Katie Shives is a PhD candidate in Microbiology at the University of Colorado. Her professional and science writing can all be found on her portfolio site, kdshives.com.
With so many people pursuing PhDs today it can be hard to differentiate yourself from other students in your discipline. If you want to stand out professionally and improve your writing skills, try starting a blog! Writing your own blog is an excellent way to engage with your professional field at large or to maintain a side interest or specialty outside of your graduate studies. Even better, having a publicly visible blog gives you the opportunity to craft your own image online and have a degree of control over your digital identity that you just won’t get with most social media platforms. Many available blogging platforms like WordPress, Blogger, and newer platforms like Medium are all designed for people with no coding experience to hop in and starting building sites, which is great for busy grad students who don’t have time to learn how to code.
What Are The Professional Benefits of Blogging?:
Show your skills and establish expertise.
In many ways a blog is like having a public archive of your graduate work. With all the effort we put into our graduate studies, show off all that effort and scholarly activity to a wider audience.
Blogging also provides you with a platform to demonstrate that you know where your work fits into the field and how it relates to trends in the field. This is important, as you can use your blog to show, not just tell, potential employers that you have a wider understanding of your dissertation topic and that you can speak to elements outside of your direct area of study. This is an incredibly valuable skill, especially if you intend to pursue
What happens if you do a Google search for you name? Go check. Are all of these results what you want potential employers to see? Even if you don’t have embarrassing photos on social media, having a blog can improve search rankings by tying your name to the content that you create. Having positive results that you can control on the internet is a huge advantage compared to a collection of your Facebook and LinkedIn activity.
It sets you apart from other applicants.
Having a blog can help when you start looking for employment after graduate school, especially if you are going the non-academic route. Blogging shows that you have taken the time to learn how to write for a wider, non-academic audience and allows you to establish a unique brand that sets you apart from other applicants with a similar education.
So what’s holding you back?
Here are three of the most common objections to starting a blog (hint: none of these should stop you!)
“Writing takes time.”
Do enough scholarly writing and you will begin to feel like every writing project takes weeks of agonizing effort, editing, and revisions. Not so with blog posts! It can be incredibly liberating to write 400 words on a topic that you are interested in and publish it to your blog; no peer review necessary. (Sorry reviewer #3!)
Plus, as you practice writing you will get faster. GradHacker columns used to take me days to put together; now I can draft a full post and start in on editing in the same day. Even more important is that my scholarly writing has improved from all the practice I have gotten from blogging.
“Writing is hard.”
Practice makes it much easier, and the effort you put into writing for your blog will sharpen the writing skills that you use in your graduate degree. Writing blog posts is a different format than writing a peer-reviewed journal article, but both are still writing. Think of blog posts as cross-training exercises for your scholarly writing.
“Doesn’t it cost money to have a website?”
Yes, but it is not prohibitive! I’ve personally used WordPress for over 4 years and pay less than $30 to host my own domain using a free template. This means I’ve had to give up a little over $2 a month to maintain my site; that’s a single coffee per month. It is absolutely worth the investment in yourself and your career (and this is coming from someone who LOVES her coffee).
For those of you who want to establish a digital identity and take control of how you present yourself, a blog is a fantastic starting point. There will be more work involved in maintaining a blog, but you only have to take on as much as you want. Once a month is plenty when you’re starting out, there is always the opportunity to do as much or as little as you want. It’s your project after all!
Have any of you started a blog in graduate school? What was your experience like? Share your stories in the comments section below!
[Image from NOGRAN s.r.o., used under Creative Commons license]