Blogging and Academia

by Brian on January 12, 2004

There’s been much hand-wringing over Chris’s post and related links about the role having a blog might have when it comes to getting an academic job. I think it’s all much ado about nothing, but since I’ve done very well professionally out of blogging I suppose I might think that.

Different types of job candidate might be differently affected by having a blog.

The good student at a weak school. If you’re applying for a job where there are 400 applicants, and a lot of them look a lot like you, you’re going to need a lot of luck to get the job. Having a glowing recommendation from Princeton or Oxford would help, but unless you’re at Princeton or Oxford those are hard to get. In this situation I think it’s really hard to overestimate how important name recognition is, especially when it comes to getting your name onto the first short list of 30-50. When you’ve got 400 applicants, there’s going to be some fairly arbitrary choices made at that first stage, and being known to the search committee will usually help pass that stage. Running a blog is, in the right circumstances, a way of being known. In the overall scheme of things having a blog is less important than having a well-maintained webpage with your best writing prominently displayed, but it can certainly help.

The bad student at the good school. Here you might be better off avoiding blogging. If your game plan for getting hired is to play off a fancy looking CV and get yourself into the comfy office before anyone finds out about your argumentative abilities, I’d recommend against blogging. I’d also recommend against academia, but I don’t suppose you’d listen.

The political deviant. This is where things get tricky. I think there is little or no political bias in philosophy hiring. (As we’ve discussed on CT previously, there is evidence of religious bias, which is much more disturbing. But let’s stick to politics here.) Here’s an argument for that conclusion I don’t think has been run much before. My impression is that philosophy grad students are, as a group, more left-wing than philosophy professors. If there was anti-right political bias in hiring of the sort that would make one worried about having a blog, one would expect that to not be the case I’d think. So unless one has really extreme political views (pro-Stalin or pro-slavery or something) I don’t think there’s much to fear here. Again, since I have political views that are (as far as I can tell) only marginally more centrist than the bulk of the profession, this is a lot easier for me to say than it might be for others.

So overall, I’d recommend having an internet presence, including blogging if it’s the style of writing you prefer, as a way to get a job. The main exception would be if you think knowing more about you, and in particular about your professional work, makes you a less attractive job candidate. But in that case I don’t know what advice I could give.



harry 01.12.04 at 10:52 pm

Here’s some more advice: avoid giving lectures to rabid right wing think-tanks unless those lectures will be published on the web (and are appropraitely reasoned etc). I’m embarrassed by how prominently my talk to the Institute of Economic Affairs comes up when I am googled, and only relieved by the fact that it is published in full, so that if people read it they can see that it is against their grain. I suppose the advice is that if you are going to put yourself in a position of being associated with people you disapprove of by google, make sure your disapproval shows (unless you think that being associated with them will help your job prospects — I really doubt mine would be helped in this case).


Conrad barwa 01.12.04 at 11:14 pm

Damn, so if I am reading this right, politically deviant, bad students at good schools are really screwed?


robin green 01.12.04 at 11:30 pm

I think one of the points against blogging (under your real name) was that when posting an article to a blog – or even more so, when posting a comment to a blog – there is a slight tendency to (a) let fingers dart ahead of brain, and (b) the somewhat overlapping problem of posting sophomoric arguments, like cruel ad homenims (sp.) which one wouldn’t dream of using in a journal paper or something like that. It seems to me, although I haven’t been a reader for long, that Crooked Timber suffers refreshingly little from such problems (right, that’s enough flattery – ed.), though they are not completely absent.


eszter 01.13.04 at 12:04 am

I can’t imagine it would hurt if people liked your work. The only way I could see it hurting (assuming the person is a productive scholar producing some good work) is if there are people on the committee who want to find problems. For example, some may be concerned that blogging takes away from academic writing. Frankly, anything can be turned into something bad if someone’s looking to find something bad about a candidate. I had a person tell me during one of my interviews that my CV was too long and I had too many publications. What’s one to do? There is clearly not one universal right way of doing academic job market preparation. The upside of blogging is precisely what Brian mentions.. name recognition could be very helpful. There are additional benefits that are much more indirect.. the oppotunity to flesh out one’s ideas for something more academic in such a forum, or even just the satisfaction one can get from having a blog that contributes to one’s well-being which in turn may improve one’s work or productivity. This would be nearly impossible to measure but I believe it’s there.


Brian Weatherson 01.13.04 at 1:39 am

Eszter’s comment reminded me of something I should have been more wary of. Some schools’ hiring practice is that if there’s any feature of a candidate that anyone on the committee dislikes, they get weeded out. (Well, no one works _exactly_ like that, but at some schools it’s more a process of attrition than of a leading candidate shining through.)

In such a process a blog may be a bad thing because it makes you a ‘big target’ (to use a bit of the contemporary Australian political vernacular). Having a blog means it is more likely some people will have heard of you, and maybe even like your work. It also means it is more likely you’ll have said something someone will have disliked. In searches I’ve been in the former is more valuable than the latter is costly, but at places not like that a blog could be a cost.

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