Blogging as an undergrad, pt. 2

Sometime back in January I wrote a post about science blogging as an undergrad and I meant to follow up on that post sooner than later. I’m not a huge fan of writing back-to-back navel gazing posts and I wanted to give some time between part 1 and part 2. Some of these ideas are new and others are just expansions of thoughts from the original post.

When I sit down to write a post, three things come to mind

  1. My personal expertise on the matter
  2. Getting past that “homework” feeling
  3. Blog content and coherency

At this point in my academic training, I am an expert in nothing other than whatever I’m cramming for at the moment (and even that can get sketchy). When I sit down to write a post I want to feel comfortable with whatever it is I’m writing, and if I don’t feel like my understanding of the subject is strong enough, I am more likely to avoid the subject than explore it.

This leads me to my second point on the “homework” feeling. At times, writing a blog post can feel similar to doing homework. If my knowledge on a subject is lacking I’ll do the necessary research to make sure I’m not positing complete b.s. If there’s one thing my friends and family will tell you, I’d rather be caught dead than wrong. It’s an issue of personal pride that I know what I’m talking about and that requires a lot of fact checking. Also, knowing that a few geologists and scientists I respect and admire read my posts makes me doubly afraid to post rubbish- even if it’s unintentional. I know I’m not being graded for content, but if I wouldn’t hand it in to my professors for a grade, why would I feel comfortable posting something for the geoblogosphere to see?

Finally, not having an area of expertise means that my blog can be rather unfocused at times. Those that I try to read on a regular basis (like what is found on my blogroll) are fairly focused in their content. Clastic Detritus, Mountain Beltway, and Looking for Detachment come to mind. However I also know that others such as Outside the Interzone manage to cover a fair range of topics with plenty of competency.

In retrospect, I don’t know if any of my concerns are unique to undergrads. Certainly the concerns are valid, but perhaps not isolated to one group. It could  be that these are the growing pains of a relatively young blog and are shared by anyone new to the community.

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4 thoughts on “Blogging as an undergrad, pt. 2

  1. “This leads me to my second point on the “homework” feeling. At times, writing a blog post can feel similar to doing homework. If my knowledge on a subject is lacking I’ll do the necessary research (…)”

    I feel and do precisely the same. Though I know I won’t be directly judged by what I write, I think that is my duty – and so it is the duty of everyone who writes about factual subjects – to make sure I’m not deceiving people.

  2. Thanks for the link. I think the most pertinent thought I have to offer is that you have a highly developed sense of what you don’t know and don’t understand- and that is a very good thing. In an age where way too many prominent communicators feel perfectly comfortable with either making crap up, or relying on “it’s totally obvious,” (cough- Winchester- cough) without fact checking, people who are not only willing but predisposed to question their own thoughts and conclusions are a treasure. It’s a habit of mind that will serve you well, if you don’t allow it to paralyze you. It’s always okay to say “I don’t know.” You should also notice just how often I carefully hedge my statements- I’m happy to say, “this is what I’ve concluded,” or “this is what I recall,” but “I’m not really an authority, and my word shouldn’t be taken as fact.” Scientists often describe peer review as the essential component of “getting it right.” It is one such component, but the first filter, one of at least equal importance, is the scientist’s willingness to challenge and question themselves- the feeling that we’d rather catch ourselves in error than allowing others to do so.

    If you’re lucky, you’ll never get over that uncertainty. People who do are insufferable, and very often wrong, while utterly convinced of their infallibility.

  3. What Lockwood says is right on. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out a bit and speculate or question things. It’s all about how it’s done. You can publicly wonder about something in science without coming off as sounding like you know it all. Sometimes I’ll do the ol’ “I’m no expert, but …” preface to posing a question or discussing something I don’t yet fully understand. If it works correctly, then other experts chime in with their opinion and everyone learns something.

  4. I’ve been, perhaps, more focused on geologic-type content since you started blogging, but I have and maintain a large number of small posts about things I see or do, including hiking, birds and wildlife, and roadtrips, weather, and the garden.

    Many of the blogs I read routinely throw in some non geology, and I like reading things a bit more personal from time to time. What it really comes down to, is write about what you want to write about.

    And as far as being judged by the geoblogosphere, or thinking that you might be, I have felt and do feel that way myself sometimes, and that’s mostly my own fear, I think. We, or many of us, may never completely overcome that feeling entirely. Also, in some way, you may be closer to the forefront of some types of research just because you are learning things as they come along. It might not seem like that now, but it seems that way to me when I look back on my undergrad days.

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