Growing up. Exactly one year ago, we got serious about blogging and started posting regularly on the EuroEPINOMICS blog. Since then, we have published 145 posts on various topics regarding epilepsy, genes and the life of a scientist. In this post, we just wanted to give you five good reasons why we keep on neuroblogging.
The history of this blog. At the kick-off meeting in 2011, we were asked by the EuroEPINOMICS project leaders to start a blog on epilepsy genetics and think about a social media strategy for the EuroEPINOMICS consortium. After the kick-off meeting for EuroEPINOMICS-RES in late 2011 and a Luxembourg meeting specifically dedicated to social media, we started posting two or three times a week in late April 2012. With 2-3 hours per post, blogging actually takes quite a bit of time. Some of our collaborators and colleagues repeatedly suggested that the time might be spent more wisely writing grants or correcting patient letters and were seriously concerned about our priorities. However, we managed to deliver our promise to start and maintain a regular blog and these are five reasons why.
1 – The cohesive force of a consortium
A research consortium is a funny beast. While they always sound good on paper, at least the European consortia that I have been involved with were intangible. They consist of a group of people who have received funding to do research together, but the path towards the final research goal, usually a publication, is long and winding. From the approval of funding to the acceptance of the first publication, several years can go by. This unavoidable translational gap makes it difficult to generate a consortium identity and a feeling of shared purpose. This is where I think a blog comes in that might serve as a kind glue for a consortium. Think of the EuroEPINOMICS successor without a blog. Wouldn’t you miss something?
2 – Learn to write.
Remember Mitt Romney? There’s not much that I remember about the 2012 US presidential elections except one little remark about Romney that I read in the New York Times. NYT described Romney during one day on the campaign trail, remarking casually on the side that he was typing commentaries for major newspaper columns on his Blackberry in his downtime on the plane or on the bus. I would assume that it took Romney decades of practice to get to this point. Collecting your thoughts, structuring them in a way that suits the style of a newspaper, get your Blackberry typing speed up to the point that you can actually write more than a brief SMS and finally, learning how to focus in order to finish the piece that you have started. Despite the gazillions of papers coming out every day, biomedical research is still relatively publication-barren. Manuscripts are an exception for us, not the rule. An average PhD student will spend years doing research prior to writing his or her first paper. I feel that blogging may provide a way to practice writing, to create scientific writing habits and to generate small building blocks that will help for future publications. We have decided to hold a EuroEPINOMICS writers’ workshop later this year and you can email us if you’re interested in being part of this (more to follow). With the publication of this post, we have also submitted our application for a 2013 social media budget.
3 – Read, conceptualize and post
“In fact, I recommend you do a blog if you’re not already — it’ll help solidify your thinking.” Leo Babauta on zenhabits
During my first semester in med school, I realized that I could learn anatomy much better if I explained it to somebody (one of my friends thought that I knew everything and I had to play along…). Ever since then, I have realized that merely reading a paper is different from presenting it in a journal club or writing a brief summary about it. You end up remembering more since you use different parts of your memory. Plus you end up reading more widely and doing tons of background reading.
4 – Work, Live, Play
“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” – Arnold Toynbee
When we first conceptualised this blog, we also wanted to include a section on Lifestyle. To most of us, however, lifestyle is not so much about the latest fashion or designer jewelry, but simply about the question how to combine work and family and to explore the grey zone between work and fun. In addition, we wanted to write about the motivations and disappointments of a scientist. We feel quite good about continuing this since we received several nice comments and replies on our posts. Science is non-linear and I feel that a blog is an interesting medium to present concepts in the making and aspects of science that would otherwise go unnoticed.
5 – The experiment continues
“The medium is the message” – Marsh McLuhan
Over the last year, we have learnt quite a bit about the do’s and don’ts of blogging. While you might think of blogging as a temporary phenomenon to promote a certain cause, I believe that we have discovered blogging as a new, different way to communicate scientific content. We have matured as bloggers and have made it to the 100-post-mark. We recently even managed to update our “about” page (usually the first thing a professional blogger does). The nice thing about the EuroEPINOMICS blog is that it’s aimless and without a vision. It develops without any agenda, it simply is. We do not aim to have as many readers as possible and don’t need to compromise our content because of this. Roland has held me back several times when I wanted to get too fancy regarding SEO and paid ads. Also, we don’t have any plans to grow this blog and sell it off. We simply blog, experiment with different concepts and see what happens. That’s hypothesis-free exploratory science in the tradition of GWAS and exome studies.