Tips on starting up a science-themed blog
May 11, 2013 3:16 AM   Subscribe

I was convinced to start a blog under my real name, for the purposes of being visible on the internet in a positive light while applying for jobs. Unfortunately, now it's up, I hate it and never want to write anything there. Since my partner is sick of me wailing about it, I thought I'd ask you guys for tips on low-effort ways to post on a blog with a general theme of 'interesting science news'.

I've been blogging under pseudonyms for about ten years so the concept itself is not new to me. My problem is a combination of the following:
  • Raging, lifelong imposter syndrome, or so I'm told. I say it can't be imposter syndrome if I'm right about my inadequacy! </logic> (Yes, I am in therapy.)
  • Not wanting to merely recycle news stories from elsewhere with one picture, a link and my name stamped on it. I feel this adds no value and dislike blogs that only do this.
  • If I write about news within my field, but have no useful insights or expert knowledge about it, this will look worse than not saying anything.
  • If I write about news outside of my field, I definitely won't have useful insights or expert knowledge, so why bother?
  • I've been told (by my partner) that curating interesting science news is also a useful service, even if I don't write much about it myself, because there's such a lot of information out there. Unfortunately, I don't want to spend hours and hours wading through all this information myself either. I should probably use that time to look for jobs, right?
  • I'm a slow writer. I second-guess myself, worry that I'm accidentally writing something incorrect or offensive, and have to read my source materials through several times to feel sure I understand them completely. This is the case for my pseudonymous blog; for this real-name blog, it's worse.
I would be happier just to delete this blog, but it's keeping a couple of annoying hits for my name off the top of my Google results. (I started a PhD eighteen months ago that didn't work out, and the year I spent there is listed on my CV as 'research assistant'. I'm searching for another position as a doctoral student. Some links have recently surfaced that still refer to me as a PhD student in my old department, and I don't want to have to explain this in interviews if I can help it.)

Is there a way to make short, non-labour-intensive posts about science news that won't make me feel I'm just making the internet worse? Quigley's Cabinet is an example of what I'd love to make if it were possible, but it would take me hours and hours a day to keep it up. On the other end of the scale, I do like Science You Can Love, which is only reblogs. I feel you can get away with that on Tumblr, though, and not so much with a 'real' blog.

I like the idea of a science news blog. Unfortunately, I've worried about it so much that even thinking about making an entry can push me into a panic. Some outside advice would be great—thank you!
posted by daisyk to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Rather than general science news, why not focus on what you are interested in? I did a curated science news blog on the topic of my research for a couple of years during grad school. I had 5 or so google news alerts setup and each morning I scanned those and pulled out a handful of cool links. I also got journal alerts, of course, and maybe once a month I would write a more in-depth thing about a recent publication related to my field.

This was pre-tumblr, but honestly, the original meaning of "blog" was "weblog" as in "here are a bunch of cool things I found on the internet" (just like Metafilter), and I don't think there's anything wrong with sticking to that definition even if the world now thinks a blog has to be a personal diary.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:28 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Why not just use Twitter? You can promote the interesting things that float your boat and follow people in the community you want to be seen by. You can have a pseudonym name in the title/address but still have your real name and a credentials blurb beneath it.
If you can get some traction with the twitter account, then you can easily have a slow blog in the background: many many academic types do that; and simply tweet when updates are live.
Far fewer people use blogs these days. It's an inescapable fact and maybe instructive in the time allocation stakes.
posted by peacay at 5:29 AM on May 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

You don't like blogs that don't add anything, but you don't have time to add anything. This is completely understandable; consistently keeping up a flow of posts is about a billion times harder than it often seems. You're not obligated to blog just because blogging helps some people in their professional situations.

I don't think there's a solution that suits your parameters. Effort is what adds value, whether you're curating or providing commentary, and you don't have either the time or the inclination to put in that effort, so I think what you need to do here is stop, leave the blog alone, and focus on your job hunt, and stop feeling guilty like you should be blogging. I can pretty much promise you that a blog designed around your desire not to put effort into it will not help you get a job.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:51 AM on May 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You're being awfully hard on yourself. Writing anything is not easy. Declaring that you will immediately start writing engaging content that is better than anything else on the internet, some of which is produced by professionals who do this for a living and get to concentrate all their energy on it, is not fair to you.

It seems clear from your description that you simply came into this with unrealistic goals. What would be an achievable goal for this blog, given the amount of time you have available to spend on it? One unique post a month? Two or three reblogged articles a month? What does "low-effort" equate to in terms of number of posts? I don't know – you need to think about this. You need to define what success means for you. Otherwise, I suspect you will keep moving the goalposts, and the project will never be good enough.
posted by deathpanels at 6:11 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How many sources do you use? Because this is what I would do:

Dedicate a browser to blogging. Grab your top 12-15 sources and create a bookmark bar set (or equivalent) that contains them. Every day, tell them all to open, go make yourself a coffee or tea, come back and quickly look through all of them.

Some days it will become clear there's a story of the day, and you can make an entry about it. See, every site will put its own editorial spin on a story – not necessarily with any maliciious intention – so the important aspects for one site will sometimes not even be mentioned by another. That's why it can be interesting to marshall four or five links about the same main story – it gives you and your readers a more three-dimensional view of it.

Once you get the hang of this, you can metablog a bit by comparing the approaches of different sources, but wait till that insight percolates through to you.

Other days it will be more scattered, so you can do something like mention there's an update to a story you posted about last week, or focus on a single story that interests you for some reason. I mean, you chose to do a science blog, so there must be some specialties or lines of research that pique your interest particularly, right?

If this begins to work for you, then you can differentiate a bit, maybe take one day a week to focus on the political implications of various science stories, another day a week to talk about a historical scientific breakthrough connected to the day – this will depend whether you're interested in these things.

But the central thing is simple: you have to be interested in your topic, enough to do this daily, enough to have opinions of your own on at least some of the stories. That's what blogging is about. You're focusing interest and doing some of the work to lead other, busy people to see the nub of what's going on with a topic. Everything else follows from that.

Or, you know, doesn't.
posted by zadcat at 6:37 AM on May 11, 2013 [10 favorites]

Seems like the smart thing to do is drill down and focus on your area of research and blog about that. News, curated links, your own contributions. That's how you'll bring value.

If you think about it, it's not so different from what your trying to do academically and professionally. Focus on your question and become an authority on it.
posted by notyou at 8:26 AM on May 11, 2013

Response by poster: Hi, everyone. First of all, thank you all for being so kind to me and giving such thoughtful advice.

The reason I mentioned imposter syndrome in my question was because I find it particularly hard to write about my area of research (materials science, especially surface science and nanomaterials). I'm convinced I'll write something that will give away how little I actually know. So, while the suggestions to focus there are good advice, that's what causes me the greatest problems.

Linda_Holmes, an honest thank you for your honest reply, especially the last sentence, which rings very true! Perversely, my response to being advised to drop the blog, a conclusion I've come back to several times on my own, was to write a post for it that I think is quite serviceable. (The link is temporarily in my profile, in case anybody wants to check it out.)

I think for the time being I will try to write a couple of posts a month, and it occurred to me to start a regular feature showcasing other science blogs I read. This might get around the constant thought of, "Why would anybody read this when there are so many better sites to look at instead?"

Perhaps a good tactic would be to look for general-interest topics where materials science is relevant and explain them for non-specialists? This is what I tried to do with the most recent post.

Thanks again for the outside perspectives. I'm still open to more suggestions if anyone has them. :)
posted by daisyk at 3:45 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

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