Sciencewomen

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.

Comments

  1. #1 writerdd
    February 20, 2008

    You have a right to blog about whatever the fuck you want, and it’s none of the business of your employer. It is your personal right. So who the hell cares what they think? I get so sick of people being afraid of what their employers think about what they do when they are off the clock. So bravo to you for taking the step to blog as yourself!

  2. #2 Luna_the_cat
    February 20, 2008

    writerdd: it’s a brave and admirable attitude, however, multiple people in multiple different fields have found themselves jobless as a result of statements on their blog, and employment law in the US does not, in any way, protect the off-work privacy of any employee. In the past, US law has supported the dismissal of airline employees, bookstore employees, IT industry employees, and a variety of others because of comments made about their employer in their blogs or content which their employer deemed “inappropriate” (not pornographic, just vaguely “inappropriate” or “against corporate policy”) — even when the blogging was done anonymously, not from work computers, and the employer had to demand ISP cooperation to identify the bloggers. In addition, Alice has legitimate concern about releasing too much information about work she’s doing to someone who might “scoop” her; the same problem people have when they unwarily share papers with unscrupulous colleagues.

    I’m not saying she shouldn’t be blogging or that she shouldn’t blog about her work; just that her caution is warranted, and your “it’s your right and it’s not your employer’s business” is way too unrealistic.

  3. #3 Becca
    February 20, 2008

    Dear Dr. Pawley’s Promotion and Tenure committee,
    Please give her credit for blogging. It should count as “service” to the larger scientific/engineering community. We need good role models.
    Sincerely,
    A graduate student.

    (yeah, I know, I know… but I can dream, right?)

  4. #4 Lab Cat
    February 20, 2008

    I blog pseudonymously, but my name is right there in the blog address. Despite this obvious flaw in my anonymity*, not many colleagues seem to have found my blog, unless I told them about it.

    I don’t advertise it very much, but I add it to the end of emails if I think the reader might find it useful.

    *I knew I would be no good at hiding my identity so I really did not try very hard.

  5. #5 gradstudent
    February 20, 2008

    When I was deciding to create a “public” blog (even if it’s only a public of 2), I kept in mind stories I had read about FaceBook and MySpace pages being detrimental to job applicants, and found very similar remarks about why grad students shouldn’t blog. Someone, somewhere, made the point that search and tenure committees have an entirely fallacious notion that people who blog will more readily decide to stop being anonymous than people who don’t blog will decide to start blogging.

    I started a blog anyway, anonymously. I was more interested in anonymity for limiting preconceived notions (it shouldn’t matter to anyone looking at grad life whether I’m male or female, exactly what discipline I’m in, etc.) and a writing challenge (can I explain this problem without giving this away?) than in protecting my reputation and career prospects.

    Also, I had problems with friends who mentioned my name associated with private actions on their blogs, so anyone who does get mentioned – my advisor, fellow grads, students I teach – deserves the same respect of privacy. I want to be able to present stories without any of the players being easily identifiable, even to themselves.

  6. #6 r
    February 20, 2008

    Dear Dr. Pawley’s P&T Committee,

    Do you seriously want your University to be known around the world as a bunch of tightassed middle managers who don’t stand up for their people and who nobody would ever want to work for?

    Do you think Hopkins is hassling Adam Riess about a blog?

    If you’re one of those functionaries who would do that, see ya in Stockholm, suckers.

  7. #7 saxifraga
    February 20, 2008

    Great post and thanks for sharing your thoughts about blogging as yourself. I set up an account and template for my new work blog today and even though I speak with a much, much quiter megaphone than you it really feels like crossing a line to go from being anonymous to being recognisable. I think I am going to ease in slowly with talking openly about my research (so anyone will be able to find me via google), but only use my first name and probably not name my current employer directly. I want to blog as me with full name and institution when I start the faculty position, but my current employer has been less than supportive of personalised webpages in the past, so I don’t want to tie it too closely to the work web.

    I haven’t discussed blogging with anyone at work, but maybe I should. Anyway I reached the same conclusion as you, that I want it to be possible to blog as me.

  8. #8 Anne-Marie
    February 20, 2008

    I had this debate with myself after my blog actually started to get significant readership, I worry about it impacting my grad school prospects. When I first started blogging, it was mostly for my own entertainment (I like writing, I like science, thus the blog), and I never expected many people would ever come across it…and by the time they did, it was too late to unidentify myself.
    Sometimes I wish I’d started anonymously, but in the end I think that even anonymous bloggers have to be careful enough about their content that it would be even if they were found out. It just seems like more stress than it’s worth to walk on eggshells, might as well just get it out there…that’s just my two cents, though.

  9. #9 Ewan
    February 20, 2008

    I haven’t (yet and probably ever, alas) had time for fully-fledged blogging; but there are certainly many comments I’ve chosen to post anonymously (especially this year, when I was going through the process of finding a new tenure-track position).

    Perfect? Nope. But it actually makes me think that this is an arena where tenure might eventually work as it was first intended :). In the meantime, usual net rule: don’t post *anywhere* something that you would be unhappy having your dept. chair and colleagues read…

  10. #10 PhysioProf
    February 20, 2008

    I got an email back from them saying it was fine as long as I stayed within my area of “expertise.”

    That’s fucking hilarious!

  11. #11 Tenure Committee
    February 21, 2008

    This one post was enough to convince us you are not really committed to your profession. Oh, we’ll go ahead and play the game, but really–good luck in your future endeavors.

  12. #12 Alice
    February 21, 2008

    Thanks for the comments, folks, especially the exhortations to my P&T committee. I’ll be sure to submit them with my package. :-D Good luck saxifraga with your blogging. Ewan, you’d better believe it.

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