Women in geoscience/environmental science/field sciences: what do you get out of reading or writing blogs?

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?


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Well, I'm not a field scientist ... I am a former medical editor (both in acquiring books and in line editing), I'm a naturalist and the child of two, I'm the grandchild and great-grandchild of people who were at ease in the woods and the fields and the lakeside, and I'm a beginning student in ministry. Also a mom whose 25-year-old is off for the Peace Corps in a week. Maybe you'd say I am a science groupie. Whatever. I am just more comfortable with science-minded people, people who really see the world around them, people who don't necessarily view the natural world as something to be conquered.

That last is important, because most of the women in or interested in science (that I know) are on one side of that line, and many of the men who are "outdoorsy" are on the other side; like it's a contest, just you and that mountain.

Because as a minister and a community activist I always seek common ground, I don't want to get in too deep with that contrast, between men and women, I mean. But I find reading women's blogs an enlightening, freeing experience. because men and women do see the world differently! I think almost by definition women in science acknowledge several selves at once, and most are capable of being tuned several ways at once.

I can't imagine a male geologist being as excited as I have been -- or some of the women's blogs have reported -- looking at slides and comprehending the almost endless intricacy of this structure or that, of seeing the explosive color inside a plain brown rock. My daughter's father is a brilliant lawyer, but it was devastating to take him on a detour to our daughter's college to see a moraine field I'd happened on and have him respond so barrenly.

I think that I initially started blogging with the idea of showing people what it's like working in the field as an exploration geologist, although I started with trepidation and without making my blog public. Perhaps more importantly, though, I love to write and like having a place to share my photos in a meaningful way. My life as a field or exploration geologist comes through in bits and pieces, partly because I can't always write about what I'm doing. I also started in order to share stories that I've collected over the years; I've only gotten into those stories in a small way.

I can't say that blogging or reading blogs has advanced my career particularly; in fact, I don't share that aspect with many colleagues, only my closest friends. I think that blogging, reading blogs, and being part of the blogging community has expanded my knowledge and connected me to people outside my immediate field, the way going to regional and local GSA meetings used to. I enjoy reading about other women in geology, other women who work in the field, and other women in science. I think the reading makes me feel more connected. It's hard sometimes for me to see that although we, as women, have come a long way in the thirty years that I've been a geologist, we also haven't - or maybe it's just that different fights are being fought now than were being fought when I first entered my male-dominated field.

While not working these last few months, I think my blogging style or subject has changed somewhat, or maybe I've just opened up to blogging about other things that interest me besides geology (the outdoors in general).

Re: excitement of geologists whether male or female per Diggitt - I've seen plenty of excitement about geology by both women and men, both online and IRL. Geologists, in my experience, are fascinated and excited by what they do. I'd say the excitement I've seen transcends gender lines entirely.

Anyway, Kim, your post could probably inspire more posts on this subject - though I've often found it difficult to articulate, and even understand, why I blog and read blogs. The bottom line is, I think it has a lot to do with sharing.

Not a woman here, but at least a geo-type.

When I was thinking about starting a blog, I wrote Abbie Smith (erv) for suggestions about how to approach blogging, her two main points were a) write whatever comes to mind (scientists have plenty of professional obligations already) and b) have fun with it (slightly different reason in the same direction). Either way, I noticed that I enjoy blogs most where the author is very much themselves. Maybe that means lol-speak (erv), Respectful Insolence, or posts showing up fairly often about ideas in or for how to teach better. What's important is, it's what the blogger is interested in and passionate about.

I'll second Silver Fox regarding passion and excitement about rocks. It's not so much a gender matter, as my sister (the one who teaches jr. high science) looks at a rock and is entirely unimpressed ("It's a rock. So what?!") While my male and female geology grad student friends looked at a rock and it was a wondrous thing, full of beauty, interest, and history. My nieces (same sister's daughter and my other sister's (also a teacher) daughter) looks at rocks and have the similar sense of wonder about it. She also has that for insects, and clouds, and pretty much the rest of the natural world. (Uncle Bob, though not around often due to geography, shares that feeling. Mom, my sister(s), may not share it, but support it any way they can.) The one niece is younger, and might become a scientist. The older niece has said 'paleontologist' since she was 4 (now in jr. high).

