October 14, 2005

The (imagined?) perils of academic blogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at October 14, 2005 3:10 PM

There's been a bunch of commentary among academic bloggers about whether blogging hurts one's chances of getting tenure. (For example: Sean Carroll, Chad Orzel, PZ Myers.)

Tenure considerations are still many years off for me, but I will admit to having similar worries with regard to the process of landing a tenure-track job in the first place. The job market in physics is very tight, and I hear from people going through the process that candidates are scrutinized very closely. Physics postdocs are expected to devote pretty much all their time to research, and in that regard my having a blog might be interpreted as insufficient dedication (or something). Maybe that's irrational but this is how the worry goes.

Of course, this too is a long way off for me—probably four to six years. Four to six years ago, hardly anyone knew what a blog was, so the culture may be very different by that time. If I wanted to play it safe, I could close the public blog when I graduate (which itself is probably two years off) and if I wanted to continue blogging, do so at some other site under a pseudonym. (The blog will have to relocate in any case, assuming I leave Berkeley.) The disadvantage of this is that I wouldn't be able to talk about my research in any detail without the risk that someone would recognize me.

Most likely I'll just keep on blogging as normal; it's too much fun and a job that frowns on it is probably a job I don't want anyway.

Tags: Academia, Internet

I have not heard any of these issues. If they think that, e.g., the stuff somebody does in 40 hours per week is better than what somebody else does in 80 hours, they aren't going to complain about the person spending 40 instead of 60 (although once you have a faculty job, the 40-hour person will find themselves spending more time).

The question is whether one's work suffers or not and that will be judged based on the work. (Their perceptions about the work can always be wrong, of course, but that's a separate thing.)

A less politically correct example of the same line of reasoning (from the perspective of the people doing the hiring) is the case of not hiring females because their roles in a family might take time for their research. This certainly occurred in the past (or was at least used as an excuse in the past), but nobody could admit publically to doing something like that now. (I'll ignore the issue of people still doing stuff like this but trying to keep it under cover.)

Anyway, the idea is to pick any time sink you want, whether it's family, blogging, or writing a novel, and the end issue is the quality of the work itself regardless of what one does with his/her other time. (And if all else fails, there's always the old Caltech combinatorics problem...)

Posted by: Mason | October 14, 2005 5:37 PM

I say keep bloggin. Stick it to THE MAN! The ACADEMIC MAN!

Posted by: Josh | October 15, 2005 1:42 AM

I agree with both Mason and Josh and if you think blogging is a time sink try writing a novel (an apt, and perhaps pointed, example, Mason).

In my case, having a couple of books published may actually help make me marginally more interesting than the run-of-the-mill real estate finance guy (how hard would that be to do anyway, I ask you?), which in turn may marginally help my chances of getting into see someone and pitch an investment opportunity to them.

The argument that runs the other way is that, in addition to taking time away from the pursuit of business, in my writing I don't shy away from real life language- including racial epithets and profanity- that some readers in the buttoned down world of real estate finance will find offensive, and the possibility that my prose could offend someone we would like to do business with has on occasion caused my partners angst.

At the end of the day, though, at this stage of my life, I would sacrifice way too much of my individuality not to be writing novels- and I could not begin to consider stopping in order to avoid such concerns so I just keep on keepin' on.

I think other issues might have weighed more heavily earlier in my career when I was trying to establish myself in law and business, but I deem them irrelevant to where I am today- this is a backhanded way of acknowledging that the risk your blogging poses to your desire to gain a tenure track position is worth at least assessing, which you are clearly in the process of doing.

But for my money, in retrospect, I feel like I made a mistake by not starting to write earlier, as opposed to waiting until it posed less risk to my business career.

So, yeah. Stick it to the man. Right on, Josh.

Write on, Gazebo.

Posted by: JSpur | October 15, 2005 5:19 AM

My choice of examples: I've spent three years working on a _Legends of Caltech_ book, which is a comparable time sink to a novel (and has as much text as some of them), which is not necessarily the wisest use of my time. That was the main motivation for the example (and novel was an easy way to do it without sidetracking), although I think while I was on the market, I spent less time on it than otherwise. The reason, however, was directly because I needed so much time for my job applications in addition to the other work that was already there that I had less to use for other things. I wasn't ever worried that someone would comment that because I have side projects that I wouldn't be as committed to academic pursuits. (And my understanding is that my reference letters pretty much uniformly say I'm one of the hardest workers they've seen, so it would be a bit odd for a potential employer to bring up that argument.)

Once again: "Work, sleep, social life: choose two." :)

Posted by: Mason | October 15, 2005 9:59 AM

As someone who's been married 31 years, that's an easy choice.

Work and sleep.

And running.

And martinis.

Posted by: JSpur | October 15, 2005 11:36 AM

Running and martinis count as part of social life. :)

I tend to skimp on sleep more than the others, although it's much harder to do that than it used to be.

Posted by: Mason | October 15, 2005 1:11 PM
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