Another advantage of blogging

As you may have noticed from the extended radio silence, it's been a busy few months between classes (both taking them and giving them), tenure packaging, and research. To add another responsibility to the mix, I gave a talk a few weeks back at the National Institute for Animal Agriculture's annual symposium. This year, the featured topic was antibiotics and agriculture, so I was invited to give an overview of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and livestock.

While I'm always happy to give talks to new audiences, discussing my work and the state of the field in general, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous. Given that my work hasn't really yielded the results that many in the ag industry want to hear (who wants to hear about yet another ag-related pathogen to deal with? I get that), I knew the audience might not be exactly the most welcoming, as it was composed largely of industry representatives. However, as I was prepping both my talk and reading up on potential issues that might come up during the planned question/answer period, I realized that blogging has provided me with yet another advantage--a really thick skin.

Now sure, simply being a scientist helps with this as well. You have to get used to rejection and a lot of criticism or you won't make it--grants rejected, papers rejected, ideas torn apart in various grad school defenses, etc. You need to possess, or learn, humility. However, blogging on the topics that I do also leads to a lot of less restrained, and more personal, attacks. If you can get used to those, and gain the skill of either ignoring them or responding in a fitting manner, what can your other critics possibly do to you that are any worse? At least in a conference setting, I'm probably not going to get criticized (openly, at least) on my appearance, age, etc.--hopefully, critics will stick to my science and keep their remarks in that realm. And I'm definitely much more comfortable responding to limitations in my study design or analyses and where they fit into the big picture of the field than defending what I'm wearing.

So, was the Q&A a bloodbath? I felt like I was prepared to handle about anything that could be thrown at me, but alas, it ended up to being a disappointment. I was one of the last talks of the day, and we were running behind schedule due to earlier talks, so the moderator cut off our planned discussion portion to give the final speaker almost his full allotted time. When the meeting ended, I was hoping a few people might come to discuss and challenge my results and conclusions, but that didn't happen either. A bit of a bummer, but I suppose it's better to be over-prepared for questions that don't happen than not ready for those that do, and blogging also prepares you for curveballs. Many of my readers are laymen and sometimes have very basic questions over knowledge that I take for granted, just the same as many in the audience at this meeting (a good number were farmers rather than scientists). So, it prepares one to be able to step back a bit as well, in addition to being ready for the hard science questions.

Is this training limited to blogging? Nope. But I think regular blogging helps you to hone these skills--rather than only needing to answer tough questions during talks or presentations, it's a more regular occurrence (and under less stressful circumstances, I might add). Score one more for science blogging.

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Blogging and commenting on same (and similar, like Facebook) sure does make me more nimble, able to type out good enough statements in a short time. I composed this about as fast as I can type.

Totally concur. I have found myself in real-life situations (discussions with anti-vaxxers, etc) and because of the wrestling in the blog discussions I was entirely prepared for any twist of the conversation. Parried every thrust effectively.

It also loads me with ammunition and data.

Great post! I totally agree! I recently started a blog out of my genuine interest in research and writing and thought blogging would offer me a great forum to discuss cutting-edge research with the public. Admittedly, as PhD student, it can seem difficult to discuss complex biological phenomena free of jargon, but I find that my blogging, I not only help improve science literacy in the public, but also ensure my knowledge of the subject. Similar to teaching undergraduate courses, I find that blogging tests the depth of my knowledge and interest in immunology. I believe that blogging, like teaching, has plenty of benefits the most prevalent of which is improved communication skills (both oral and written)-which is vital to succeeding in any field, and is becoming more essential for aspiring academic scientists.

Chances are if you're reading this post, you most likely have an innate interest in learning science, and if you're interested in learning and discussing the research findings behind the headlines in the fields of immunology, human health and disease, I encourage you to check out Escaping Anergy: The Immunology Research Blog @