How Writing A Science Blog Saved My PhD

People ask for the benefits of writing a science blog before deciding if it makes sense to write one. Some say a science blog gives you exposure. Others would like to hear that they will write more publications thanks to their blog. If now I look back, I can see a clear benefit of running my own science blog: it helped me to not to give up my PhD.

People Want to See the Benefits

Scientists have mixed feelings about running a science blog. Senior researchers and group leaders have too many things in their plates. Getting grants, publishing, presenting at conferences, supervising young scientists, it is a busy life. This is their main augment for not writing a science blog.

In any case, they are not digital natives and technology is a barrier for them. They feel they are going to need time to learn how to operate a science blog and decide to argument that they are busy. In fact, it is very easy to create a science blog.

Young scientists are more technologically savvy, but also busy. They are trapped in the scientific rat race: publish a lot in high impact factor journals, cross your fingers and pray for tenure track.

The consequence is that the young fellas are capable of running a science blog, but again are too busy. The rat race doesn’t reward (yet) scientists that share their knowledge via a blog. (we’ll talk about this in future posts)

The Tough Times of a PhD

During my PhD I was busy as well. Getting used to a new field of research, new colleagues, running some never ending research projects, it all took time. I spent a lot of energy making sense of all what was going on.

I was also frustrated. I lost motivation in my PhD. I hit the Crisis of Meaning in the 5 phases of PhD motivation. I was walking in the Valley of Shit.

I spent every day trying to keep my head above the shit.

At that point I could have just let it go, sink and give up. I would have been a quitter, but at least I wouldn’t have wasted the last two years of an unfinishable PhD.

Instead, I decided to fight. And there was one action that made all the difference: I opened up to others.

  • I shared my worries with more experienced colleagues. They gave me a much needed insight: they had gone through similar difficulties, I was not the only one. And also, there comes a day when you are not in the Valley of Shit anymore, there is hope.
  • I asked for help to the coach/psychologist the university offers to scientists. She helped me out to step back and see the global picture. I also realized I could take control of my PhD and stir it in the direction I wanted.
  • I started writing my own science blog. If I was going to fail or succeed, I wanted to leave some tips for future PhD students on what I had learned during the PhD.
Writing a Science Blog Saved my PhD
Image via CS_McMahon

My Benefits of Writing a Science Blog

At the lowest point to my PhD I started reading blogs. It was not a new thing for me, since I had been following several bloggers for a while. This time, I was reading blogs for scientists.

There were some “must-read” science blogs that discussed general issues of the PhD life, blogs like The Thesis Whisperer, or PhD2Published. Other blogs treated specific writing and reading problems like the 3 Month Thesis or Literature Review HQ. Study Hacks helped with hacking time management techniques for academics.

What I got of these blogs was to discover that others were struggling, other grad students were also walking through the Valley of Shit and they needed help. Then it struck me.

What advice would I give to a starting PhD student?

I decided that my science blog would contain what I learnt during my PhD. What it means to be a graduate student. The do’s and don’ts. Those things I wish someone had told me earlier. Those things that you wish were written in the contract before you sign it.

I felt like I was writing for that poor little Julio at the beginning of my PhD. But in fact, I was reflecting on all I had learnt up until that moment. I was giving to myself the advice I needed.

I started putting vague ideas I had in the back of my mind into words. This exercise turned out to be vital. It helped me to see the causes of my frustration. Once I knew these causes I could act upon them.

After I wrote several posts about PhD life I started to be more calmed, I regained some hope in my PhD. I saw how the PhD game has to be played and discovered how to handle better the frustration. This kept me going in my PhD.

I don’t know if the advice I shared in my science blog helped other people. What I know is that it avoided me quitting my PhD.

What is your experience writing a science blog? Did it help you? What were the benefits? Please share your point of view in the comments below.

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Get Your Science Blog

Are you jealous of these science blogs? Are you convinced of the benefits of running your science blog?

Would you like to have your own science blog but don’t know where to start? We offer you 3 options:

  1. Check our Resources for Digital Scientists page to find all you need to get started in science blogging.
  2. Register to our newsletter and have access to 6 videos that teach you How To Create A Own Science Blog, covering
  3. Hire me and let me set up a science blog for you (or even more)

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  • Registering a domain name for your science blog.
  • How to install WordPress.
  • Writing your first blog post.
  • Editing the home page of your science blog.
  • Installing themes to change the visual layout of your blog.
  • How to add extra functions to your blog with plugins.

