I’m not sure what Descartes would have made of blogging. It is perhaps pushing it to suggest that he might have said ‘je blogue donc je suis’ (‘I blog therefore I am’) rather than ‘je pense donc je suis’ (‘I think therefore I am’) if he were alive today. However, blogs and social media have an increasingly important role to play in disseminating academic research and creating links between academia and the wider world.
In the United Kingdom, the Research Evaluation Framework (REF) now attaches increasing importance to the impact of academic research outside the academic community. However, I see engaging with the world beyond academia as being more than just a box-ticking exercise. Given that I work for a university that came into being after sufficient money was raised via public subscription, engaging with the public is something that I see as a moral duty.
We are now in an era when an increasing number of academics use blogs to disseminate their work and engage in dialogue, and also use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to publicize their research. As Deborah Lupton suggested in an article on the website The Conversation, there are both benefits and risks associated with such an approach.
I can certainly identify with the time pressure factor that Lupton cites as a reason why some academics choose not to blog. Indeed, it took me quite a while to settle upon the layout and about section of this blog before publishing my first post. However, I’m now hoping to write a new post at least once every two weeks. I see this blog as providing a means of reaching – and entering into dialogue with – readers who might not have as easily come across my research.
I’ve also carefully considered the boundaries between professional and personal life when it comes to how I use social media. For example, I my personal profile on Facebook is not visible to people who are not among my Facebook friends but my Twitter feed is public. In order to engage with Facebook users who are interested in this blog but not among my Facebook friends, I decided to create a Facebook page specifically for this blog.
One of the advantages of having a Facebook page for this blog is that I can post short updates or comments that would not be worthy of a full blog post on here or which might not be of interest to many of my Facebook friends. For me, a crucial part of being a blogging academic involves deciding on what boundaries and uses of social media you are comfortable with.
Over the last year, I have enjoyed presenting my research in a variety of different settings. In addition to giving papers at academic conferences and writing articles for journals, I have also written two articles for the website The Conversation. The Conversation is a website that features short articles by academics on issues in the news that are relevant to their own research.
In February of this year, I drew on my research about comedy and diversity in France to write two articles for The Conversation about a controversial gesture by the French footballer Nicolas Anelka that led to him facing disciplinary charges from the English Football Association (article 1, article 2). Indeed, last month I was interviewed on BBC Radio Wales about football and national identity in France (see my first blog post in which I mention this).
Knowing what the media is after from academics can be a challenge and I have been lucky to have benefited from training on this topic from both my own university’s press office and as part of the Welsh Crucible scheme that aims to develop future research leaders for Wales. Indeed, during a media training session at a Welsh Crucible event in Cardiff I had to write a 100-word piece about my research that was aimed at showing its relevance to the media and current events.
This task, for which I was given a mere 10 minutes, was certainly tough. However, it replicated the sorts of challenges that you can face when presenting your research to a wide audience. Communicating your research in an 800 word article for a website rather than a journal article of several times that length can require a bit of practice. Indeed, the same could be said about knowing how detailed or technical to be in a four minute radio interview. However, these are challenges that are part of being a modern academic and presenting research to the world beyond academia.
What do you think of this article? How important do you think it is for academics to blog about their work and engage with the public via media interviews and using social media? Feel free to let me know via the comments box below, I’d really welcome feedback on what I’ve said here.