Blogging and tenure

by Henry on January 10, 2006

Following up on Chris’s post below, Dan Solove at Concurring Opinions has also written a post on the “pros and cons of blogging without tenure”:http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2006/01/blogging_withou_1.html. In favour: name recognition, exposure to other disciplines, increased ability to network, higher google rankings, and ability to talk to non-academics. Against: risks to reputation if your blogging seems shrill or frivolous to colleagues, and risks of distraction from producing peer reviewed articles (or whatever it is that you’re supposed to produce in order to get tenure in your discipline). I’m probably the wrong person to opine on this, as (a) I started blogging precisely in order to talk about things that I couldn’t talk about in my research, and (b) despite these initial intentions, have ended up turning blogs into part of my research, and thus something (I hope!) that contributes to tenure chances etc. But I would be interested to hear from CT reading academics – whether untenured (what are the tradeoffs that you perceive in blogging or not blogging as an untenured assistant or visiting professor or whatever?) or tenured (what do you think of junior colleagues blogging? A good or bad idea?).

{ 18 comments }

1

P.D. 01.10.06 at 8:02 pm

I often have ideas that are too small to merit a paper, but interesting enough to bear thinking about. Before I had a blog, I would write these on scraps of paper that would either get lost or accumulate as clutter. I decided to start a blog as a way of filing these ideas, with the added bonus that passers-by might have something interesting to say about them.

My blog is not political or controversial, nor does it update so often as to look like a distraction from publishable work. I think it will be inert with respect to my tenure and promotion. (I am now a second year assistant prof.)

2

Matthew Shugart 01.10.06 at 9:57 pm

Well, I consider the nexus between academic research and blogging so important that I made a post about it part of my core at Fruits and Votes.

I raise themes at F&V sometimes that are tangential to my research, and other times that are directly related. I have received numerous helpful comments (e.g. a post on mixed-member PR electoral systems).

The blog also serves as a means for advocacy (political reform, mainly) and punditry, as well as pure vanity (e.g., the “fruit” in its name, and baseball). If I were untenured, I probably would avoid the themes mentioned in this paragraph. But I think blogging on themes related to one’s research or tangential to it is not only a good idea, it’s something I wish more academics would do.

3

Scott Eric Kaufman 01.10.06 at 10:13 pm

Graduate student opinion here:

I think blogging has greatly increased my chances of landing a job somewhere when I hit the market next year. (I’ve had two search committees email me asking me when I’d hit the market. I think that’s a good sign.) As evidence I present the essay I’ve been commissioned to write on the basis of my blogging and my experience at the MLA this past December. Over the course of four days about 20 scholars checked out my badge, walked up to me cold and said that they read my work and would like to read my dissertation. (Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to Holbo’s other group blog, The Valve, so I have a slightly higher profile than the average academic blogger.)

Also, after Insider Higher Ed linked to my live-blogging of the MLA, I received numerous email invitations to lunches and dinners (many of which I accepted). At those lunches and dinners, everyone was incredibly curious about these beasts we call blogs.

In short, given the connections I’ve established and the articles I’ve had commissioned on the strength of my blog, I can’t help but think that this whole Internet thing may catch on one day…

4

Bitch | Lab 01.10.06 at 10:36 pm

The biggest risk, at least in my field, is that it’s not unlike the way academic often treat other academics who become successes in the general publishing market. If you have, say, a best-seller (there was a case just like this regarding a pyschologist) that lots of non-academics read, you’re not taken as seriously. I think that’s easing up quite a bit.

I caught myself defending the practice not to long ago, explaining to my (non-academic) partner why scholars look askance at popularity: to do it, you almost invariably have to dumb it down by avoiding some of the nuances. I said that because the hardest thing for him to deal with in my discussion with him when we first met was my tendency to write in ways that foregrounded criticism (disclaimers).

This is what we’re taught to do, but it is a lot of wordage for the average reader to understand.

I found the same thing when I moved from academic writing to more science/technical journalism. I tended to use disclaimers, pointing to the need for more research for example or pointing at the limitations of the research. But no one wanted all that in a journalistic article. Too Much Information! Readers’ eyes will glaze over. Edit. edit. edit! :)

5

Dr. Free-Ride 01.10.06 at 10:47 pm

My colleagues have only recently found out about my blog (not that I was hiding it from them), and they are actually very positive about it. Indeed, lately they’ve been talking about how it ought to be presented to help my tenure case. (I’m less convinced than they that we ought to fuss about this; maybe we can count it as community outreach and leave it at that.)

