By Tyler Shores, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

I recently did some live-blogging with The Sociological Review for a great workshop at the University of Nottingham: “Social Media and Doing a PhD, What Do You Need to Know – A Postgraduate Workshop”. 

For #academictwitter followers, the lineup was quite the who’s-who of academic social media experts: Mark Carrigan, Inger Mewburn (Thesis Whisperer) and Pat Thomson (patter).

Starting off the events was Mark Carrigan, digital sociologist at Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge and The Sociological Review Foundation.

Mark discussed some of the history leading up to his own, very successful, blog. Sometimes personal blogs can take a few iterations before we’re able to settle upon one that clicks (and gets clicks). For Mark, his current WordPress-powered blog began as an online receptacle for his thoughts, which slowly transitioned into a place to share thoughts on his PhD experience, and eventually becoming a research blog.

What purpose does a research blog serve? For Mark, the blog became a tool for his thinking process. The blog served as a sort of publicly visible playground of the mind — where ideas are played with, explored, and even tested as prospective projects. During the process of sharing, linking, and researching through his blog, Mark often found that disparate ideas in blog posts often became connected or incorporated into larger bodies of work.

A blog in this way functions along the same lines as a digital commonplace, a form of digital marginalia that we use as a way to think while working, reading, and researching. A blog might also represent a measure of accountability — any ideas-in-progress are out there and can attract feedback that can potentially be worked with later.

Another platform option for academic blogging, either alongside or as an alternative to WordPress, is How might your audiences vary from WordPress or It depends. Having a clear idea about who your intended audience is (or who you hope it might be) can help. Curating your content and topics via tags (see image on the right for Mark’s organization scheme) can influence the kinds of audiences you reach.

On the one hand, can potentially have a built-in audience for the topics that you write and think about, which in turn can lead to different traffic and different audiences than perhaps a WordPress blog, where audience growth can happen more slowly or more organically. Mark posits that perhaps might be more conducive for longer pieces of writing (I’m inclined to agree), which might lead to longer, more sustained forms of audience engagement.


Next up was Pat Thomson (patter), Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham.

For those of us that are interested in academic blogging, a blog can represent a significant part of our online scholarly identity. Consider that — whether we are aware of it or not — we are already online in different forms, and a blog certainly represents one way to manage the “various bits of you” that are floating around online without your necessarily being at the whim of Google search results:

For Pat, her immensely helpful blog enables her to present a particular version of her scholarly work and interests online. In addition, the patter weekly blog posts can be a powerful means of extending her teaching practice of academic writing to a wider audience beyond the classroom. And as she points out, those blog posts represent not just her teaching, but a means of sharing her own personal scholarly practice.

How much time does it take to craft such information-rich blog posts, every week? For Pat Thomson, Patter is a “Sunday morning job,” with two-three hours on Sunday mornings devoted to her extensive collection of potential blog post ideas, or expanding upon fragments of writing that she generates during her day to day academic work.

Blogs can certainly also be used for a number of purposes beyond personal blogging projects. Take for example, Pat’s work with the TALE Project:

A blog such as this can be an invaluable means of connecting with funding organizations and other stakeholders during the course of research projects. A blog can serve as a means of communication in ways that Twitter and other platforms may not be able to achieve. Project blogs can help your project reach different groups, which in turn can lead to different, valuable forms of engagement.

A blog such as the TALE Project site (see images above) can be used as a place to share progress on a project and becomes part of the research project itself through chronicling the research process. Or even think of it as an alternative to keeping your thought process just on a Word document on your computer; rather you share that progress online.

Do you have stories or other examples of how you use your blog or website to disseminate and share your work? Please feel free to share either here or on Twitter!

Tyler Shores

Mark Carrigan

Pat Thomson

Inger Mewburn (Thesis Whisperer)

Tyler Shores is a PhD student in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge. His research interests include the experience of reading in print and digital mediums, attention spans, distractions, and social media. Tyler has published on social media, online culture, and philosophy. You can follow Tyler on Twitter at: @tylershores 

Posted by:fersacambridge

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