If I were an Assistant Professor all over again, would I write a blog? That is today's question.
At the conference here I've chatted with a few people who say they occasionally read my posts and like them. Hearing that is gratifying. Yet I write for myself, definitely. And I like to write informally because the informality helps to keep up the flow and get the ideas out. That others might read the writing and enjoy it is some form of validation, not the type that will give a raise or a promotion, but validation nonetheless.
I believe I had much more intellectual energy when I was younger and could keep more balls in the air. So I think it's possible I could have done a substantial amount of blog like writing and a decent share of the the more formal research stuff too. But my willpower is nil. Keeping some balance on that requires discipline. I recall enough of my work habits as an Assistant Professor to know it happened in cycles, intense periods of productivity and then fallow periods, watching TV, playing pool, hanging out.
Blogging is not the same. When I write the blog, I'm focused on ideas in the piece. It's not time to let other ideas percolate. The writing is fun. But it is work too. Getting the argument coherent is work. Answering why it is interesting to me is also work. It is not the same work as writing an econ journal article where to figure out the model might take months and one has to stay with it and dig deeper to get the meaning. The blog writing is shorter. I've written in earlier posts about the need for pre-writing. There is some probing in that. But it is not as in depth and I don't have to document the thinking in the same way.
One economist who does both is J. Bradford Delong. He is prolific in both domains. His blog gets a wide readership. I wonder how many Brad Delong's there are in other disciplines.
I now want consider journals in the educational technology arena, with the Educause periodicals as perhaps the quintessential examples. Writing for them is different than writing for the International Economic Review (an Econ journal where I have a co-authored piece from way back when). The division between the writing is less sharp to me. To publish in Educause the writing has to be more formal, but the nature of the argument is similar.
This morning I had a look at Stephen Downes Principles for Evaluating Websites. The first principle is --- There are no authorities. I must say I found this disturbing. I wonder if there are degrees of authoritativeness and if publishing in an Educause periodical gives more authority to the writing than if it resides on the author's site. I also wonder if that can measured in some way. I readily admit I have bad ideas, lots of them. Some find their way into my blog. I don't want to instantaneously give authority to my ideas for this very reason.
So I wonder if my approach, throw out a whole bunch of stuff, one piece a day, and see what sticks, is a good one or if I should try to elevate some of the ideas that on re inspection I think are worth promoting and then bringing those to the journals.
But that is me now. As an assistant professor, would that be a good research strategy? For getting tenure, I doubt it is. A better strategy is for the next paper to in some ways be a derivative of the previous one and in that way carve out a niche and reputation for a certain type of work. Of course, this deep and narrow approach comes at the cost of less breadth. The blogging allows the author to dance all over the place. That is part of the attraction. One wonders if it is a good way to keep the research mind fertile.