Thursday, August 03, 2006

Calling All Academics

I recently read a collection of short essays in The Chronicle of Higher Education concerning how a professor's well-known blog may have hurt his chances at getting a better academic job. The Chronicle has run a number of essays on the pros and cons of blogging for academics in the past few years. For example, what you find when you google (now a verb) "Professor Windi Gail Blowharde" may be something quite different from what you find on her CV.

In light of this, here are ask two questions. (1) If you are an academic and you regularly read The Constructive Curmudgeon, please leave a post. (Tom and Tim, you are already among the elect.) (2) How do any of you understand the relationship of the blog to the academic world? I know that this blog has caused a few academic ripples. For example, a fellow who wants to do graduate work on Carl Jung asked me for more information about the gnosticizer after reading my post on Jung (originally an article in Christian Counseling Today).

18 comments:

Tim said...

Doug,

You ask:

How do any of you understand the relationship of the blog to the academic world?

Honestly, I'm not sure. On some blogs (this one, FQI, Maverick Philosopher, etc.) one can often have a thoughtful conversation with decent, intelligent people about issues that matter. But many blogs are, frankly, cesspools. I'm daunted at the thought of the amount of work necessary to keep up a decent blog. I doubt if I'll ever undertake the project myself. But I'm very glad that you've done it here.

Douglas Groothuis said...

This is one of the problems with blogs: Is the time you spend worth it or does it take too much away from other academic pursuits, such as writing:

1. Books
2. Book reviews
3. Class preparation
4. Academic journal articles?

The academic world is famously slow and fussy. Blogs are fast and democratic. But you don't put your blog on your CV. However, your academic superiors (or potential employers) may well check your blog.

And blogs make no money, as may other kinds of writing (but not most academic writing).I have thought about running ads through blogspot on this blog, which is supposed to generate some money; but they control the content. That might be a disaster.

So, I keep wondering.

BJ the Tornado said...

Dr Truth,
as a budding Academic I am curious about the same question.

I'm fearful that perhaps blogging may hurt my future prospects. When I post on Blogs, I tend to write rather "loose and fast" which is clear not only from my bad grammer and spelling, etc. -- but also from the way in which we tend to express our opinions fairly boldly or perhaps, how shall I say, in a manner which is not as delicate or articulate as perhaps we would in academic (or basically any other) writting. Thus, there's this fear that someone in the academic world could try to find what you've posted on various blogs around the internet and see some rather intereting insights to you that (perhaps) you'd rather not have them see.

Here's a little story as to why this fear (I think) is fairly well founded.


As you know, I am on faculty at the Air Force Academy. When I was initially interviewed for the job back in the Fall of 04, I was shocked during one portion of my interview when I sat down with the department head, the deputy, and another senior dept. member and the dept. head (now my boss) slapped down a print-out of some random comment I had made on some rather obscure blog three years previous.

He asked me what I meant by the comment (it actually regarded mussings I had at the time over my future career as an AF officer, and whether or not I'd get out, etc.). I tap-danced for a minute, then got my bearings and was able to explain the comments effectively (I think... he hired me, so I guess I did OK).

The point is that it gave me this amazing feeling of exposure. You'll notice I changed my blog signature name to "BJ-the-tornado" -- something the DenSem crowd enjoys to be sure -- but also a small attempt to make it harder to find me in the future. But, that doesn't save the day... from what I understand even with an alias like that, through various blog associations one (if they were good enough) could find me and figure out who I am fairly easily. Heck, my future employers may very well someday read THIS post. (Or my current boss may read this post and get a chuckle... who knows?).

In response to this I've tried (not fully succesfully) to tone it down in blog conversations and write more carefully (a good idea in general, anyway). But I've found the nature of blogging tends to foster more "off-the-cuff" type of communicae -- it's hard to fight it.

The whole situation is rather frustrating. It just feels so (for lack of a better word) unfair that someone who doesn't know you from Adam can google you and "get the goods" on you, as it were. I don't like it. But I suppose we take on this lack of privacy by entering into this wild blogosphere-internet world. It's out choice in the end. But I just don't like it.

Douglas Groothuis said...

There seems to be a essential tension here:

(1) Academics read, think, and teach a lot. Thus, they have many opinions they like to express. So, blogs give them a quick venue for more opportunities than other written forums.

(2) Academics are held to high intellectual standards (or should be). So, of they "go into print" (even the noninscripturated print of the internet), they are held accountable for what they write--even when they are writing more off the cuff, so to speak.

