Why you should blog during your PhD

I’m an advocate for blogging, obviously, but should you blog during your PhD? Will you have time? Will it be a distraction? I find it hard to answer those questions, but a growing number of people are doing it and I’m lucky enough that Gaia Cantelli wrote in to share her experience of blogging, which I think we can all learn from.

This post is by Gaia Cantelli, who is now a postdoctoral associate at Duke University, where she works on breast cancer and metastasis. She completed PhD from King’s College London, where she studied the molecular mechanisms driving melanoma metastasis. She is passionate about science communication and outreach, and you can find more of her writing at scienceblog.com and on her time4science site.  

This year, the PhD students of the Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics at KCL founded a collaborative PhD student blog. Here are a few of the reasons they feel writing and blogging in particular is a great opportunity for PhD students!

You get to explain what you love to the public

You got into your field because you love it and it’s only natural to want to understand why you do. A blog is a fantastic opportunity to explain to the general public how your area works and how your project is trying to make a difference. Explaining very complex concepts in a simple and accessible way can be much harder than to write them up for a bunch of academics. In fact, Richard Feynman reportedly once said that “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t really understand it”. That’s both a challenge to your understanding of your own work and to your writing skills!

 You get to practice your writing

No matter what stage of your PhD you are at, writing your thesis is always looming in the background! Writing is not something most PhD students will have practiced extensively before getting to the write-up stage (at least in the sciences!), which means most of us could probably use the practice! Brush up on your syntax and your grammar (can you remember the difference?), as well as your style and not least your typing skills! Come thesis time, you will be glad you’ve kept your writing muscles nice and toned. Plus, the writing practice you’ll get with blogging will pay off once you get a “real job” and have to deal with writing all day

You are free to express yourself

If you are a PhD student, it’s most likely that you’re very passionate and opinionated about your field. Sadly, it is also true that not many people might be agog to hear your two cents about it! A blog is a fantastic platform to express yourself and really get into the nitty-gritty of what bothers you or excites you about the hottest new development in your field. Plus, the Internet is a big place and it’s more than likely you’ll find other people (PhD students, other researchers or just enthusiasts) who agree with your opinions. Intellectual debate is always stimulating and fun (although the Internet is also full of not-so-nice people so be prepared for some not-so-nice comments if you post anything controversial!).

It’s good for your CV

Looming past your already looming thesis is your approaching need for employment. Whether you want to stay in academia or you want to explore your options in the private sector and beyond, employers always value writing experience – or so we’re told! Most jobs that are available to PhD graduates involve a huge percentage of writing, which is why it makes sense for employers to seek out people who not only can write but are passionate about writing!

 You work together with other PhD students!

Working on a cooperative blog with other PhD students from your area or department can be really fun as well as useful! After all, these are your peers and most likely your friends! Blogging is a great chance to work on a project together, bond and discover new sides of each other.

Thanks Gaia! Have you started a blog, or shared in the running of one? What advice do you have to share?

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29 thoughts on “Why you should blog during your PhD

  1. just different says:

    As someone from a very underrepresented demographic, I’ve been considering starting a blog that would also be observational/critical about the way in which people from that demographic are treated within the field and within academia in general. I think I could offer a valuable perspective that would be helpful to a lot of people, but I am worried that it could be (unfairly) damaging to me professionally, even if I kept it off my uni’s servers.

    • Thesis Whisperer says:

      It’s a fair thing to worry about – I worry sometimes too. Everyone has to make decisions that are right for them. Personally I wouldn’t have the stomach to do a blog on something very controversial, but I have friends who do and benefit greatly. From my point of view, that sounds like a blog that should be written, but no pressure!

    • Echoes of Poverty says:

      I am constantly talking about my research and directly addressing poverty discrimination in Canada and calling out our universities for perpetuating social class elitism. It is exhausting because then people know I was born into generational poverty, which is what my research is all about. I’m thinking a blog would be “easier.” At least then I am not so exposed (that is, in person). These stories need to be told outside of academia too. But, I am also leaving academia as soon as I’m done my PhD so I don’t have the fear of how it will impact me in terms of academics holding it against me. So, I have no answer for you other than the stories of your demographic need to be told!!!

