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July 23, 2004

Academics Anonymous

Collin recently linked to a convergence between/among several academic blogs attempting to come to terms with the public nature of blogging. The conversation grows out of an observation made by Graham Leuschke about the number of academics who blog anonymously, usually out of concern for their professional reputation. Within the comments, I came across ~profgrrrrl's~ explanation for why she chooses to blog anonymously, and Collin also led me to Lori's post on "Stepford Blogging," where she explains the potential risks of blogging while engaged in an academic job search.

Before I begin, I think it's important to note that lots of people outside the academy maintain anonymous blogs. The desire for anonymity isn't limited to fearful academics, but is true for people in other professions as well (and Graham acknowledges this point at the end of his post). And there was a valuable discussion of this issue several months ago, during the peak academic job search season, at Invisible Adjunct (I'm too lazy to find it, but I'm happy the archives are still up--thanks IA!). But Collin, Graham, ~profgrrrrl~, and Lori all rase some important questions about how blogging fits within the academic world.

From the very beginning (now about 16 months ago counting my original Blogger blog), I chose not to blog anonymously, and although I'm not sure I really considered the effects of that choice at the time, I am happy with that choice. I know that it has limited what I'm willing to say. You get very few details about my personal life here (some might say that my personal life *has* very few details, but that's another story). I usually don't talk about classroom experiences or conversations with students, friends, and colleagues in very much detail (in part, I avoid talking about them simply because these people haven't asked for their stories, ideas, or anecdotes to be mentioned in a public place). Sometimes that feels like a major loss, and I've considered starting another anonymous blog where I can talk about that stuff (and, no, I don't have a secret blog under another identity). In fact, I've really enjoyed reading ~profgrrrrl's~ blog today because she is able to talk more directly about some of the issues that confront (single thirty-something) academics on a daily basis.

Collin also discusses the "relative comfort" from which he writes:

I don't have tenure, no, but I'm finishing up my first book, get pretty good teaching evaluations, contribute to the department in a range of ways, and I believe that my colleagues are quite pleased at having hired me. I'm also a big, white man, who hasn't had to worry about unwanted attention, who is comfortable screening the material that appears here, and who doesn't really have to worry about the kind of surveillance that some of the comments discussed. In other words, there's a certain amount of privilege involved with the fact that I can write as myself here, without much fear of official reprisal or risk.
I'm not yet tenure-track, so it's hard for me to guess how much my comfort level might change if I were to get a tenure-track job, but with the summer quickly coming to an end and this fall's job market gearing up, I'm beginning to face some of the same questions as Lori (and my own experience is still mildly shaded my own unexpected publicity last fall when my use of blogging in my freshman comp class became topic du jour in the blogosphere).

I'm not sure yet how much my blogging pratcices will change during the next few months. I do know that I've been able to network/make connections both professionally and personally using the blog, and that's something I don't want to change. I'd also wonder if academic blogs might not have the effect opposite of what most people imagine. Instead of making a candidate appear to be a colleague who is not engaging in "real" scholarship, or someone who is too opinionated, isn't it equally possible that a blog might convey that a job candidate is committed, friendly, creative, and dynamic? Maybe I've already sipped the blogging Kool-Aid, but I know that if I came across a job candidate's blog while on a search committee, I'd be more interested in that candidate.

Posted by chuck at July 23, 2004 3:12 PM

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Good post, Chuck. I think the name someone chooses for their blog can have a huge influence on how they write. I know it does with me. Originally, I used my whole name. It still shows up in a few posts here and there, so I'm not aiming for anonymity as much as I'm just not advertising my whole name. Going by "Rusty" on the current website rather than "Russell" started out as being more for stylistic reasons given the goofy pirate aesthetic. Maybe since Rusty is what I was called growing up there's a tendency to revert to childish behavior when writing in it. Sometimes I think about splitting my alter egos Rusty and Russell into two blogs: one that exclusively writes goofy rants and one that tries to exclusively write seriously. Then again, the topic schizophrenia and lack of any real direction or prevailing theme is what I sort of like about it now.

Posted by: Rusty at July 23, 2004 4:48 PM

I don't have tenure, as yet. I could say that I wouldn't want to work for an institution that felt the writing on my blog was overly candid, personal (eek! she remembers date week) and utterly devoid of distinctions between the academic and personal. (It isn't really an academic blog - merely a blog written by one who happens to be a professor).

But that would be a lie.

The truth is I haven't really considered the potential repercussions of this on-going experiment of writing daily about whatever struck my fancy or was important at the moment.

If it does come to bite me, I'll let you know.

Posted by: weez at July 23, 2004 6:31 PM

Rusty, the split between "Russell" and "Rusty" is an interesting one. I usually publish articles and apply for jobs under the name Charles, but here I write as Chuck. It allows me to imagine this space as somewhat more informal, but I've just checked an my blog still shows up on the first page of a Google search for "Charles Tryon." Like you and Weez, I also enjoy the open-endedness of blogging, something implied in my blog's label as an "experiment." Of course, it's certainly possible that my experiment could blow up in my face eventually.

Weez, I think your writing is so engaging that I'd imagine your blog would reflect favorably on your tenure application. Also, based on your entries it seems that most of your colleagues are aware of your blog (I'd imagine this also is a good thing). Interesting distinction between "academic blog" and "blog by an academic," BTW.

Posted by: chuck at July 23, 2004 10:08 PM

I mainly worry that I'd end up with two boring blogs if I tried to allocate a separate blog to each part of my split personality.

Posted by: Rusty at July 24, 2004 1:27 AM

"I know that if I came across a job candidate's blog while on a committee, I'd be more interested in that candidate."

I think so, too, Chuck. I've been on a committee where a candidate's listserv comments hurt the application (the candidate was applying for a job in Speciality X after bad-mouthing Speciality X publicly a couple of months before), but if anything, I can imagine blogs working in the other direction. There'd be so much information, and voice, and style, that it'd be like having an impossibly long conversation with a person, and in a situation where they weren't "trying too hard." And even potentially embarrassing comments would be put into a broad context of thought and prose.

My guess--and it's entirely subjective--is that if you've got a chance at a job, it's more likely that the personality of a blog will make an application stand out, and that's usually a good thing...


Posted by: collin at July 24, 2004 3:05 AM

Right, and I know that on MT, you can close comments on entries, something I'm considering doing, but right now, I don't think any of my comments contain anything that would reflect poorly on me.

In terms of the candidate bad-mouthing "Specialty X," that's simply a bad idea, shows a lack of awareness of audience.

Posted by: chuck at July 25, 2004 10:50 AM

Yes. This is one of the major regrets I have in starting an anonymous blog, actually: the lack of networking opportunities and establishing actual real relationships with people who read it. My fantasy is eventually to start a non-anonymous blog, perhaps in a year or two when some decisions have been made, and/or at some point simply to de-anonimyfy the one I've got, if it actually seems to have legs at that point. Or maybe by then I will have gotten too fond of the "bitch" persona to give her up :)

Posted by: bitchphd at July 26, 2004 12:17 AM

I've certainly enjoyed the connections. I've now met probably 8-10 people (at least) IRL through this blog, which is great. That being said, the slight fictionalization of anonymity makes for compelling reading. I *like* the persona you've created, and of course, how do we know that you *haven't* already created a non-anonymous blog?

Posted by: chuck at July 26, 2004 1:01 PM

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