Editor’s note: Recently I read an article in Forbes magazine which claimed the Curriculum Vitae (CV), which we all use to describe ourselves when we apply for jobs, will be replaced with your ‘digital footprint’ in the next ten years. In other words, people will understand you and what you do via searching for you on Google. There’s some evidence that how you behave on the internet already affects your employment prospects.
I don’t know if this future will really come to pass and the CV will die, but it’s an interesting idea for those doing a PhD to think about. If you need to have a clear digital identity to compete in the job market, what should you be doing now toward that aim? So I have asked a few of the PhD students who I think are already doing their digital identity well to write about the strategies they use.
The first in this series is Andy Coverdale, a PhD research student at the University of Nottingham who is exploring how social media facilitates doctoral practices and identity development. He blogs at http://phdblog.net and is on twitter as @andycoverdale. Over to Andy:
I use my blog to develop ideas, to disseminate work in progress, and to create links with other academic bloggers. My blogging practice is invariably informed and shaped by my role as an educational researcher interested in social media, but I wish here only to present a personal perspective based on my ongoing experiences as a PhD blogger, and explain how those experiences have come to influence and contribute to my doctoral studies.
Blog Writing Contexts
The discipline of regular blogging has helped me shape and refine my writing skills, and has been particularly useful when I’ve not been writing towards my thesis, such as during intense periods of data collection and analysis. Blogging has given me the opportunity to experiment with personal and expressive forms of writing, and challenged me to engage with non-specialist audiences. Whilst guides to blogging often recommend developing a consistent writing style, I’m happy to do the opposite. I have no problem mixing lengthy ‘academic’ posts with short, quirky anecdotes and musings, and integrating writing with multimedia such as images, video and sound files.
Blogs can encourage academic enquiry within a social and discursive environment, and celebrate diversity and freedom of expression. As PhD students, we should be instinctively curious. Many of my blog posts address ideas, concepts and issues beyond the relatively narrow focus of my thesis, exploring social, cultural and political aspects of my research field, and peripheral and interdisciplinary contexts.
No academic writing need exist in isolation. Restructuring and re-appropriating texts for different formats and different audiences is not only an efficient way of working but also a valuable academic skill. I have found blog posts can provide ‘building blocks’ of content for a thesis chapter, a journal article or a conference paper. But I think this process works equally well in reverse. I may find it useful to choose a specific topic, problem or argument from an existing text – writing I may have submitted to my supervisors, a draft paper, or part of a thesis chapter – and ‘blogify’ it; perhaps in response to another blog post or a current debate, to emphasise a personal perspective or experience, or to engage a different audience. And if you think about it, blog-like texts are prevalent in academic writing: in proposals, poster texts, and abstracts – in fact anywhere where you need to summarize, or disseminate to a specific or general audience.
Process and Documentation
Over time, my blog has accumulated to represent a comprehensive documentation of my doctoral practice, charting the incubation and development of ideas, concepts and arguments. As such, it provides a powerful and searchable narrative of my doctoral experiences and my academic and personal development. In adopting this approach, I concede some of this content is (and will become) academically naïve and critically contestable, or may simply be no longer relevant, but collectively it contributes to a transparent and authentic representation of progress that is routinely removed from formal academic dissemination. In this regard, I often find it useful to ‘self-comment’ on my posts, not only in response to another comment (which I always try to do), but as a ‘note to self,’ ensuring that developing ideas, new trains of thought and reflective processes are kept within context.
Engaging and Imagining Audiences
Like most PhD students, I am part of an institutional community of scholars that provides access to formal and informal peer support and supervision. But these can be inconsistent and limited in both scope and regularity. Blogs and other social media provide an opportunity to establish additional channels of dissemination, discussion and critical feedback beyond the physical and disciplinary boundaries of immediate research communities.
My blogging plays a central role in an ongoing arrangement of integrated social media practices that has helped me develop a sustainable network of academic discourse founded on relationships of trust, friendship and professional identity. I particularly value the support, ideas and critical perspectives of a small number of readers who have come to comment regularly on my blog. I recognise the nature of my research field ensures I have access to a critical mass of academics who are actively engaged in using social media, but initially I found it difficult getting visitors to my blog. I actively promote my blogging activities through other forms of social media, in particular Twitter, and comment when I can on other blogs. Bloggers choose their own ‘imagined audience,’ and whilst mine is partly derived from clues to their identity (through comments, retweets and analytical data etc.), I’m happy enough that it is largely inconsistent, transient and unknown. Much of the time I’m probably just writing for myself anyway.
I admit, whilst some PhD blogs are highly revealing and almost confessional in nature, I adopt a degree of self-imposed professional reserve and editorial judiciousness. As such, I can hardly claim that my blog represents a ‘warts and all’ account of my every experience and emotion of doing a PhD. But if I am to claim my blog even slightly represents my doctoral journey, then it is only right that my blogging practice is, on the one hand, confident, coherent and developmental, and on the other, messy, hesitant, inconsistent and inconclusive.
I don’t think academic blogging should be immune from scrutiny and critique, and there’s no real excuse for sloppy or offensive writing or poorly constructed arguments. But I’m not overly concerned about so-called blogging etiquette. With its strong historical links to personal biography, citizen journalism and social commentary, academic blogging has inherited deeply embedded and culturally acknowledged values of subjectivity, informality, openness and experimentation. Blog writing needn’t be subject to impositions of formal academic protocols and orthodoxies.
There are many platforms for academic discourse and research dissemination where opportunities for risk-taking, provocation, creativity and personal reflexivity are virtually eliminated. A blog needn’t be one of them.