Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Academic bloggers (2)

Epistemographer reflects on my last post on blogging and its influence on job market prospects, and zeroes in on a key issue:

I’m concerned with… the management of my identity as I go through a job search…. [P]art of me reasons that I’d be better off micro-managing my identity, tailoring it to each job like a cover letter.

If you blog about your interviews, someone’s going to notice, and overcommunication would be easy. ("Southwest River Valley State College is so far away from anything you have to drive 50 miles to get to the middle of nowhere. Can I really live in a place that isn’t a major airport hub? Plus, most of the department seems to be alcoholic. But they’re clueless enough to have a generous leave policy, so I figure I can be out of there in a couple years.")

That’s simple to avoid: just don’t talk about it.

But there’s a subtler issue involving academic identity and blogging, particularly for ABDs. I’ve often heard it said that candidates with just a couple articles are sometimes more attractive to committees than people with long publication lists, because everyone can see in the candidate what they want to see.

This always struck me as counterintuitive, not to mention unjust, but here’s how it was explained to me: A few data points allow everyone on a committee to  imagine the candidate turning into someone they’d really like, whereas a longer c.v. turns you into a more fully-defined person– and hence someone who is easier to reject.

This isn’t just something that works against candidates; it can work for them, too. You have to do a certain amount of custom self-fashioning for each job you apply for, fitting the trajectory of your training and intellectual interests into an arc that has THIS JOB RIGHT HERE as its logical endpoint. I’ll bet this becomes harder to do if you’ve a few hundred blog entries document your decision to go to graduate school, your choice between two or three different dissertation topics, your fieldwork, etc.. Reinvention works best when you can escape your past, less well when its indexed by Google.

On the other hand, I think most smart search committees recognize the artifice of the process, and the degree to which the whole ritual of the job interview– the talk, the 20-minute meetings with faculty meetings, the lunch with graduate students, etc.– provides useful but incomplete information.

As I understand it, the purpose of an on-campus visit is to give people a chance to better see what you’re like, and how you’d fit in. You’d get a much better sense of what a person is like from reading a couple years’ worth of blog entries, than from talking to them for half an hour over little plastic cups of Gallo and cheddar on a stick, while they swelter in an uncomfortable interview suit.

Blogs ought to be recognized as a valuable means of getting information about a candidates, and serve to reinforce a sense that someone’s a good fit. Presumably they’d also serve to curb more outrageous attempts at reinvention.

Another way it could help is that it demonstrates a familiarity with cutting-edge technology and communications practices. I’ll bet that for the next couple years, until AOL swamps us all and Microsoft Word incorporates blogging functions, having a blog will convey some of the status that having a Web site did in the late 1990s: it defines you as part of a technically savvy elite. (I put up my first Web page in 1995, when I was teaching at UC Davis. It didn’t help me on the academic circuit, but it was a deciding factor in getting me the job at Britannica.)

2 Comments

  1. Suppose a candidate blogged creatively and thoughtfully about subjects only tangentially related, if at all, to the subject of study–say, a medical ethicist with a blog about identifying, purchasing, and rehabilitating decrepit motor scooters. Would the blog be less of a liability, because it touches only lightly on the blogger’s employment, or possibly even an asset, as it might demonstrate writing skills, discernment, and dedication? Or is your commentary intended to focus primarily on blogs about the subject of specialty and/or the situation of employment?

  2. Okay, I’ll have to think about that one. Or narrow my focus so the question doesn’t come up.

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