Blogging about talking about blogging

My talk on blogging and tweeting for academia.

As part of Oxford’s engage series, I gave a lunch-time talk a few weeks ago at IT services on my experience of blogging and tweeting for academia. The slides are here for those that are interested. The audio file is here. (Other podcasts in the series are here).

My talk was unlike the fully-scripted research presentations I usually give, because I wasn’t talking about my professional research. Instead, it was just the anecdotal reflections of an amateur about trying to use social media for professional purposes.

Overall I’ve found the experience of blogging and tweeting very rewarding and it’s always nice to know there are people out these who are interested in the things you have to say, especially when these things relate to a relatively obscure part of a relatively small academic discipline…

I got a few good questions from the audience, which I recap here.

1. Should PhD students blog?

2. Should bloggers reveal that they are not just academics?

3. Should you ask permission to live-tweet conference papers?

Here are my replies.

1. I understand that I have the privilege of being able to say what I like online, because I’ve got a permanent job and already have a developed professional profile. I recognize that graduates might have legitimate fears about being too open with their work before it’s fully ready. Each person will need to take their own decision about whether to blog and when to start, and this might depend on the nature of the research.  I certainly know of grad students who are blogging and it’s possible to treat the blogpost as a way of presenting material rather different from the thesis itself, or just expressed rather differently. My other suggestion was to blog in a group — perhaps a research group all working with a single supervisor — and/or use a blog to aggregate other blogposts, online articles, etc. that pertain to one’s own particular area of interest. In short, I try to encourage my own graduates to blog or at least to interact online with the blogs of others, but I don’t force them!

2. First, it’s possible to have multiple blogs, so a professional blog (and twitter account) can be kept fairly separate from one’s other online lives. Of course, a potential employer or current supervisor might stumble upon the connection between the two sides of a given individual, but I know of lots of academics who have a life and it doesn’t necessarily make them unemployable! My general view was that unless one’s online presence was linked to an area that was illegal or immoral, it was probably OK.

3. The question here reported disquiet at some conferences because the speaker was revealing research findings that were designed only for the ears of the people in the room. My reaction to this is that unless they are held in camera or with Chatham House rules, a conference is at least in principle an open event. No one stops you taking a handout and your notes on the talk and distributing it through verbal means in teaching and conversation, so I don’t see why Twitter is different. Like a conference it’s technically ‘open’, but in reality your tweet will tend to be seen by only some of your followers, and, if retweeted, only some of your followers followers. And like the conference itself, the tweet would identify the new piece of factual information from the conference paper as ‘belonging’ to the presenter of the paper. There’s a slightly alternative view here, but I’m sticking to my more hard-line open access reaction for the moment.


  1. Marc Lewon says:

    Dear Liz,

    Thank you for sharing these views. I very much agree and feel supported in my positions.

    Marc Lewon

  2. Interesting post on a very interesting theme. It will be later, but I will certainly read it. Thanks for sharing your views on this mater.

    Best wishes,

  3. Barbara Eichner says:

    Liz, thanks for sharing your ideas about this topic. I don’t agree with you on no. 3, not because of the “danger” that somebody might exploit the research presented in a conference paper if people tweet about it, but because tweeting is distracting for the tweeter and the persons sitting next to her (or him). I find it really annoying that many people bring their laptops, smartphones, tablets etc. to conferences and continuously type, tweet, check facebook, catch up with their emails etc during presentations. I expect my students to be attentive to what I have to say in a lecture, or at least to be sufficiently polite not to seek entertainment in the digital world, so why not my colleagues?

    1. One of the points I made at the talk was that my experience of live-tweeting is that far from being distracting to me (as tweeter), it actually helps me focus on the content of the paper because I have to work out what is really being said in order to précis it quickly. I find that I remember the papers that I’ve tweeted better than ones that I didn’t — it’s basically like taking (public) notes. I realize that not everyone on an electronic device is paying attention and making notes (public or private), but those who are apparently listening unencumbered by such devices might equally be in a mental world of their own, not paying the speaker any attention but rather thinking about lunch, someone they fancy in the row in front, or how they’re going to pay their rent. The presence or absence of an electronic device is not in itself indicative of a capacity for attention or distraction, nor is the digital world purely about distraction or entertainment. Personally I encourage students to use such electronic media in tutes and lectures because it gives them access to additional information and makes their notes fully searchable for future reference. I’ve had students ask more intelligent questions after they’ve checked Grove during a teaching sessions and found something that contradicts what I’ve said to them (usually because Grove is out of date or making different assumptions that we can then fruitfully discuss). During conferences, I’ve found it useful to look up things (e.g. books) that paper givers mentioned as they are speaking — it sometimes fills in gaps in what they’re saying, making their paper more engaging or comprehensible. I accept that those sitting nearby might be distracted but I always try to sit where no one can see my screen, either off to one side (near a power socket!) and/or at the back.

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