If you were listening to meteorologists, rather than field geologists, they'd be going on about the beauty, wonder, etc., of clouds and storm systems. We (scientists) find the most beautiful things to be the sort of thing we study. We study them because they are the most beautiful and interesting things we see. (My graduate department was the fusion of geology, paleontology, and meteorology. Same attitudes, wildly different targets!)

It's a while since I've gone far from my professional area (climate/oceanography/glaciology) over at my blog, but astronomy will show up again, and squid vases (warn PZ about that).

One suggestion I'll make regarding diggit's perception: Guys are trained to not talk about the beauty. When I heard of it, it was only my male self and the male speaker -- no witnesses in the room, especially not any women in the room. But the sentiment is there. Expression of it is suppressed in the US by cultural norms, is all. Norms don't only make problems for women. Fortunately, at least one on one, the guys did share their passion for their subjects and I finally learned that rocks really could be interesting, and barely visible color shifts in rocks (fossils) could be fascinating, and that both could have some real, interesting, science behind them. Not as pretty as the clouds and ice floes I normally deal with, but pretty good.

I'm a conservation biologist, and I read blogs, including those of other branches though those of women scientists in particular in order to keep myself informed and to look into other perspectives and related areas that might have a bearing on my own realm of science and on being a woman in the sciences in general. What I get out of it is a sense of connection and purpose and I've found that to be an invaluable motivator, especially when faced with issues I can't seem to answer or sexism I don't know how to fight, or on the brighter side in contrast to being a resource for new ideas and perspectives, it gives me someone to share the things that I get passionate and excited about (which, for me is generally trees...) when my not-so-sciencey friends get to rolling their eyes at me, or just aren't into talking about whatever in particular is on my sciencey little mind at the time.

Robert, your response about being trained out of speaking about beauty -- that rings so true! Thanks for putting it that way.

My blog has nothing to do with my work, and I don't generally read science blogs in my own field or even, mostly, in science. (Like Robert's. Hi, Robert! :-) I figure, I'm using the computer for work enough already. My recreational computer time is devoted to my hobbies.

I'm a geoarchaeologist and I find that I read blogs like yours to see what's happening with other women in my general field. It's useful to see what kind of professional experiences they go through. I write my blog because a colleague of mine suggested that I write down what I do so that I don't forget things!

I started writing my blog for purely narcissistic reasons, but it eventually morphed into a general palaeontology blog with a good helping of women's issues, scientific literacy and general ranting about policy. When I write about the non-research side of academia I get a whole lot of catharsis out of it. It's therapeutic, even though I have toned it down a lot. When talking about research I often get good suggestions or helpful criticism, and it all helps improve the overall product (me).

I read a wide variety of blogs, but as far as the female geoscience blogs go, I get my mentors and role models from the female geoblogosphere (I also get the odd male role model from the geoblogosphere, but I don't tell them that...). I've had so much help and advice, in particular from you and Silver Fox.

I have never had a female advisor, and although (with one appalling exception) my male advisors have all been delightful, it really helps to have a few more senior women around in the same field. And the Sciencewomen blog, especially when the ladies answer questions from other women, is a great resource too.

I started blogging because I had a ton of field stories and I had forgotten who I'd told those stories to. I was afraid of becoming a field bore, telling the same story over and over.

I do enjoy the give and take of the blogosphere. With grad school and various consulting jobs, I have friends in lots of places in environmental consulting, but I don't get to discuss the nitty-gritty of fieldwork with other geologists and interested non-scientists.

That's a good question. I like the cameraderie in blogging communities, such as geobloggers or women scientist bloggers or feminist bloggers. I like how writers of really good blogs are great writers, so it's a pleasure to read. I like sharing my ideas and seeing what other people think of them - the blog is a good place to sort through my thoughts out loud and get feedback. I don't actually talk about my own research on my blog, because that's not what I want to use it for, but I really like the opportunity to discuss the social issues that relate to my job. I read blogs for the same reason - the intelligent discussions in these communities are really fulfilling and interesting for me. It's not like I'd ever have this many smart women in any department I worked in, so the geoblogosphere is like my fake department that's more equitable.