Biblically, we are all accountable for what we say and write. Jesus said, "By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned." You need a moment of silence after that statement... But academics are supposed to be knowledgeable and lucid to a higher degree than others--or at least they have more time on their hands to accomplish this task.

When academics blog at their best, they can bring their knowledge and clarity to a realm drenched in dreck. But academics can also get too lose and silly as well by having a few too many drinks at the blog canteen.

As always, we need "wisdom from above" to comport ourselves with sobriety and propriety.

Jeremy said...

This is a topic that has become a genuine concern of my as of late. I stumbled into the antrhopology department at Western, and saw some articles on one of the profs office door. The articles were extrememly critical of ID, and extremely off base. I went home and wrote a post about it, and have now posted a subsequent piece as well.

The rub came when I was reading Dembski's book Uncommon Dissent. In the intro Dembski relates a quote from Mike Behe. It was basically grad students who may question Darwinism may want to keep their mouths shut. So I thought, "What would happen if someone saw this blog, someone who could do my career harm?"

Part of the problem I have is keeping up with readership. Not everyone who reads my blog leaves a post. That means I could have millions of readers, but 2 or 3 that actually post (there's at least nothing losigcally impossible about it). One of the things I did early on was to include my blog address in my email signature. I'm a little scared now that there are a whole lot of people who have my blog address as a direct reult of that. Being that they don't post, I have no idea who reads what. Nor then do I know what opinions they are forming about me. I may find myself in a position not unlike B.J.'s back in '04.

gimmepascal said...

I've got nothing to lose, baby, nothing to lose!!!

So just to add my opinion: please do not stop blogging anytime soon! Here in Uganda I rarely have internet access, and when I do the connection is slow and I usually have only an hour or so. Thus, after emailing, I always check out this blog, mostly because the discussions are interesting and enlightening, but also because I know and trust most of the bloggers involved. With little time to spare, I like quality. So here is one advantage to the blogosphere--you provide intellectual stimulation to stranded Americans in the African bush. So don't stop blogging. Perhaps clean up the grammar and watch more closely your spelling, and don't take any rude, unnecessary potshots at people that could somehow be involved in your future (or anybody, for that matter). Otherwise, please don't stop.

You never know--this blog could spark an idea for one of you, which could turn into a future book.

Also, my wife loves the blog, and since we just found out she's pregnant, she'll have more time to read it now.

Leo said...

As an academic, I try to be careful when on-line. The academic dean for my school found some old comic book reviews (yes, comic books!) that I did years ago, and he has teased me mercilessly about them. (If you are wondering, I still write some comic book reviews for fun, and yes, I still read comics). My point is this--the internet is not a private line. If you remember that, then you should be able to avoid things that may hurt your chances for academic advancement. I still post on-line and on my blog, but not as much as I used to (not enough time). Ah, what do I know anyhow?

nancy said...

The student weighs in:

Since I'm on schedule to finish my MA in PR degree (Denver Seminary) in about 7 years I'm hardly in the same boat as the rest of you.

But...these discussions are excellent and stimulating. Moreover I see a great model of good blogging ( ie. Dr. Foundy v. Tornado on JWT ). So to Tim and some of the other academics that post here, you have done us the service of extending the academic conversations and debates to those of us who cannot stop by your office or meet you at conferences. Keep it up.

BJ the Tornado said...

Jedd,
Michelle's pregnant!?!?!?!?
That's GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This news fills me with great joy!!!!
Many blessings brother,
-BJ

Jeremy said...

Jed, Congratulations!

I'm so happy for you and Michelle, and Brandi will be as well when I tell her.

John Stockwell said...

Yes. I am an academic who has been putting open-source software out on the internet since 1992, long before there were blogs, and a few years before the World Wide Web became a reality.

Before blogs, our primary mechanism for reaching a worldwide audience consisted
of

1) posting on Usenet news groups

2) capturing email addresses and doing
direct email

Since the WWW has been in existence, the availability of

3) a home page
became the third option. More recently,

4) setting up a listserver group using
Mailman
has been effective in giving users of our software to have the ability to have rapid answer to their software-related questiones.

I can see that a blog would be useful for
1) putting up documents and allowing
discussions
2) providing another set of pages that
search engines can find your stuff on.

I read this, and similar blogs as lunch hour entertainment, as part of my 20 year long hobby of being a partisan in the evolution versus creationism debate.

Just as I have personal interests on my home page, I can see

5) setting up a blog where I could put
up more lengthy descriptions of software, mathematical, class related work, as well as other documents, and
provide reader input.