I do, however, feel a pressure to use my blogging to trick myself into being more “productive” in those traditional ways that count toward academic advancement. So, I try to develop things I’ve blogged about into scholarly articles, and I definitely use blogging as a tool for engaging my students.

6

Andrew Leigh 01.10.06 at 10:51 pm

I’m in my second year as a blogging economist at the Australian National University (in US terms, I’m an assistant professor), and yet to regret it. Of course, the time cost is real…. I try to deal with it by posting in the late-afternoon or evening, when I’m less productive.

One factor that hasn’t been raised in the discussions so far is that students read blogs – probably a lot more than faculty. I’ve now started two projects with very impressive students who I would never have met if it weren’t for the blogosphere.

7

Ryan Miller 01.10.06 at 10:58 pm

It really seems like the problems are avoidable. I put other things first and stop posting when I’m busy, and I don’t post about personal or political matters on my academic blog, or at least not centrally so. Sure it’s not an incredibly popular blog, but like p.d., I love that I have all my thoughts someplace accessible.

8

Claire Bowern 01.11.06 at 12:40 am

I’m also a second year assistant professor and have (so far!) found it purely a positive experience. Like Ryan, I don’t post when I’m busy. I don’t post about anything that I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about in class, and nothing I would want to keep from my Dean. I’ve had positive comments from lots of people about the posts I did on linguistic fieldwork, including from students who were going to the field and got a lot out of it.

9

Chris Williams 01.11.06 at 5:53 am

Speaking as a highly junior lecturer, but on a permanent contract (so, kind of tenured by US standards), I’ve no intention of getting an academic blog together, for any number of reasons. But, in the course of my work, I often need to ask people to do stuff – to write stuff (for money) for websites, give papers at the seminars I run, take part in joint bids for research funding, apply for temporary jobs that are coming up, appear on radio programmes, etc.

Since I spend some time reading academic blogs, I’m aware of, and in touch with, a number of ‘untenured bloggers’. Some of them are therefore on my list of people to contact about this kind of stuff, and some of _them_ have had the benefit of my patronage (miniscule though it may be) simply because they are blogging. Real CV points and actual cash have been involved. I expect this process to continue in the future.

On the other hand, I’ve just advised one of my supervisees against starting a blog about their research. This is because their topic could potentially make them a loon magnet, and I’d rather they kept quiet about it til they know more and have found their feet. It depends…

10

Kent Holsinger 01.11.06 at 7:20 am

I seem to be a bit older and more senior than others who have commented (nearing 50, a full professor, and acting Head of my department), so I have a slightly different take on this than some others who have commented.

1) Attitudes about blogging are sure to differ among disciplines and among colleges or universities within those disciplines. The attitude of senior faculty at a major research institution towards a junior colleague with an active blog is likely to be quite different from the attitude of those at a small, liberal arts college or a community college.

2) In my field and in my department (biology at a major research university) having a blog, active or not, would be largely neutral with respect to decisions about tenure and promotion. A particularly active and well-regarded blog (we don’t have any in my department) would receive some recognition when merit evaluations for salary are done, but not a lot. So in this department, blogging would hurt your chances for tenure if time spent blogging was time that you didn’t spend on scholarly research and publication. It would help indirectly if it led to new scholarly contacts, new ideas, or new directions in research.

3) Attitudes about the usefulness/importance of blogging are almost certain to change, both because younger people with blogs will take the place of us old fogies and because many fields are becoming more aware of how important it is to reach out to an audience broader than the small group of professional colleagues and students that has been our traditional focus.

4) So make sure you understand the expectations of the department and institution of which you are part. (That’s important in general, not just with respect to blogging.)

11

John Emerson 01.11.06 at 8:17 am

Speaking from my own unique perspective, I don’t know what effect blogging has on tenure, but I think that people blogging under their own name and playing the tenure game often tend to be more cautious and less fun than anonymous bloggers and those outside academia.

12

Paul 01.11.06 at 12:19 pm

I used to blog but gave it up to focus on my research. For my part, I felt that blogging often created a false feeling of being “productive”. After all, when blogging, one is reading, researching, writing, and publishing — all on the same day! For this reason, when I hit snags or challenges in my “real” research, I would often turn to the instantly satisfying realm of blogging.

Blogging also provided feedback, community, and occasional words of praise, all things generally absent from the lonely process of generating academic writing. Obviously this is a positive aspect of blogging, but it certainly made it difficult to focus on other tasks.

