Brief thoughts on blogging

13Sep08

Soon I’ll be off the blogosphere. Will I be back? (A question relevant to all of maybe two or three people.) I have mixed feelings about whether it is wise for a PhD student to moonlight as a blogger.

On the one hand, it’s a great way to connect with the physics community. The way that physics bloggers have been able to share news, advice, and commentary has already changed—in a largely positive way—how this generation of physicists approach their craft. On a personal level, blogging has been a tool to help me codify my thoughts. Many of my physics-related posts were exercises in how to present topics effectively and later made their way into my presentations and write-ups. Once in a while someone will comment on something they think is neat, and that always makes me happy.

On the other hand, a prominent blogger once offered the advice that it’s dangerous to blog without tenure. There is a caricatured image of grad students as working 200% of the time. While this is clearly not true in practice, it still doesn’t look great when you hit a ‘rough patch’ in your research but you still manages to make regular blog posts. Further, no matter how many insightful posts you write, you’re always a single bone-headed statement away from offending someone senior with a lot of power over your future. (So when the grown-ups are having blogo-wars with one another, Junior would be wise enough to stay out of it.) [I will note, however, that I've heard a few people say that blogging has *helped* their early careers.]

I haven’t complete closed the door to future blogging. Maybe somewhere down the line I’d be interested in joining a group blog of young scientists, but this very-hypothetical situation wouldn’t happen in the near future and would only occur after a long talk with my adviser.

Thank you, however, to all of the kind comments people have left regarding keeping up blogging. I strongly encourage everyone—especially all of my grad student colleagues—to maintian Sidney Coleman’s “fratelli fisici.” A big part of being a physicist is collaboration. We are privileged to live in a time when this can occur at a much earlier stage through resource and information sharing over media such as web forums, wikis, and blogs. So keep an eye on the big picture and look out for each other.

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4 Responses to “Brief thoughts on blogging”

  1. 1 Stan

    Just a curious question. How much work is a grad student expected to work? I am also a grad student and If I try to work too hard I get stressed out and productivity declines. But then if I take off time for other activities or just to relax, I feel guilty.

    What do you think?

  2. That’s a good question. I’m also very curious what the answer is. :-)

    I suspect the “right amount” is the amount where you are able to maximize productivity and personal happiness. (It should be reasonably possible to optimize both if you’ve made it to grad school!)

    So the following are just my personal opinions:

    1. As grad students we are supported to do one thing: produce research. (And perhaps teach undergrads `on the side.’) For the most part, we have a lot of freedom to spend our time however we want, as long as we meet our end of the deal.

    2. A constraint on the above system, however, is that we ought to proceed in a way that is satisfactory to our advisers. I.e. even if you do your best work at night, it doesn’t make sense to never come into the office during the day if that’s the only time your adviser is around.

    3. This really, really is a special time when we have a lot of freedom to explore topics that we’re interested in and have people around us to discuss and guide us. As post-docs there’s much more pressure to produce in a shorter period of time, and as faculty there are many non-research related academic responsibilities. So I strongly believe that it’s worth embracing this time to explore our field. So I believe that every spare hour is worth spending on learning, even if it’s not directly applicable to a particular publishable project. Even if it’s just playing with silly undergraduate-level topics that are fun, or learning to use a new Monte Carlo tool, or watching an online summer school lecture, or learning about something neat so that you can blog about it in the evening. :-)

    4. It’s definitely important to have outlets for non-work activities to `recharge.’ At the same time, I feel like we ought to be training our `academic endurance.’ Our generation grew up immersed in TV and the web, so I always feel a bit guilty when my attention span becomes a limiting factor.

    5. Finally, I’ve always found motivation (though not necessarily inspiration) from the rather demanding post-doc market. For those who want to continue in academia, it’s not sufficient to graduate — one really must stand out enough to land a position at a decent university where one can make a splash.

  3. I think that what you do in your free time is entirely your business. Even if it’s online and everyone can see it. Or if all of your time is “free”.
    How can anyone judge your scientific work from your online hobby? It might look weird to blog like crazy and be stuck in science, but maybe this is your way of dealing with pressure. In the end, you phd depends on what you publish, not how you spend your free time. You don’t account with work that is done, but with publications and dissertation.
    I’m speaking from personal experience. For example, yesterday, I had very busy day at the university, we had to deal with some administrative issues and well, I was under pressure. So, when I found a free half an hour, I worked a little bit on my blog and I felt so refreshed afterwards. It might be strange, but it’s my way of working.


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