I'm a woman in (astro)physics, and what I get out of science blogs written by women, regardless of field, is close to what you mention here:

...talking about him normalizes the experience of being a woman science professor with a kid.

It's not only the kid part, though that is important too: it's the part about normalizing our disparate experiences. Women in physics are still rare enough, especially at the upper levels in academia, that each one feels like an exception. I try my damndest to be a role model for my female students, but I don't want to be the only one they have, because my career choices are by no means the best or the only possible ones. So I think it's vital for them (and wonderful for me too) to read about other women in science and what their lives are like. I love that there is such a variety of voices and perspectives out there in the science blogosphere, and I think it is absolutely empowering for young women and minorities in any science field to be able to find them. Thank you for asking! I hope the GSA will listen!

By Asphericity (not verified) on 15 Jun 2009 #permalink

I'm a female geoscientist at the start of my career I think the main thing I get out of reading science blogs written by women is that you can be female science professor and the experiences that people have along the way. When my local community is male dominated having a female virtual community, especialy with blogs that have Q&A posts, is really useful.

well, I am not a geologist but a physical chemist, also a woman and mother of 2 children. I just started a blog after reading a lot of them last year. The reason is to express my thought about random subjects including science. I see it as a medium for expression and also hope that it will change the things for better.

I'm a geologist who is taking a few years off to stay home with my two young kids. I read science blogs because it gives me a chance to quickly touch base with the science world and often gives me something interesting to think about during the day. Like you, I gravitate towards bloggers that I have something in common with and enjoy most the ones written by scientists who are also mothers of young children. I plan on going back to work so reading about how others are dealing with work/life balance issues is always interesting.

I'll comment as a reader to KISS:

* Dissertation *
Blog reading was crucial in motivating me to actually finish my dissertation. There were some key women bloggers who were just enough ahead of me that I could use their motivation, expressed in their blog, to fuel my motivation when I lacked it.

* Post-D decisions *
When it came time to decide whether to pursue a post-doc, TT or visiting position, blog reading was again crucial, but this time in the opposite direction. The more I read about how awful things actually were (which jived with my own experiences) the less I wanted to stay in academia.

Actually, I wrote a post about why I started blogging, here http://urban-science.blogspot.com/2008/11/i-blog-for-science-blogging-s…

I was looking for an audience and I wanted to get a conversation started, primarily with/among non-scientists about how to enhance science literacy in under-served groups...and I've been able to make some great connections and in-roads in this area - leading a panel on race and science recruitment/retention at ScienceOnline09, writing for a larger wider audience blog for young black professionals, and writing for a local weekly African-American Newspaper.

I read to learn from others about new science discoveries, and enjoy a story or two about interesting science soap operas...and I've made some great online friends - readers and fellow bloggers. It's wonderful to have access to a great network of smart people.

I'm a wetland scientist/fluvial geomorphologist working with mostly biologists in a biology-dominated profession. I started reading geo-science blogs as a way to keep in touch with geology-oriented writing and issues. Especially after reading your and Silver Fox's blogs, I felt like I might have something to contribute. I love writing and miss being able to write creatively, instead of in terse, bureaucratic language (necessary as the documents I write get submitted to government entities). This is a wonderful outlet for me, to write about what I see, hear, and do in a personal, but fairly anonymous, way. I enjoy the community and appreciate the connection and the positive feedback it brings. I've moved to two different locations in the last four years, and haven't yet developed the close (especially female) connections I had in SoCal. This is a way for me to remain connected, to contribute, and to share with the greater earth science community. I spent seven (eight?) months without internet access at home (for a variety of reasons) after my last move, and terribly missed being able to post to my own and read others' blogs.

