This month marks one year since I started this blog – my ‘blogiversary’ if you will. I thought I would take some time just to reflect on my experience so far, and maybe give some advice to other PhD students thinking of starting one.
When I first started my blog, I intended it to be a way to practice writing – I didn’t expect many people to read it beyond my family and friends. My first few posts were about my honours research on eucalyptus dieback in the Monaro region, and I was both shocked and excited (and terrified!) by how much attention they received. I owe a lot of that to Ian Lunt, who I’d had the good fortune and pleasure to meet at a symposium a few weeks before. Ian has his own excellent blog and quite a large following on facebook and twitter, and he kindly shared my posts with his followers. Within a few hours of Ian sharing my first post, I had hundreds of views, and over the next few weeks over 1500 people read my blog.
Eventually it also reached the media, and in the following few weeks I was interviewed for ABC Rural and the Canberra Times. All this attention was fantastic for bringing the research to a wider audience, but it was really quite terrifying. I suddenly had a lot of people listening to what I had to say, and that creates a lot of pressure and responsibility! After all it was only an honours project and I didn’t feel like much of an authority, but obviously people were interested and I felt I had to use the opportunity to get the message out to as many people as I could.
Since that fantastic beginning the attention has definitely settled down, but I still have plenty of people reading, sharing and commenting. It’s an amazing confidence boost, and it’s always so exciting when I post a new blog to see what comments I get and where it gets shared. I have also built up a great network with other researchers and bloggers using social media, particularly twitter, which has led to some great discussions and new relationships. I have even been invited to write an article for Wildlife Australia magazine because the editor happened to read my blog!
I highly recommend writing a blog to any PhD students or researchers who enjoy writing or want to improve their writing skills. For anyone who is thinking about starting, here’s a few tips I’ve learned:
- Write what you know – if you are reluctant to start a blog because you feel like you don’t have anything original to contribute, you’re not alone. The thing that motivated me to start writing was just wanting a place where I could write about stuff that was interesting to me and hopefully improve my writing – if anyone read it that would be a bonus. When I suddenly had lots of readers, I sometimes found myself thinking too much about what they would want to read and not what I was interested in writing about. When you write about your own research and experiences the writing is easier and your passion really comes through.
- Set yourself a realistic schedule, and stick to it – my original goal was to post every second Sunday, which in hindsight was a bit ambitious. It’s actually ended up more like one post every 3-4 weeks, so I now aim for at least one per month. You have to take into account how much time you want to spend on the blog, and how long it actually takes you! Writing a post takes me longer than I had originally hoped, but I am getting faster.
- Keep a list of possible topics – and if you have spare time, write extra ‘filler’ posts so you have something to post when you’re too busy to write. Some of the ideas on my list are just titles, some have a few notes and some are almost complete posts that are just waiting for the right time. Some will probably never get posted, but I keep them anyway just in case.
- Try the ‘shut up and write’ method – each week I get together with a couple of fellow students for an hour or so for a writing session. We get ourselves a cuppa, set a timer and just write for 25 minutes – trying not to filter or edit too much, just get words on paper. Then we have a five minute break for a chat, and then another 25 minutes of writing. It’s great if you’re a perfectionist like me and struggle to get words out quickly!
- Connect with readers on social media – I have found social media, particularly twitter, to be a great way to share your blog and connect with your readers. Follow your colleagues and your favourite bloggers, get involved in discussions, share your everyday experiences from the field or at conferences and check out what others are doing.
- Read other blogs – even if you don’t write one yourself! There are so many fantastic blogs out there written by both researchers and laypeople, and they’re a great way to get ideas, learn new things and improve your own writing. A great place to start is to follow Australia’s Best Ecology Blogs on facebook, which is curated by Ian Lunt and has new posts every day.
It’s been a fantastic year of blogging, thank you all for reading and I’ll see you next year!