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About Julio Peironcely

Julio Peironcely, PhD is the founder of Next Scientist and a PhD by Leiden University. He helps PhD students to stay motivated, be more productive and finish their PhDs. Follow him on Twitter (@peyron) or read more from him on JulioPeironcely.com.

Comments

  1. Tri L. ASTRAATMADJA says:

    I run two blogs: my own personal blog and a popular science blog. The latter is aimed at the general public and is managed together with other colleagues. We take turns in writing popular science, trying to explain some of our research in layman’s term. So far the public’s response has been good and their appreciations give us perseverance to go on through the worst phase of our PhD research. I think running a popular blog is good for a PhD student, and if you can’t do it yourself try doing it together with friends.

    • A popular science blog is a great way to get people excited about science. It is probably the most successful combination of science and blogs.
      Indeed writing your research for a general audience is a good exercise. It forces you to put yourself in the place of your audience and adapt your speech accordingly. You are going to do the same when giving oral presentations. Also learning to communicate the essence of your research and also the applications (this is mainly what general public wants to hear) reminds you why you are doing this PhD.
      Cheers,
      Julio

  2. During my PhD, I created a temporary science blog. I had difficulties with some supervisors and many works to do. It was hard to keep on working sometimes. I needed to speak but no one can really understand each phd student. I mean, each phd is different, and you’re half-student, half-leader project… It’s difficult to specify his position in his own phd.

    So, writing this blog ws like a therapy for me, I wrote my thesis subject, my difficulties and my problems with my supervisors. It gave me clues and helped me to write my thesis. Yes, it’s really like a therapy !

    Now, I submitted my thesis and I really think that it avoided me quitting my PhD too. I deleted this blog after my PhD because it had only a private objective, but it was a very good way for me to hang on my research !

    I hope my english is comprehensible, not my native language ;)

    • That’s a great example of using a blog to keep your mind healthy. A private blog is an option also for those that use sensitive data or if their bosses don’t want them to be so open. 
      Thanks for sharing your experience!!

  3. Maximilianh says:

    I think blogging takes too much time. I’d rather spend the time on programming.

    • Wouldn’t you find useful to show in a blog what you can program? It could be one of the multiple ways to establish yourself as an expert.
      I have also seen some programmers using a blog as a tutorial or beginners guide to their programs. Basically people developing open source software, which usually lacks good documentation.

  4. Thegradstudentway says:

    Great Blog. I started my own as well to help get me through grad school: thegradstudentway.com/blog. Glad to know that there are others out there like me that need to vent frustration.

  5. I wish I’d started a science blog at the start of my PhD. I know it would be invaluable for me now. I’m just lucky that I started Lit Review HQ when I did. There’s something about writing when you are actually going through something that you can’t re-create after the event. I had a similar experience to you, writing my blog kept me sane during my PhD write up and now it’s there for other people to learn from.

    Science is ultimately about communication. It may not be the most important part (maybe it is?) but if you can’t communicate your science to others in writing then you cannot be a profesional scientist. I think a science blog is a great way to learn how to communicate your work to others.

    • I mainly used the blog to stay sane, to reflect on what I was learning so I wouldn’t quit. 
      Later on I used it every now and then to talk about the contents of my research. The goal was a bit of outreach and SEO, this is, I wanted Google to return my website when people would search for words related to my field of research.  

  6. I decided to start writing a blog the day I started my Ph.D. (I still read that first post every once in a while). I knew I would need some kind of motivation to keep going, and I knew I would need some kind of practice when it came to writing.

    It’s not really a science blog (in fact, the earliest days were dedicated more to my cooking adventures than anything else!). My peers have scared me away from discussing current, unpublished research – fear of getting scooped and such.

    However, I’ve made a rule for myself where I’ll freely discuss the research I’ve done *after* it has been published. Once I have a bulk of papers behind me,  I can use future blog entries to reflect on those publications – things I did, things I tried, things I learned, both technically speaking and in “soft” skills. In fact, in my online CV, I’ve started linking the shallow bulleted items in the CV to blog posts that talk about them, giving an extra dimension of reflection to my work.

  7. Leif Halvorsen says:

    The link ‘How To Create A Science Blog’ is broken. 404 File not found.

Trackbacks

  1. […] An article from NextScientist on how writing saved one grad student’s PhD. […]

  2. […] Drew Conway recently posted a handy list of ten reasons why every graduate student should blog and other scientists have supported the notion that keeping a blog may be the secret to launching a successful career, […]

  3. […] How Writing A Science Blog Saved my PhD (Next Scientist) A young scientist shares his grad school experiences and explains how blogging helped him to not give up on his PhD. […]

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