Okay, so I’ve been coblogging with ScienceWoman for a little over a week so far. Which means I’ve been blogging as me, with no pseudonym to hide behind for the same time. What do I think about it so far?
It’s terrifying. I haven’t told many colleagues about this blog yet, and haven’t had the nerve to add it to my email signature and such yet.
Before I decided to blog as me, I went and talked to my department head to see what he thought. He was supportive of me blogging as an outreach activity, but recommended I talk with the communication/news service people to see if they had any advice or concerns about me blogging as a faculty member of my university. I got an email back from them saying it was fine as long as I stayed within my area of “expertise.”
Hmmm. I wasn’t sure what to think about that, in part because my supposed “expertise” is really on gender in academic engineering. My research can focus on the characteristics and experiences of my job in ways that the vast majority of people’s jobs can’t. I use my experience and conversations I have as myself to inform how I’m thinking about my research and my study participants. And then I try to write it up as critical* research.
So is my expertise on engineering education specifically, and if so, what would the consequences of blogging be on my publication record? Would people think less of my scholarly work because they might have read me write more causally on the blog? How about my expertise in gender theory and engineering? How does my personal experience of being a women in engineering impact that? How about my personal expertise in being a first-year faculty member? Does my embodied knowledge “count” as expertise the same as my intellectual PhD-oriented knowledge? The thing is, it’s really all mixed up, not compartmentable in the way that others’ research may be. I am an expert in blogging as me, and there is both expertise and value (hopefully) involved in blogging about my experiences.
The other query that I also haven’t figured out yet – I wanted to blog as me so I could talk about my research more. But if I talk about my research on the blog, will that mess it up somehow? Result in people stealing it or as copyright infringement if I write it up for a journal? I’m not sure.
However, having these discussions with the university communications director did not seem a wise decision, so I wondered by myself late at night, instead, when I should have been sleeping. Is blogging as me the right decision? Should I even have asked the communication director? Was I opening myself up to slander, lawsuits, stalkers and trolls, risking my department and my university as well as myself? Was I sabotaging my future publication record?
No wonder I couldn’t sleep.
What I have been finding the most surprising is how I feel like my future promotion and tenure committee is always looking over my shoulder at what I am writing. (Like now.) Who will they be? Will they be hip enough to understand the potential that blogs have for accessing new populations, creating community, and sharing information in new modes? Will they blame a mediocre publishing record on my wasting time blogging? (Okay, let’s not give them the chance at thinking I have a mediocre publishing record, but anyway…)
In the end, I decided I couldn’t just sit in fear. Blogging under a pseudonym wasn’t going to save me from a particularly investigative P&T committee anyway – googling two key words brings up my old blog. But, on the more positive side, I decided when I started my current job that my goal was to be the best professor I could be, the one I wanted to see when I was a graduate student, and that I would. not. be. threatened into submission by colleagues wielding the tenure stick. I am committed to student learning, to faculty learning, to developing useful and inclusive learning environments, to the sifting and winnowing of ideas, to making engineering education better both in how I engage in it and what I study. None of that is something I as a faculty member should be scared of saying, and if doing so results in me only getting to do my job for 3 years or 6 years, then there is something undeniably and seriously wrong with our academic system and what we want professors to be/do. Plus having job security for 3 years or 6 years is something that most people don’t get anyway.
All this being said, I also COMPLETELY understand how many people can’t make this decision, can’t blog as themselves. They don’t feel safe, don’t feel they can deal with potential consequences, see too many risks and not enough benefits. I find it at once amazing and not at all suprising the number of women scientists and engineers who blog under pseudonyms.
The thing is, I do feel that maybe blogging as me will be supported in my case. I think I can do it, think I can justify it, think I can be a good professor at the same time, think it might be easier then for people who come after me. And so I decided to blog as me. I still see the P&T people over my shoulder. But I think blogging as me will make a better difference. Didn’t someone say, “be the change you want to see in the world”? Okay then. I will.
As my car license plate used to say, “allons.” Let’s go. And hopefully my new me-blogging voice will take on a less pontifical tone in future posts.
*Critical as opposed to basic or applied research, sort of like the description here.