. Some students knew that they wanted to teach in higher education but others, myself included, were unsure and wanted to keep the option open. In either case, Grollman provides some relevant pointers to anyone in graduate school hoping to one day navigate the academic (or otherwise) job market. One big decision if one does commit to the academic path is what type of institution will be the best fit. Grollman relates how, when he asked other students or professors about their chosen career path, many Ph.D.s pursue a faculty job at an R1 or other research-intensive university because this position is highly esteemed and, furthermore, expected. Grollman, however, secretly wanted to teach at a liberal arts college. Many applicants decide where they want to work based on general categories of institutions: liberal arts colleges if their focus is teaching and R1 universities for a more research-intensive position. Grollman points out that there is considerable variability among universities even within these broad categories. Professors at some liberal arts colleges often engage in quite a bit of research, and some research universities place substantial emphasis on teaching. Other types of institutions such as community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, and tribal colleges are additional options but often lie outside the radar of most graduate students. Grollman advises consideration of personal needs and the school location, community, and job description on a case-by-case basis when starting the job search rather than limiting oneself to a particular type of institution. He is also a proponent of gaining experience in both teaching and research but also outside of academia in industry or non-profit organizations that can help graduate students figure out what they do and do not enjoy. Some students work in industry for a while before returning to school for their Master’s or Ph.D., but those that do not can get a taste of this experience via internships or even just shadowing people at these organizations. We have discussed in class how many Ph.D. programs incorporate exceptionally little, if any, practice teaching. Students from these programs go on to be professors without ever really knowing beforehand whether they like, or are able, to teach. These outside experiences can also include visiting different institutions and talking to students and professors outside of one’s lab group or cohort. Of course, time is limited during a Ph.D., and we already have a lot on our plates before adding these extracurricular activities, valuable though they may be. It may not be possible to thoroughly investigate every possible career direction, but I appreciate that this article reinforces that we do have options and should think about them before trudging down the prescriptive path for Ph.D.s.
One student noted during our class discussion about ethics and scholarly integrity that, in opposition to the rest of academia, borrowing and stealing ideas is common and, furthermore, expected in the arts. Kirby Ferguson echoes this observation in the “Everything is a Remix” series that imitating the work of others is, to some extent, quite natural. Plagiarism takes various forms but generally refers to using an idea without assigning proper credit to the creator of the particular work or knowledge. However, this definition becomes hazy even in science, where academic dishonesty receives severe chastisement. The “Everything is a Remix” movies reminded me how it is not uncommon for researchers to make the same discovery independently in science, whether in different time periods or parts of the world but also, sometimes, in close succession. An example from my field of hydrology is the variable source area concept. Variable source areas are small hollows or other depressions on the landscape that expand and contract with wetness; these areas respond rapidly to precipitation and form a major contribution to stream flow, even though they make up a small percentage of the watershed land area (not that you all wanted to know this). In any case, several people “came up with” this notion: Betson in 1964, Ragan in 1967, Hewlett and Hibbert in 1967, and Dunne and Black in 1970 all essentially describe the variable source area concept. So, who gets the credit? While the names I listed are all common to include in a citation list when talking about variable source areas, Dunne and Black are usually the primary reference. At first, this selection seems odd, since we tend to cite the first publication that developed an idea, or the oldest chronologically, unless a later paper made a significant improvement upon or contribution to the original idea. One of my former professors insisted that the variable source area concept is attributed to Dunne and Black because of a figure in their paper, a conceptual model of sorts, that clearly demonstrates the principle. On the other hand, Hewlett and Hibbert, for example, describe the variable source area concept very accurately, albeit qualitatively. Although similar situations arise frequently and, as Ferguson argues, unavoidably in science, researchers still disapprove of such replications. Hewlett remained extremely upset for the rest of his life that he and Hibbert did not receive the credit they felt they deserved for the variable source area concept, even though Dunne and Black did reference them in their paper. I can certainly understand why scientists become angry when they are not properly recognized for their contributions with fame or citations. However, I also feel that this outrage can be somewhat self-centered and get away from the main goal of scientific progress. This is not to say that I would be un-phased and altruistic if I had the same experience as Hewlett and Hibbert, but I do think that we must keep in mind that complete originality, as Ferguson points out, is impossible.