ScienceOnline 2009: Transitions

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgScienceWoman and PropterDoc coordinated a session at ScienceOnline 09 that provided space for people to talk about different transitions they have blogged through, and how they navigated or negotiated those transitions. Both coordinators have gone through some job transitions which have manifested themselves in their blogs in different ways:

ScienceWoman has gone from being a graduate student to a junior faculty member and has blogged through her pregnancy and now two years of her daughter’s life, while PropterDoc has also changed jobs but also changed countries at the same time, and is changing her online identity at the same time. They recruited three panelists to help them talk through different kinds of transitions: Chris Rowan of Highly Allochthonous who is blogging under his own name now; SciCurious, a graduate student blogging at Neurotopia; and me, who has gone from a pseudonymous blog to blogging under my own name. We each said a little about various transition growing pains we’ve undergone, and then the floor was opened for questions and comments.

I actually thought the conversation would go in a different direction than it did. Although ScienceWoman and PropterDoc set up the space as a place to talk about all kinds of transitions (and I think Janet of Adventures in Ethics and Science came ready to talk about blogging through tenure), the main conversation strain I took away had to do with the ever-popular “are pseudonymous bloggers being dishonest by hiding their names, or more honest because they’re hiding their names?” question. I confess that my experience was entirely coloured by the comment of someone who argued that if he found his employers blogging pseudonymously (or anonymously) then he would think more poorly of them because they weren’t willing to stand behind what they were writing as themselves.

I argued that the notion that blogging under one’s name made the blogging more transparent (in the sense of open and honest, rather than in the sense of “see through” and therefore invisible) was flawed, and that the fact that so many women scientists seem to blog pseudonymously suggests that a) they may feel there are risks associated with blogging under their name that they are unwilling to take, and b) that there may be things that only can be blogged under a pseudonym. In particular, I felt that cases where graduate students are being exploited by their advisors, for example, are cases where the graduate students need to get advice from their online communities without the risk of being identified. To me, while blogging culture seems to like online handles, the prevalence of pseudonymous bloggers who are women (both white women and women of colour) suggests power relations of which some may still be unaware.

ScienceWoman did a great job facilitating the conversation, and some familiar names contributed to the discussion. Hopefully folks will recall more of the dialogue than I did – some have also blogged about it already. Being a panelist made it a little difficult to take notes at the same time. 😉

Thanks to both PropterDoc and SW for inviting me to contribute, and thanks for hosting the conversation – it was a lively discussion and touched on themes that flowed throughout the rest of the conference too.


  1. #1 acmegirl
    January 24, 2009

    I agree that it is worth looking into WHY so many women feel the need to use a pseudonym, rather than just dismiss the practice as disingenuous. There is a long tradition of female writers going under male pen names (George Eliot is the first example that comes to mind). They did so because it was simply not acceptable for a woman to be a working writer, or because their work would have been dimissed out of hand if it was widely known that the author was female. I don’t think that the situation is quite the same for female science bloggers, but there is something going on.

  2. #2 ambivalent academic
    January 24, 2009

    “In particular, I felt that cases where graduate students are being exploited by their advisors, for example, are cases where the graduate students need to get advice from their online communities without the risk of being identified.”

    This is exactly why I blog pseudonymously…though it’s not just exploitation by advisors, but by program administration and the grad school. When it’s made very clear to you as a student that they have all the power and you have none it becomes dangerous to speak out about this…who is on your side? And what can they do to you if they find out you are “slandering” them all over your blog? (Not that I actually consider my posts to be slanderous, but I am afraid that some people in positions of authority might consider them to be so and that would not bode well for me.)

    People in positions of limited to no power need advice form more experienced allies when these situations arise and it’s much easier to solicit this advice safely in the pseudonymous setting of the blogosphere.

    Just my two cents.

  3. #3 Glendon Mellow
    January 24, 2009

    I learned so much from everyone at this session. Blogging anonymously is not something I have every done but was something I considered as an atheist. It hasn’t proved necessary, but hearing some of the stories in the group, I totally get it.

    Thanks to the panel, moderators and vocal audience for some consciousness-raising.

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