I thought that this report in The Chronicle was interesting enough to copy verbatim for those of you without subscriptions:
An article in U.S. News & World Report takes note of a less-than-shocking phenomenon: Graduate students, it turns out, are among the Web's most devoted bloggers. (Young people with high-speed Internet access and plenty of opinions make good bloggers? Who'd've thunk it?)
But the story is well worth reading because it offers some nicely detailed glimpses into the different motivations of student bloggers. Some of the blogs are, as stereotypes suggest, outlets for political musings or personal minutia. But others, like Oh, Snap! (written by a graduate student in education) and Over My Med Body! (a handsome blog penned by a medical student) give readers an uncensored, inside look at the upper levels of academe. Those bloggers often find themselves wondering how to reconcile their online personae with their academic pursuits: Should they use pseudonyms? Can they criticize their colleges? What if a professor finds their blogs?
Here is the US News and World Report article that The Chronicle is condensing and discussing:
Blogging Their Way Through Academe
When Stanford University medical student Graham Walker performed a breast exam for the first time, he didn't discuss the somewhat nerve-racking experience with professors, friends, or his three female classmates. Instead, the would-be doctor posted his feelings on his blog, "Over My Med Body!" at www.grahamazon.com, for all the world to see. The hilariously honest report, titled simply "Boobies," reads, in part:
Normally in patient interviews and interactions, I try to let my personality shine through ... But in this situation, I must've been too objective, too sterile. I started doing my palpations, and the instructor said, "Man, it's like I'm being examined by a robot." So, I'm going along, doing my little "light, medium, deep" motion, which seems to take hours, and everyone else just starts going into bra and cup sizes and pasties and minimizers and maximizers ... Estrogen's oozing from the walls. Anyway, we all finish our exams, and we're reminded that this is a skill that requires practice.
Over the past three years, Walker has uploaded his thoughts on everything from dissecting his first cadaver and getting overly attached to patients to broader policy concerns such as the new Medicare Part D drug legislation. The result is a witty, readable, and very public online diary. "I wanted a way that I could reflect on my day-to-day life as a med student," says the 25-year-old. "Part of it is a defense mechanism to be able to turn an awkward or uncomfortable situation into humor and laugh at myself. But it also allows me to vent frustration and share fun stories or big-think ideas during what can be a pretty isolated time."
Unfiltered. It should come as no surprise that young, tech-savvy graduate students with countless theories and opinions to share make model bloggers and that they're using the seemingly ubiquitous medium in ever growing numbers. These Web logs, which run the gamut from strictly academic to decidedly personal, provide an informal, immediate, and wide-ranging forum for fledgling scholars and professionals alike to mull over their research, say, or to rant about difficult advisers and dissertation dilemmas. What's more, blogs can also provide would-be grad students an enlightening and largely unfiltered window into the ivory tower. And while several recent controversies show that blogging in academe isn't without pitfalls, aficionados say their Web ruminations are a valuable tool for pursuing the life of the mind. "I enjoy reading and writing--that's why I'm in this profession to begin with--so blogging makes perfect sense," says Rebecca Goetz, a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in history at Harvard University who launched "(a) musings of a grad student" (www.rebecca-goetz.blogspot.com) in 2002 in part as a way to air her passionate political opinions. "I see no downside, as long as you're appropriate."
Budding scholars who blog say they especially value the ability to connect with others in their fields in mere minutes, as opposed to the months or years it can take to publish in journals. Although Goetz has been known to post photos and stories about her cat, she spends most of her time in cyberspace addressing intellectual issues, including her pending dissertation on the interaction between Christianity and slavery prior to the abolition movement, parts of which she's actually posted online. "When I hit a bump or have a problem I can't work out, the blog is a more casual way of working through that," says the 27-year-old, who recently wrote an entry about problems she was having counting godparents in early Virginia wills. She received lots of supportive, helpful feedback from readers, including some very practical advice from a fellow historian regarding spreadsheet formulas.
Still, many graduate student bloggers choose to use pseudonyms so they can address the occasional controversial subject without fear of repercussions. For example, the author of "newoldschoolteacher" identifies herself only as a master's candidate at a graduate school of education in New York. She uses her blog ( www.schoolnerdblog.blogspot.com) to expose the disheartening and often exasperating instruction she encounters in pedagogy and methods classes that are supposed to be progressive but which she's come to view as largely out of touch and ineffective. She also recounts her student-teaching stints at various inner-city high schools in a frank and unsparing style:
If you don't believe me that 11th graders don't know anything about the American Revolution, here are some student guesses I received today as to who fought who: 1) The colonists were fighting the Indians. 2) The British were fighting the English. 3) The whites were fighting the British. 4) The whites were fighting the English. And we can't forget 5) The Indians were fighting the Native Americans. As if this were not depressing enough, the kids' behavior in second period is getting out of control. They throw balls of paper. They swear at each other across the room. They hit one another. They rap. They yell. They do anything but the work. When the teacher talks, there are eight other conversations going on at the same volume level. My teacher refuses to do anything about this. Refuses. In fact, she thinks that 'the class is going really well!' Whereas I would put it more like, 'the class is an unmitigated disaster!'
