One year ago I decided that I wanted to have a more flexible research page (in addition to the more static page through my university) and so I joined WordPress. I chose WordPress in part because it was free, had good tutorials, and was well known, and in part because Mick Vos (who had been encouraging me to start a blog for a few months) had set up such a great page for his coastal pathogens institute. Although there are a number of great web hosting sites, I am very happy with my decision and think I’ll stay out for another year!
I knew from the start that my blogging would be sporadic, as term times come with grant deadlines, teaching, big experiments and many manuscripts to write and review; so I decided to simply have a blog tab, rather than allowing it to take center stage. As you can see from the dates of my postings, this was probably a wise decision. That being said, the fondness and joy I feel for my blog tab is not well represented by the frequency of my posting. If I could, I would spend much more time on blog posts, and indeed perhaps as things move forward I will find the time to do so. So today, on my one year anniversary of this site, I thought I would describe how starting this blog has changed my career and life (I know that sounds pretty dramatic, but keep reading).
I don’t know where I fall on the introvert/extrovert scale, but those who know me assume I’m way out towards extrovert and those who know me well are likely to think I’m pretty far out on the introvert end. Either way, I know I love to stand in front of a crowd and discuss my research but I still turn bright red on occasion in staff meetings if I simply speak up to raise a mundane point. I enjoy chatting with colleagues and late nights with friends, but I need space and time to myself (and a lot of it). I love doing research and sharing the results with others, but I am still terrified every time I submit a manuscript that my ideas are silly, my stats are wrong, or I missed a large chunk of the literature despite months of reading, analysing data, and writing. This is something no one told me about when it comes to being a scientist; the fact that you are continually judged, and often harshly, by your peers. For those of us who are plagued by self-doubt anyhow, this really is the hardest part. Being good enough, mainly in our own minds.
That is why I often spend two weeks staring at a blank screen before I finally begin the writing of a manuscript. It is like standing on the edge of a cliff and gaining the courage to jump. Once I start the writing process, things can move very very fast. Sometimes I get so excited that I can barely type fast enough. But it’s the getting started that is the constant bottleneck. That’s true for almost all pieces of writing, e.g. grants, manuscripts, and even important emails, but it’s not true for blog posts. With blog posts, like this one, the mood strikes and I go for it. No pressure, no right or wrong, just putting my thoughts and ideas down on paper. And the best part is that once I finish a blog post and the creative juices are flowing, I can transition straight into a more serious piece of writing; without the hesitation, without the focus on perfection, I just get on with it. And there you have the first way that this blog has helped me.
The second way has to do with visibility and networking. Once my blog had been created, and my first post written, I knew I needed a better way to engage with other bloggers and readers. My wonderful friend Pip had been encouraging me to get into twitter for years, but despite starting an account a few years back, I had never really seen its worth. At long last, I saw a good use and began expanding my twitter network. Over the last year I have gone from occasional tweeter, to manic live tweeter, to a state of equilibrium where I check twitter in the morning, tweet when I have something fun/useful/interesting to say, and check again before bed. I use twitter to keep up on the recent literature, share new papers and blog posts, and to network. This final point deserves a few more sentences, as this was the unexpected reward. Since joining the list of science tweeps I have gained numerous friends, many of whom I’ve now met and many more of whom I still look forward to meeting. I’ve also made connections with folks at conferences that I would not have met if it weren’t for us both tweeting, and I’ve been able to identify a pool of interesting, caring and very clever followers/people I follow, which make me feel very well-connected and well-supported despite living in the (stunningly beautiful) far reaches of Cornwall.
A colleague recently said to me: I don’t tweet or keep a blog because I don’t imagine that anyone else will be interested in what I have to say. This really caught me off guard; am I full of self-importance? Do I blog/tweet because I think I’m particularly interesting? My response to this comment was flippant: I don’t tweet/blog for others, I do it for myself. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, as I have been known to obsessively check views to my blog, and I love getting comments on posts, but there is certainly a clear element of truth in there. Being highly visible (in theory) in such a non-threatening way has bolstered my confidence immensely and has allowed me to find a voice I didn’t know I had.
This past week I attended the first day of the AURORA workshop in London, a leadership program for women in science. I will post more about that in the next few months, but bring it up now because on the first day we were asked to bring a picture/image/object that represents us. I barely had to give it a thought, and printed out a large copy of my twitter avatar. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. The picture represents my science, it represents the importance of social networking in my life, and of course it reminds me of my first post: I am more microbe than me!
So thanks for reading, and for your support. I have about 13 posts in the works (did I mention that I am very good at starting things?!?!) and will be blogging about science things again soon. For now, though, I would just encourage any of you who’ve been toying with the idea of revamping your website, starting a blog, or joining twitter to do so. You may well be surprised at the impact it has on your life, research and productivity (in a good way!)