Does the world need yet another blog? Perhaps not, but spurred by reading Steve Hsu’s post on the scarcity of faculty bloggers I’ve decided I’ll give it a shot, though I was mostly critical of the idea in my response to Steve copied below (also posted at http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2013/04/why-blog-professor-responds.html) My key motivation is the one I give at the end — hopefully recording a variety of thoughts will help them persist, and perhaps coalesce into something useful. And maybe some of the topics I expect to write about — the structure of higher education, biophysics and animal/microbe interactions, my sporadic efforts at painting — will be of interest. How much time will I allow for writing? Will the number of readers / subscribers rise above zero? Do I care if it doesn’t? We’ll see! — Raghu, April 19, 2013
My response, on faculty blogging:
I liked reading your “Blogging Professors” post, since I’ve thought several times, “Should I write a blog?” But I’ve also thought, “Why does anyone bother to write a blog?” The reasons to write are, as you note, to propagate one’s “fabulous ideas and opinions worthy of wider attention and discussion” and to create dialogs and conversations. My own reasons not to write have been (1) that it would take time, and I have too little time as it is, and (2) that I doubt I’d be likely to make even the slightest ripple in the vast pool of the internet.
Reason (1) is, I’m sure, obvious. It’s hard to find “work time” between experiments, meetings, classes, seminars, journal clubs, staring at data, writing analysis code, talking to students, planning classes, teachings classes, reading papers, reading books, and probably several other things I’m forgetting. And “free time” has its own constraints, and any new activities would have to compete with things I’m very fond of, like wandering the public library with the kids, or playing games with them in random taquerias, or painting pictures myself (which, sadly, has been steadily dwindling in frequency).
Of course, I’m sure most commenters will point out that it’s all a matter of incentives: I have no incentive, as a faculty member, to blog. This is true, but not very explanatory in itself. We all do plenty of things that don’t have concrete incentives. This past week, I’ve spent about two hours reviewing a paper. Next week I’ll spend at least half an hour with a postdoc (not from my lab) starting a faculty position (elsewhere) giving advice on grants. Later this term, I’ll probably put a lot of work into a talk on super-resolution microscopy for a journal club I don’t usually attend — it’s a fascinating topic I’ve gotten increasingly involved with. I certainly don’t get any reward from the University (or even the department) for doing these sorts of things. So why do them? In all these cases, there’s some combination of reciprocity (I publish articles in journal X, so I should review papers for journal X), or personal interactions (I like to have conversations with colleagues), or both. Is any of this the case for blogging?
I’d guess — though I have no data on this — that most blogs, especially new ones, have very little readership. Certainly one often stumbles on blogs with a total absence of comments. (Not that blog comments in general are often worth reading…) And even if posts are read, is there likely to be much interaction or dialog, compared to the other activities noted above?
As you note, one way out of this would be group blogs, which might expand readership and reduce writing effort. Another would be if the university actively promoted blogs. (I’m constantly amazed at how little work the university puts into describing to the public what faculty do, and how ineptly what little they do is done.)
And, of course, another solution is to simply look at blogging as a way of recording and refining one’s thoughts — regardless of whether they’re read or not. I’ve toyed with this; maybe I’ll take it up…