Like many blogging peers, Newoldschoolteacher worries not only about being discovered and disciplined but also about the ethical issues of writing about people she comes into contact with, be they students, peers, professors, or advisers--and takes great pains to preserve their anonymity as well. "I'm not really sure what the rules are for this kind of thing--they probably are kind of unclear because it's such a new medium," says the scribe. "But I guess, for me, I feel it's worth the risks to have the outlet."
Every so often, an industrious reader will take it upon himself or herself to expose a blogger. That's what happened to Zachary Wyatt. As an anonymous first year at the University of Wisconsin Law School, he launched "The Rising Jurist" (www.onebluesun.org/trj), which covers everything from Supreme Court nominees and DNA evidence to his pet mouse, Scalia. At the end of that year, a classmate asked if he was the mystery blogger and--after he acknowledged that he was--chastised him for a post in which he poked fun at a peer who wore a button saying, "This is what a feminist looks like" on her purse. (He wrote that she suffered "the classic faults of a poor spokeswoman for feminism: too pretty, too thin, and too young.") Wyatt, now 27 and set to graduate, recalls, "It was an odd situation, being approached by someone I barely knew and being told not to write such shallow posts. That really brought home just how public a blog could be and how easily a dialogue, whether positive or negative, is started with readers." Now he encourages such back-and-forth debate and fields rebuttals to his views on everything from the death penalty to the law school's grading system. His favorite criticism? "Jurist was boring yesterday."
Luckily, Wyatt hasn't suffered any consequences--academic, career, or otherwise--since being unmasked. However, it appears that there are some risks for Web auteurs on the job market. Indeed, a debate erupted in the academic blogosphere last summer when a humanities professor at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest published a pseudonymous column in the Chronicle of Higher Education called "Bloggers Need Not Apply." In the article, "Ivan Tribble" detailed his work on a faculty search committee that evaluated several candidates whose websites were easily located through Google--whether or not the applicants mentioned them on their resumes or in interviews. In each and every case, the blogs had a negative impact, due to inappropriate personal content, misrepresented research, or concerns that such scholars might "air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see," wrote Tribble, who affixed a strong warning: "Job seekers who are also bloggers may have a tough road ahead, if our committee's experience is any indication."
Professional pitfalls. Those already working in academe may also find themselves in hot water. Political science Prof. Daniel Drezner, for one, believes that his own well-known blog, www.danieldrezner.com, may have played a role in his being denied tenure at the University of Chicago last year; he now cautions graduate students and untenured peers to think carefully before creating web diaries themselves. The ivory tower's old guard, he argues, is likely to overestimate the amount of time it takes to maintain a blog and also fail to acknowledge any potential intellectual value, among other downsides. "One of the problems with blogging is that it provides an alternative route through which academics can attain status, outside the more proper, traditional, peer-reviewed path," adds Drezner, who'll move to a tenured post at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University this summer. "As a result, there's always going to be hostility toward people who manage to do that, in the same way there is toward those who write only popular books."
Interestingly, fields like business and law tend to be more accepting of blogging (legal "blawg" offerings include www.threeyearsofhell.com and www.lawdork.blogspot.com). More and more institutions are using student-written but school-sponsored blogs on their admissions pages in order to provide a more intimate--if occasionally somewhat staid--look at their programs, including Vermont Law School, the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. (Typical entry: "One of the more interesting aspects of your second year at Eller will be the job hunt.")
So how can those looking for the inside skinny on grad-school life use such sites to their advantage? Current students suggest that applicants would be wise to scour both authorized and off-the-record blogs about particular institutions or disciplines for a more realistic perspective than glossy brochures provide and to post or E-mail specific questions. Others are a bit more circumspect. "I think [these sites] can be somewhat useful but would always say to prospective students, 'Be cautious about taking too much information from complete strangers, because you just don't know who these people really are or what their agenda is,'" says Robert Schwartz, associate dean for admissions at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York, which is currently considering integrating blogging into its own admissions process.
Back in California, Graham Walker has already started to contemplate the fate of "Over My Med Body!" whose audience has ballooned from a handful of loyal relatives to some 1,500 readers a day. "I know a couple of [residents] who've been told by their attending physician or programs that they have to stop--probably because of confidentiality issues," says the physician-in-training. Nonetheless, he hopes to continue recording his experiences in medicine in some way after graduating next spring--for himself, his readers, and also, in a way, his patients. "I want them to know that I'm a fallible human behind my white coat, not some godlike figure who can automatically heal them or give them a magic pill. I say things I regret, think things that are wrong, but through my blog, I try to analyze these things and recognize the wrong assumptions or bad behaviors so I can correct them," he muses. "I think it's really important to get that out there."