Sunday, February 13, 2011

Blogging Science


Blogging about science is becoming a more and more popular endeavor. Considering all of the fantastic science being conducted all over the world, that can hardly come as a surprise. As the pace of improving technology increases and the public's appetite for information skyrockets, blogs have become an increasingly important medium to share information. After all, you are reading a science blog now, right? And, as younger and more Internet savvy individuals come into the science field you are starting to see more blogs written by scientists themselves. This can be both a good and a bad thing, from the scientist's prospective.

With the hiring pool filled to overflowing with recently graduated PhD's and postdocs, many departments are now looking at other aspects of a candidate's accomplishments in addition to teaching history and publication rate. One of those aspects is a good blog. Why? Well, think about your typical undergraduate student - always has a cell phone, on the Internet almost constantly, and very socially conscious. A blog offers a way for undergraduates to read and get excited about science. It also offers researchers an avenue to present and explain scientific findings to the public.

However, blogs, being the very public media that they are, can be both a help and a hindrance to a scientist's career. It's all about how said scientist goes about it and how the university they work at views it. Let's break it down into two categories by which universities are often classified: nonresearch institutions and research-intensive institutions. The first values blogs as a nonresearch activity that supports the traditional academic activities of teaching and outreach. Activities that pertain to and are valuable to the goals of their institution. Research-intensive institutions tend to view blogs at best as a harmless hobby and at worst as a liability.

The good about science blogging:
  • Reach a wide audience
  • Present research papers of all kinds, including ones that don't get a lot of attention or citing
  • A source of public outreach
  • A way to present individual research
  • A way to illustrate the types of research conducted at a particular institution
  • Have a "broader impact" (a term used by funding agencies)
  • Networking
Things to watch out for if you have or decide to start a science blog:
  • It is time consuming and may take away from research
  • Do not blog about unpublished research
  • Present but don't criticize the research of other scientists
  • Limit your blogging to research you admire to avoid negative blogging
  • Be delicate when blogging about your own research
  • Avoid controversial subjects like politics, religion, or academic controversies
  • And a pseudonym might not be a bad idea
Overall, scientific blogging is considered to be a good thing as long as it does not take away from the job of conducting science, and as long as a scientist takes certain precautions. Personally, I find it a way to keep myself up-to-date and reading the recent scientific literature and something to have fun with.

On that topic, if you read my blog frequently, or even semi-regularly then please hit the subscribe button -->
Here is the article from Science's Career Magazine that I based this post on:
http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2011_01_28/caredit.a1100007

They also reference ScienceOnline 2011, a meeting on Science and the Web, that took place last month in Research Triangle, North Carolina, USA. This was a meeting of scientists, students, educators, physicians, journalists, librarians, bloggers, programmers, and others to discuss how the Web is changing the way science is communicated, taught, and conducted. You can read more about the meeting here:
http://scienceonline2011.com/

Science Online London 2010 was a very similar meeting, with very similar goals, held back in September of last year in London, England. You can read more about the meeting here:
http://www.scienceonlinelondon.org/

(image from web.utk.edu)
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