Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Liability of Academic Blogging

It's been almost 8 years since I've had to sell myself. I'm again at that stage in life. It's coming time for me to shape up my curriculum vitae and personal statement for residency applications. And here's the dilemma: do I talk about blogging in my essay?

First, a step back for context: I'm fortunate in that I have some friends at hospitals where I hope to match. Some of them are even in the programs I'm applying for. One friend, in particular, has volunteered to be my insider agent at that school. I'm quite happy about this, because she is a very good student and will be an excellent ER doc - probably a professor - someday. It's nice to have folks who believe in you, but sometimes I worry about favoritism. Where is the line between the good-old-boy cronyism and networking? Anyway, she's already connected me with folks who will be helpful in my application process. My interest and dedication to the ethics and policy of science and medicine is one thing that makes me unique compared to other applicants, so this is part of her description of me. A description which often includes 'blogger.'

Ethics and policy is the way my commitment and passion for improving 'the system' takes form. In graduate school, the main way that I did this was by organizing events and bringing people together under the umbrella of the Forum on Science Ethics and Policy. Now that I'm busy with medical school, I work in ways that allow me to contribute to and learn about the contextual issues of science and medicine on my own time. Reading and writing, mostly. And this is where blogging comes in. I write other things - like the review article about urgent care clinics' impact on the ER safety net I've been working on for a couple of months, or the syllabus for a med student clinical ethics course, or those pesky responses to reviewers for my work in graduate school, but blogging is where I transcribe a majority of my ideas.

My blog does not have a lot of readers. At first, my main goal was to increase readership. Readership does grow slowly with quality content, but it grows much more quickly via self-promotion, links from big bloggers and writing on oft-searched topics. I even wanted to be assimilated by the ScienceBorg at one point. Getting this attention is no longer my priority. When I started blogging, it was primarily to find a voice. These days, I use my blog as a laboratory where I experiment with writing. I had no idea how cathartic the activity would be, and my interest in writing has since spilled over into two other (much more widely read) blogs and a (sorry, no public access) personal diary. Dare I say that 'blogger' is now a key part of my identity?

So how does this all fare in the world of residency applications? Despite efforts on the part of a philosophy professor in the bay area, the notion of blogging is still taboo in academia. (Note to said philosophy professor: is there any way you could seed this trend of legitimate academic blogging in some of the institutions just to the north of you? :-) --> j/k) I believe that in the right format, blogging is a legitimate academic activity. Even so, I still tend to de-emphasize blogging and use words like columnist and writer to describe what I do. Blogging is just a means to ends activity anyway: the end could be as broad as 'increased understanding' or 'better writer,' or as specific as 'a book' or 'drafts of opinion pieces in journals and newspapers.' And all of these ends should help me be a better academic, right? So why am I afraid to present the means in my personal statement?


Anastasia said...

I'd like to think that my blog is useful! It's important for scientists (and other professionals, too!) to share their experience and knowledge with the public. We have this wonderful new medium in the form of blogs that is slowly revolutionizing the way people obtain information - we can't let activists and conspiracy theorists have all the fun!

Seriously, though, there needs to be some communication between scientists and laypeople. Until now, the communication has been practically non-existent - which I think is directly related to the small numbers of young people entering science careers and the large number of people who have no clue (just look at all the people who reject vaccines and pasteurization, for example).

DrugMonkey said...

When you are the one receiving the benefit, it is "networking". When someone else receives the benefit, "cronyism".

clear enough?