  2. Emma Sabzalieva says:

    I started a blog after finishing my Master’s degree in 2011 and being fuelled to continue researching my area (social change in Central Asia) even though I didn’t start my PhD for another four years. I use the blog to share news stories relevant to my area, often using something I’ve read (tip: sign up for Google news alerts using keywords and skim the daily email you will get – this can be a very valuable source of news) as the starting point to offer my own analysis or commentary. Sometimes I translate stories in Russian into English, which doubles as good language practice! Many blogs start off with a lot of posts and quickly run out of steam, so another tip would be to space out your posts (unless of course you want to write about something time sensitive). I aim to publish two posts a month now I’m a full-time PhD student with a bunch of other responsibilities as well as my thesis. My final tip for now would be to use images, as these can be a good way to draw people in, especially if they are coming from a content heavy social media site like Twitter. My friend got me into using cat memes on my posts. Random but it keeps things lighthearted and it’s fun to search for a relevant meme (or maybe only fun if you’re me!). I’m at EmmaSabzalieva.com if you want to look at some cat pics!

  3. thephdstudentsite says:

    I’ve just started my blog to document my PhD which starts in October. The reasons why I started it are covered in this article! I’m really looking forward to sharing my work and documenting my experience.

  4. Raj says:

    I agree. But there is one more reason too. It feels good to share what you know with others too.
    Moreover, when I was looking for information about PhD programs, I didn’t find much from any insider. Most were either university website or from generic career writers. Hence I started my blog recently, initially just as a fun project but now thinking of making it a more comprehensive source of information.

  5. Victoria Lister says:

    I don’t have a thesis-specific blog, but I write everyday on non-thesis work and comment on loads of different blogs and agree it is a great way to exercise the writing muscles!

  6. fersacambridge says:

    This is a very helpful post, thanks for sharing! We started our own PhD blog (fersacambridge.wordpress.com) for similar reasons. Working with many different students and staff in the department has so far been a wonderful way to increase our sense of community.

  7. NQ says:

    Had this on my reading list for a while just to comment a very serious warning.

    If you are a scientist, supervisors or potential supervisors can look =very harshly= on blogging activities. As in, “I will not hire you now I have found this out” or “I will threaten to fire you unless you stop blogging immediately” harshly. In many fields, this should NOT be something you put on your CV unless you are sure you want a certain type of advisor.

    • just different says:

      I can understand not putting it on your CV, but what sorts of things would the supervisor object to?

      • NQ says:

        I guess as you’ve probably seen even if your own supervisor is not that way, many are paranoid. They will think you are going to divulge how their lab really works on there, not the glamorous picture they make it out to be. They will also be very worried that you will put your research secrets on there. My old boss was one of these.

        Even if they’re not this way, they can consider it a waste of time, a potential liability, and worst of all: time spent away from the bench when you should be working. My other, more recent boss was like this.

        • Thesis Whisperer says:

          The research Pat Thompson and I have been doing lately confirms some of these points. There are supervisors who actively discourage candidates from blogging. Sometimes they can have good reasons, but there seems to be a lot of unexpressed anxiety about their PhD students being ‘too public’

  8. Sinéad says:

    Hey, I blogged throughout my masters on all sort of global health issues (Masters was in Global Health). I also I encouraged other students to provide blogs on topics. Global Health is a vastly broad subject and blogging was a great way to delve into many areas of interest. It also boosted my own writing skills, and editing skills from editing other peoples pieces. It created an online profile on me so through it I got invited to a conference to speak on a panel and played a big role in me landing a PhD as they were more confident about my writing, liked the initiative it took to include the class and they themselves want to start a graduate blog and hope I can spearhead that side project. There are risks, yes if you are blogging on sensitive issues and certainly I think it can be reasonable to set boundaries on topics of limits, like data or experiments from ongoing projects but I think if you work with your boss, supervisor, university these can be overcome and if the benefits are explained to them such as (increased publicity and promotion for them and a more skilled writer on their staff) they can and will come on board.

    I currently just have a personal blog talking about anything that catches my eye long enough to blog about. I find this a great way of practising writing and keeping my self-engaged in topics I like so it doesn’t have to relate to your field or work but still benefit it.

    • Anonymous says:

      Just also mention as I think the previous comment linked to another older blog I ran when I was an intern. My current blog is thecrackedmugblog.com and the global health one is https://eyeonglobalhealth.com/ though since leaving Copenhagen I have not been involved with this blog it is still a wonderful source of blogs on many diverse topics.

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