Things it has taken me 8 years to learn


Our good buddy The Thesis Whisperer wrote a fab post on ‘how to run a blog for 8 years and not go insane‘ in 2018. It is a cracker of a post and gives excellent insight into how TW has managed to maintain such quality and longevity!

At the time it was published, I read it with great interest, hoping that I’d be able to implement some of the strategies and not be writing things at 11pm the night before our weekly publication slot…

Alas, dear readers, Tseen did not implement any strategies.

Is she sitting on her sofa right now writing this post at 10:36pm? Indeed, she is.

The Research Whisperer celebrated its 8th birthday recently, and we posted this on our Facebook page:

Today, we have published 383 posts, have almost 42,000 followers on Twitter, over 6400 subscribers to the blog, and over 9200 followers on our Facebook page.

It was heartening to think about the community that surrounds RW these days, and the wonderful allies and friends we’ve made. For me, it has been a career transformative time. Just before we hatched RW, I was at a low, low career point. Working with Jonathan has been a delight, and I would never have thought that we’d have travelled this far down the road with our blog, being led by doing what we thought was fun.

In addition to reflecting on having run the blog for eight years because of our birthday, I’ve just finished running a series of three ‘Blogging your research’ workshops with my colleague Jamie Burford. Working with Jamie and lovely researchers during the workshops gave me the chance to articulate aspects of my blogging practice that I had not shared before. Not because I didn’t want to share but because I didn’t think I did anything special and didn’t think it worth sharing.

Here are three things that I’ve learned from blogging at RW, managing RED Alert, and having run my personal blog(albeit much more erratically) over the last decade or so:

Authentic voice and honesty creates connection

When I started blogging about academia – way back when with a blog called “Academia 101” (now defunct) – I sounded so different. I positioned myself as someone who had things to tell you because I felt I’d been there, done that. I wanted to help other academics find their way, know the context of research, and know the games of academia. I still have this as a central approach but I quickly learned that I did not need to be seen as an uber-expert to have others engage and find value in what I said. I didn’t need to write in an authoritative voice and it was actually better to cultivate a cafe-chat tone – sharing the low-down on things works best when you imagine you’re in a cosy, conversational huddle. In fact, the writing that garners the most engagement is when I’ve shared particularly vulnerable facets of my scholarly self. They are often the posts where I am – literally – hovering my finger over the publish button, wondering whether I really should put it out in the world. It was often hard to put into words one’s own inadequacies and anxieties – what if I say out loud the things I’m worried about in terms of my own shortcomings and abilities to cut it in academia and people agree? What if they see what I write and think less of me and what I might go on to do? Versions of these concerns still ramble around in my busy-brain regularly. I don’t think they’ll ever go away, but I’m getting more used to having them ramble around with me rather than against me.

Ultimately, I’m glad I published those vulnerable posts. There’s freedom in being myself on the blog, on social media, and in my everyday.

Photo fun

One thread that’s constant in my talking about blogging is how much fun I have finding images and connecting them to a post’s themes. I am so taken with this activity and feel that it’s an important part of my blogging practice.

I even wrote a post about it (of course), taking the angle of helping others find resonant, quality images to help convey the writing’s content: Finding the perfect image. I particularly love it when I can make allegorical in-jokes with the images I might choose. I may be the only one who gets it and that’s OK. I also particularly love it when I find out that a guest poster is keen on taking photos and I discover a good, evocative one to use on their post – see Dean Chan’s Going Freelance or Wade Kelly’s The Emerging Impact Landscape.

I still take photos at random, thinking they might be good for a post down the track. Thinking about the image prompts me to think about topics that might work with it, which feeds the ideas mill for writing. In addition, I have a long-standing (again, erratic) aim to make all the photos I take public domain and free for others to use – probably through Wiki Commons (hey, hey – that there’s a future #ShutUpAndWiki project).

Online = awesome

For me, having a strong digital presence and engaging consistently online with colleagues and peers around the world has been a gift that keeps on giving. I love it. My networks would be nothing near what they are if I kept to a traditional ‘scholarly’ lane and kept waiting for my work to speak for itself (a phrase that researchers often say to me when they express their hesitations about being on social media – that, somehow, if you share your work effectively online and people read it, this is less worthy than if other scholars unearth your journal paper from the mountain of other journal papers and deem it inherently Good and Worthy…).

If I only depended on going to conferences to meet new colleagues and hear about what others were doing…I can’t even imagine such a scholarly life, truth be told. The constellation of ideas, both serious and frivolous conversations, recommended resources and references, fab projects, witty peers, and shiny memes is hard to resist. It is my every day on Twitter and in certain niches on Facebook. There are occasionally irritating accounts to mute, habitual (and uninteresting) ranters to unfollow, and boors everywhere but they aren’t my typical experience and I’m certainly not at their mercy. I have an awesome social media stream full of interesting, ethical, funny, and generous people; many of them are (or have become) friends.

I’ve never been hostile to online networks (far from it) but, over the years, I’ve come to appreciate just how enriching, supportive, and fun they can be. I do so much work through these networks, and socialising, and learning, and supporting, and…