Academic Blogging As a Career Move

It’s a bit difficult for me, who has only been a full-time academic for eight years, to give advice without blushing. But I have sat on my department’s Appointments Committee for three years, now, and I have learned a thing or two… or hope I have.

When I finally took a full-time teaching job in 2004, the relationship between the internet and academic pursuits–scholarly pursuits in particular–was not yet clear. People wondered if blogging would help or hinder one’s career, if being too public would somehow demean one’s standing as a scholar. An internet search uncovering a penchant for blogging could, some worried, be the death knell of a job quest.

That wasn’t really the case, though many certainly believed it was. Blogging, if anything, has helped my own career–and I know it has done the same for others. Not only has it helped me improve my writing skills but it has introduced me to a wide variety of scholars (one does not blog without reading blogs), to people whose work I might never have otherwise encountered but also to first-rank academics like Michael Bérubé, who is now president of the Modern Language Association (MLA).

Blogging also introduced my work to others, and has led to inclusion of essays I have written as chapters in a number of different books–and, of course, it led to three of my own books. It has led me to learn much more about my profession, bringing me into conflict with the likes of David Horowitz, an extremely smart (though wrong-headed) man who has forced me to look more carefully at academia and to hone my own rhetorical skills. 

Through blogging, also, I have come to understand the importance of the public intellectual, the scholar who moves beyond university walls and enters into the discourse of the public sphere. This is something that had started to die out in recent years as some scholars began to feel that only discussion among specialists was fruitful. Many scholars began to fear that their work would be looked down upon, were it too “popular.” The blogs, I hope, have been dispelling that, especially as more and more top scholars turn to blogging as a means of extending contact.

Recently, the MLA, one of the most august organizations within the humanities, revised its stand on copyright, in part because of the growing importance of blogging:

Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the MLA,… said, “we see that publishing needs are changing, and our members are telling us that they want to place their scholarship in repositories, and to disseminate work on blogs.” Professors want to produce articles that “circulate freely,” she said, and that reach as many people as possible.

Other publishers of academic journals and blogs will likely follow suit, making academic blogs an even more important part of professional life.

What sparked this post was discovery of a blog from Australia called “historypunk” through a post, “Developing your personal digital marketing strategy: A guide for academics.” Jo Hawkins, the blog “owner,” is a graduate student finishing her doctorate. Hawkins, assuming the value of blogging rather than defending it, provides a 5-step “digital marketing strategy” on the assumption that blogging is not only going to help with research and writing but will be a major part of any successful academic job search in the near future.

I think she’s right. Already, when we are sifting through CVs, I will look online to see what interesting candidates are doing beyond the traditional categories of their applications. I can’t say that doing so has influenced my votes so far, but I can imagine it doing so in the near future.

From a place with a slight smell of disrepute and a somewhat outsider status just eight years ago, blogs certainly have come a long way. We all know that. I merely point out the obvious because there is still a long path ahead before blogs (and all of the other online tools) become central to all of our explorations, be they on new topics for research and writing or for new positions within our colleges and universities. Already, they are piercing the walls between academia and the broader public and are making once rarefied discussions open to more people. Together, blogs, wikis, and ‘social media’ have created a new academic public sphere.

It will only get stronger over the next few years.

In fact, I can see a day when a job candidate without a blog is looked on with a bit of suspicion and when students, rather than turning to to decide on a class, look to their teachers’ blogs.

My advice, then, to any academic or aspiring academic? Blog, of course!