I'm way late in this conversation (thanks to field work abroad). I realized with a start the other day (while reading FemaleScienceProfessor) that I've been blogging now for 2 years, the whole of my grad school experience, at Ruminations of an Aspiring Ecologist. My partner and I kept a blog while we traveled before I began grad school, and writing about the process of applying from another country made me think about keeping a blog during grad school.

I've continued blogging because I like being part of a community of science bloggers. I enjoy getting advice and support from my readers. I also enjoy sharing this part of my life with some of my friends and family (though none at my institution, albeit pseudonymously). My parents read my blog and it helps them understand the process that I'm going through and keeps them up to date on my life. It's also a great record for me of my grad school experience.

I think that reading other blogs about science culture has helped me be a savvy grad student. I have a much better idea of what to expect, and the variety of experiences possible, at different stages in my career. I love it. I hope that others find some useful tidbits in what I write, too.

Also late go the party, but anyway. I am a female, minority postdoc in an environmental science. I work in a sub-field that is very white and very male dominated, although women are well-represented numerically in the some of the lower status roles. I read and comment on blogs for a pretty specific reason. It is the only forum in which I feel I can speak freely on gender and race issues. And I get a lot out of hearing about the experiences of others and how they deal with them. There are a lot of crazy dynamics that go down around me every day, and I am one of the few people in the room taking a critical look at them. It can be very isolating and confusing. The blogosphere helps me process this experience and otherwise plot my course through the minefield. It has definitely helped me stay in science.

I am not a blog writer, but do like to read them from time to time. I especially enjoy the female science prof blogs, because - as many other people have noted, it validates my personal experience, makes me feel less out of the ordinary, and enables me to check my interpretation of things that take place in my dept. I am also female, tt-track, with a small child, in an earth-science dept that is very heavily male. 4 women and 36 men. The gender imbalance bothers me more than I expected it would, and having an online female science prof community that I can check in with makes me feel more connected to others sharing my experience. It also allows me to vent (virtually) about perceived gender inequities in my dept, and blow off steam. That helps me STFU when I really need to rather than opening my big mouth and commenting on what a bunch of old fart sexist pigs they are sometimes.

I started by just reading the few geology blogs that were initially out there. I wanted to learn more about current topics in other geology subfields, what other issues geologists think about, and as more blogs appeared what other sedimentary geologists were thinking about. But as I started reading and commenting on blogs, I started to come into my own voice. So, I started a blog.

I found that there are things I want to share with the geo-community. I don't post very often, but it gives me a place to put my thoughts or highlight what I think is interesting. I don't write for who I think my audience is, I write for who I would like my audience to be.

I also feel much more confident about myself as a geologist after reading other geology blogs. Often, I know enough about the subject to make constructive comments and that builds my confidence. Or a blog post may reflect on similar circumstances in my life and lets me know I am not alone.

In reading other geo-blogs, I have learned about subjects or was exposed to ideas I had not come across yet. Other blog posts stimulate ideas of my own and may lead to teaching, research, or employment opportunities/advances.

Certain blogs have also given me a much more realistic view of careers. There are several female faculty blogs I follow that highlight the different faculty "responsibilities" (not just the trials and tribulations, but also the enjoyment they feel) at different academic institutions. A few blogs discuss "responsibilities" at non-academic jobs, whether industrial or consulting.

I think I benefit a great deal by reading and interacting with geology blogs. It has made me feel a part of a connected community, something I don't always feel at my home institution or the larger annual meetings. It has helped me mature as a person and a geologist and I look forward to continued interactions.

As for the GSA session - Techniques and Tools for Effective Recruitment, Retention and Promotion of Women and Minorities in the Geosciences - I think the geoblogs are a great way to get others interested in geology because our posts are laced with our enthusiasm and excitement for the subject. But, we are also open and honest about our experiences: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I'd label them "realistic" recruitment aides or "realistic" views into promotion practices. In many cases these more realistic views are incredibly helpful to show us where the hurdles or roadblocks for women and minorities might appear and help us to better handle such situations - and hopefully avoid them altogether! Blogs can also be inspirational; illustrating that others have made it over similar hurdles or past such roadblocks and are REALLY enjoying their careers as geologists.