Drew Conway offers up ten reasons grad students should blog. It’s a good list — and, naturally, I basically agree with the general argument — but I’m a little concerned he goes a bit overboard, especially in reason #5:
The faculty in your department will not think less of you – I have been asked several times by fellow grad students some form of the following question: “Weren’t you worried what your advisors would think about your blog?” Of course, I never even thought about this question, as I started blogging before actually matriculating to NYU (note that ZIA’s anniversary is early-June and most universities begin the Fall semester in late August). This, however, is besides the point. No, I was never worried about what my advisors would think. The things I write about on ZIA are exactly the same kinds of things I say in seminar and write for term papers (in fact, these ideas often flow both ways). Furthermore, most of those faculty who might actually view blogging in a negative light are also those most unlikely to ever read your blog.
Well, maybe. I’d certainly like to think this is true, but I’m not quite as convinced as Conway. I blogged regularly for years before coming to grad school but mostly stopped upon my arrival. In part this was due to a lack of free time, but there was also a sense of professional concern. Political scientists tend to strive for an apolitical tone in their work and often frown on outright displays of ideology or partisanship. In this regard, political science can often seem far less, well, political than disciplines like comparative literature, history, or sociology. Blogging need not be intensely partisan, of course, but it does tend to lead to a more personal style of writing than standard academic fare, which lends itself to a bit more straightforwardness of expression. And at least at the more conventionally prestigious departments, there’s generally no clear reward for engaging in public discourse in this way, as hiring and tenure decisions tend to be based effectively on the number and quality of peer-reviewed journal publications. Blogging can be viewed as a distraction from the real work of grinding out research.
This is not to say that, normativelly, blogging shouldn’t be viewed as a good thing for social scientists to do more of. I think it should be. But, empirically, I’m not sure it’s always so easy.