Short answer: I hope not.
As I round the halfway point of my fellowship, I’m starting to seriously think about my next steps. I have never truly been “comfortable” in this position, meaning that there hasn’t been a point where I wasn’t looking for the next opportunity. On year is a relatively short period of time, especially considering that the turnaround time for many fellowships is usually 6-12 months. And knowing that there is a decent chance that I’ll end up back in academia, there is usually more of a process compared to government positions. For example, the application for my current fellowship (though technically through the government) was due one year prior to the start of the actual application. Conversely, a quick search of positions on USA Jobs reveals that most current openings will be filled within a couple of months. While there are pros and cons to both approaches, that’s a discussion for another day. The real reason for this post is to talk about my chances of getting any sort of post-fellowship position and whether blogging may affect those chances.
So back to my initial statement: I hope not. Personally, I believe that all academic scientists should have an online presence. This doesn’t really apply to gov’t employees as scientists are less identified individually by their work. But beyond just having a website, more and more scientists are taking to the web, mainly through twitter, to engage in the greater scientific community. From that larger community, a decent proportion of those on twitter also blog (e.g. Dynamic Ecology, Small Pond Science). While not all science bloggers, who are also academic researchers, are faculty members, they do make up a large majority. This is an important point because faculty members already have jobs. Granted, depending on their career stage (i.e. assistant, associate, full professor), what one says online matters. However, I feel that pre-faculty (e.g. undergrads, grad students, post docs) must be especially careful. In a world where potential employers check the internet for information on potential employees, us pre-faculty folks are in a tough spot.
So why even bother? If what you say online could potential harm employment opportunities, is it really worth it? Well, obviously I think that it is. I have learned so much from reading science blogs, much of which I never would have know about without this resource. At the same time, much of what I write about are things that I wish I knew about when I was starting out as a graduate student. I don’t really consider blogging as “outreach”; it’s not a selfish venture to put on my CV. It’s something that I really love doing. I try to stay away from really controversial stuff, but I think that it’s important to get out there and be a part of the conversation.
I understand that potential employers may be turned off by any sort of web presence. However, it is just as likely that they would dislike any other part of scientific career. Being on twitter and blogging about science is just part of what I view as being a complete scientist, not only through research, but also through communication.