I think that the next level in this progression is to

6) set up a Wikki

as a way of providing organized answers to frequently asked questions.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Gimme:

Rebecca doesn't edit many of my posts, so my spelling and typos come through. She did, however, the "Relevant Revolution" and a few others.

I guess those African fertility prayers already got to you!

Tom said...

I've not been reading blogs long and there still aren't a whole lot I look at regularly, so I don't think my opinion matters much here. But Doug asked, so I'll give a shot at answering.

It seems to me that there are several different models of what a blog can be. For academics, or at least philosophers, blogs can be a useful way to get nearly immediate feedback on ideas. *Certain Doubts* and *Proslogion* (I'd make neato links like Tim does but my ignorance constrains me) can be good sources of interesting discussions in epistemology and philosophy of religion respectively.

My problem with very active blogs such as those mentioned above is that I can't seem to make the time to check in with them everyday, and so I fall hopelessly behind in the dicussions. I also have some concerns about putting ideas out there that are either completely green (it can't help your academic reputation to look stupid or naive) or too well worked out (I'm not convinced of the intellectual honesty of everyone in the blogosphere).

Being tenured at a state school, I don't have to worry too much about saying something that will get me in trouble (although if I were untenured at a religious institution I might have such concerns). But I enjoy reading the controversial opinions of smart people, though, so I am grateful for blogs like this one where I can do that.

The bottom line is that I think blogs can be academically useful, although I suspect I'll never be able to take part in many of them to the degree necessary to really be part of the daily conversation.

This blog strikes me as being one in which the discussion is anything but superficial but which is also paced slowly enough that even if I can just check in every-other day, I can still be part of the conversation. I hope you keep it going, Doug. And I appreciate your being willing to put up with (relative) liberals like myself.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Tom:

What exactly do you mean by "relative liberal"? At least it sounds better than "absolute liberal." Do you mean theologically or politically or both. You cannot be too liberal theologically, since you defended the rationality of the Trinity and the Incarnation in print, and admirably so, I might add. I just copied that chapter for an aspiring Christian philosopher.

Suzi said...

I am an adjunct right now, which is a much more precarious position, I believe, in terms of immediate ramifications. I have gone back over old posts and have deleted many identifying remarks and place names.

However, some people who know me have found me. A guy I went to college with 20+ years ago wrote me and asked if he knew me. (I had blogged about a net search on two old friends. Those friends were his roommates and when he decided to look them up, my blog was one of the first hits.)

Also, if people look up my husband because they want to find me, they can. He links to my blog (so I guess people who can follow links could figure it out too) and he writes "in the clear," with his actual name and address.

I don't blog only about academic questions. I guess I am more of a diarist. I used to write all this stuff into journals, now I have it in a blog. (Easier to carry around.)

I think that my job ops might be limited if my name were more immediately available.

I am not sure there is any clear relationship between blogs and the academic world. I think there is more than there used to be though. I keep up with educational news and, if I found blogs by people in my field, I would be much more likely to post on academic questions more frequently.

Becky said...

Danger abounds, as BJ the Tornado has pointed out in practical terms. The Chronicle has plenty of information about situations in which blogs have been bad news for tenure-seeking faculty or aspiring PhD students. In order to participate in this medium it seems that good rules of thumb include, well-considered posts, timing, and keeping one's wits (grammar wits and other wits)about them while posting and blogging.

When we're in the processes of applying for graduate study or applying for a job, it may be worth considering shutting down the personal blog to avoid giving admissions committees reasons not to admit you.

In the meantime, we should be Aristotelian about our blogging: academics should be the best and most excellent bloggers and blog commenters. :)

Tom said...

Doug,

When I said I'm a "(relative) liberal" I meant that relative to this list, I'm liberal. Now I primarily had in mind my politics, but I also suspect that to a Westminister Confession confessin' Calvinist, I'm somewhat theologically liberal as well. Now don't get me wrong, I take my Nicene Creed neat and unrevised. But I'm an Arminian and see most of the other issues that divide the Church as the kinds of things that Christians can disagree on in good conscience. And while I'm an unrepentant realist regarding truth, I see many theological/ecclesiastical/ethical truths as being beyond our ability to confidently know as we see through this glass darkly.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I think all academic writing should be online, and perhaps in the future we might move this direction. This would allow a quicker distribution of writing to a wider audiance and facilitate a more dialogical community.

To me the only point of paper text is to make a little money, but for academics there really isn't that much money to be made so what's the point??? Put your academic papers online and interact with thoughtful responses.

I think the younger academics growing up with the internet as part of their lifestyle will embrace the net as a place to publish academic essays and facilitate greater dialogue.