I’ve got a question for women readers, especially those in the geosciences, environmental sciences, or field sciences: what do you get out of reading blogs? And if you have a blog yourself, what do you get out of writing it?
I’m asking because there’s a session at this year’s Geological Society of America meeting on “Techniques and Tools for Effective Recruitment, Retention and Promotion of Women and Minorities in the Geosciences” (and that’s in the applied geosciences as well as in academia), and I wondered whether blogs (whether geo-blogs or women-in-science blogs or both) help. Although the geoblogosphere has grown rapidly (and has been the subject of articles in Earth and the AAPG Explorer), I don’t think that groups like the Association for Women Geoscientists are aware of what’s going on here. (I could be wrong, though – Scientiae is linked from AWG’s web page.) My perception is that blogs have been more successful for allowing women geoscientists to connect than some older electronic communities (such as Usenet or electronic mailing lists) were. But I have no idea what other people have experienced.
Here’s my experience as a blogger and a blog-reader (behind the fold):
It’s interesting to read other people’s descriptions of why bloggers blog, because I don’t think any of them describe me. A recent NY Times article on abandoned blogs listed some reasons: “to build an audience and leave their day job, to land a book deal, or simply to share their genius with the world.” A bit closer to my experience are some of the reasons given by Annalee Newitz in a presentation to AAAS (excerped at Fairer Science): to raise consciousness, to talk about the difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated field, or to bring attention to the research they’re doing.
Most of the descriptions assume that bloggers were looking for an audience. I wasn’t, at least initially. I just wanted an outlet for some of the quirky things I thought, especially while doing geology. Some crazy ideas are fodder for research, but field work means spending a lot of time doing random thinking. And I don’t know about the rest of the world, but most of my thinking isn’t like a scientific paper – it’s more like “oh, cool, these rocks sound like wind chimes.” It’s not good teaching fodder, either – although it can be fun to be an eccentric professor, mentioning wind chimes in a discussion of mylonites would probably confuse the students. So I decided to blog my quirky geology thoughts, in order to acknowledge them and collect them rather than suppressing them.
My blogging has changed as people have started reading. For instance, a fair amount of my blogging has been a kind of conversation with other geo-bloggers. Some of that includes memes like the recent summer reading list meme (in which I broke the rules again) or carnivals, but a lot of it has involved disagreements with other bloggers or with readers. I’ve blogged a lot about my teaching, because I like to talk to other people while I’m figuring out how to make a class work, and blogging is less distracting to my colleagues than constantly walking into their offices and babbling. I blog announcements that I get from various professional groups when they send information that I think deserves to be widely distributed. I blog about doing things with my kid, because I think about lots of quirky stuff while he’s destroying space aliens, and because talking about him normalizes the experience of being a woman science professor with a kid. (So often, we’re expected to be either science professors or women with kids. I exist at the intersection between those sets, and so do lots of other people.)
As for reading blogs? I read for a lot of reasons: to be exposed to interesting ideas, to find useful information, to read beautiful writing, to be part of a conversation with certain people or groups. That’s true whether I’m reading blogs by women or by men. But I tend to gravitate towards bloggers with whom I have something in common, and that means that I like to read blogs by other women in field-based sciences. I like knowing that there are people who share my enthusiasm for certain rocks, and I like knowing that there are people who share my life experiences, and I especially like knowing that there are people with whom I share both things.
And as side effects of both blogging and reading, I’ve found roommates for conferences, learned about unfamiliar NSF programs, had a letter published in Nature Geoscience, gotten great ideas for teaching, and learned about research I wouldn’t have read myself. I was able to do all of these things professionally before blogs, though various conferences and workshops and organizations. But with blogs, I can do those things constantly, even while my kid is downstairs drawing pictures of his Legos. In the past, I needed to travel across the country to have the same experience, and the cost (both financial and personal) made those experiences rare.
I’ve had some of those experiences with other types of online discussions – I got a great earthquake exercise from readers of ca.earthquakes back in the days of Usenet, for example, and I’ve used e-mail lists and web sites a lot. But blogging has been different somehow. I was a lurker on the geology Usenet groups, and the geology e-mail lists tend to be quiet for months until someone asks a question. But in the geoblogosphere, I’m a constant participant. Maybe it helps to have a space of my own, and to be able to filter my own reading to match my interests and my time. Maybe my original assumption that nobody would read my blog freed me from my fear of interrupting a Very Important Conversation (or, in the case of Usenet, a never-ending flamewar). Maybe it helps that the very first geology blog I read (Green Gabbro, though the pre-Sb version) was written by a woman. I don’t know.
So that’s me. What about the rest of the world? What, if anything, do you get out of the blogosphere – especially if you’re a woman in the geosciences?