This is not to say that academics shouldn’t blog, I think its just important to be very careful about time management — limit posting to a certain number of posts / words a week, join a group blog to remove the pressure to update daily, etc. etc.

I’d speculate that if blogging hurts people’s tenure chances, its more often the result of time management problems than it is from any inherent bias against blogs on the part of tenure committees.

13

Bill Gardner 01.11.06 at 3:49 pm

I’ll comment as a tenured full professor. In a biomedical setting, -any- deviation from your research is viewed as a mild disgrace. Maybe that’s too strong: allowance is usually made for adultery.

14

margaret soltan 01.11.06 at 6:03 pm

I’d like to second what andrew leigh says: My blog (I’m a tenured professor) has brought students to me, and I’m now engaged in interesting projects with them as a result…

15

Jim Johnson 01.11.06 at 9:23 pm

I have a junior colleague who religiously watches Letterman & other late night variety shows. As a result he cannot teach or work or attend meetings in the mornings. Do I hold that against him? No. I have another who kayaks and camps. Do I hold that against him? No. I have junior colleagues who attend church services on Sundays. … I hope the point is clear. Would I sit in a tenure meeting and let my senior collegues refer to such activities as reasons not to promote the respective junior faculty? No. How adults spend their off work time is none of my or the other senior faulty members’ business.

I am tenured and started a blog at 50. This makes blogging age-inappropriate behavior. Many of my peeers look askance on that behavior. And several of them have been quite forthright in expressing their views on th matter – some directly some behind my back.

I started the blog for two reasons: (1) the nearly total dearth of intellectual life in my department (Political Science) and university (Rochester) and (2) the fact that I have interests that fall between the cracks of standard disciplines. Some of what I write consists simply of political rants. Much of it, though, is continuous with my research and, I am sure, will provide seeds of future research.

The notion that “research” should be or can be divorced from thinking is anti-intellectual drivel. Blogs are simply a way of thinking out loud. That said, much of what I read on blogs (indeed most of what I write on mine) is not very carefully thought out or sufficiently developed. But I don’t necesarily think that makes the time spent working on the blog “unproductive” or only apparently productive. A blog can be a forum for trying out ideas – many of them will simply fall flat, others may actually prove useful. Unlike a notebook, a blog allows for interaction.

So this post is not all that well thought out. It is meant as encouragement.

16

Jim Johnson 01.11.06 at 10:37 pm

In comment #15, the next to last sentence should read: “So this comment is not all that well thought out.”

17

LogicGuru 01.12.06 at 1:38 am

Blogs, ideally, are research and scholarly collaboration as they were meant to be. Publication in a journal is starting to look like little more than a prize. The real work is done at conferences and internet lists and blogs.

As far as counting for tenure–it depends on the quality of the blog and whether immediately relevant to professional interests. But publication in peer-reviewed journals will of course count more because of the consensus of external reviewers in selecting it for publication and because it’s likely to have more circulation and more impact on further research than a blog entry.

I’m an old, tenured full professor and I have a blog but I rarely post anything on philosophy proper. I do the sorts of literary/journalistic pieces I’d publish in The New Yorker if I were clever enough. My blog is anonymous–not because I have any particular interest in not being identified but because I don’t have any particular interest in being identified either.

But, wouldn’t you know it, someone with a very popular blog picked up an offensive post I wrote and published it with my name and university affiliation–without noting that it was picked up from my site but suggesting that I’d sent it to him myself with my name and affiliation. And wouldn’t you know that someone complained to the President of the university who delegated it to the Dean who passed it to my Chair who invited me into his office for a chat…

…and I sat down firmly on my Tenure and smiled like the Cheshire Cat.

18

Scott Spiegelberg 01.13.06 at 11:28 am

I am a fourth year assistant professor of music at a liberal arts college. At my interim review last year my colleagues decided that my blog was not professional development, but did not criticize me for maintaining that activity either.

Where I got in some trouble was in writing a satirical piece about some journal articles. I was attempting to make the light point that music theorists have been writing about popular music lately, while being humorous at the same time. One of the article authors was offended by my post. If this author had not emailed me, allowing me to make amends, this gaffe could have blackened my name in the larger music theory community. I have learned my lesson in this (hopefully!) and now try to separate satirical posts and music theory posts. This may be a data point in support of John Emerson’s #11 comment, that I have blunted my humor to stay safe.

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