It’s been a crazy couple of days here at SMDS HQ. My post, “The Chronicle of Higher Education Owes Readers an Apology” has gone pseudo-viral, reaching people from Switzerland and Bangladesh to Colombia and Singapore.
A blog that usually gets a visit from about twenty people in a day saw almost 2,500 readers yesterday alone. In fact, my traffic yesterday was almost double the traffic I’ve received in the three months since I started SDMS.
I promise I’m not writing this post just to brag about my stats—though I will admit to enjoying that part immensely. I’m writing because this experience uncovered still MORE reasons why every graduate student should be writing in a public forum.
In my first post on this subject, “The Benefits of Blogging in Graduate School,” I outlined three reasons to take on public writing, scary though it may be:
- The more you write, the more you write. My productivity’s gone through the roof since I started a daily writing practice. Blogging first thing in the morning puts me in a creative space that helps me transition into an academic space more easily.
- Blogging = overwhelm reduction. When I’m feeling anxious about an application essay or dissertation work, I remind myself that I’ve churned out close to fifty thousand words in the past three months… in my free time. I am a writing machine. Writing machines aren’t afraid of a 1,200 word dissertation summary.
- Leveling up on speed and clarity. I set a timer when I write blog posts. The vast majority of the posts on this site have been generated in under an hour (obviously the Chronicle of Higher Ed piece, and a few other posts like it, took much longer to compose). The timer means that—if I want a post to go up that day—I’m going to have to get it right the first time. My content needs to be reader-friendly and stupid mistake free, and it needs to get there quickly. (PS: When you see mistakes in my posts, please tell me. I will love you for it.) The skill set I’m building while blogging is helping me to become a better, more accessible historian. The academy may value pedantry, but I really don’t.
Reflecting on the past couple of days, I have two more reasons to add to that list.
- Self-Confidence. If you’d told me this time four years ago that I was going to write anything that publicly criticized The Chronicle of Higher Education, my reply would have been something along the lines of “Yeah I will… after I get tenure.” My friends will be the first to say that I’m not shy with my opinions, but I am still a pragmatist at heart. The plan was always to keep my head down, behave myself, and get through grad school without rocking the boat. The thing is, strong writing is born of authenticity, and I want the writing on this blog to be strong. As a result, I’ve found myself opening up, and speaking up, in a new and empowering way. And seriously, if calling out The Chronicle of Higher Ed for irresponsible and misogynist reporting is enough to keep a school from considering me for a job… I REALLY wouldn’t like working there.
I remember getting and tweeting about this issue of Ms. Magazine. But that was all I did.
- Perspective. One of the reasons I love graduate school is because it permits (and, indeed, encourages) navel-gazing. I have a lovely navel, and genuinely appreciate the opportunity to live in an environment that supports introspection, deep thinking, and the resulting quirks that make us academic-types so darned adorkable. I study advocacy, so social justice is never far from my mind (or my navel, if we’re going to extend the metaphor). That said—especially in an environment where almost everybody is motivated by principle x, concerned about issue y, and eager to talk to you about z—it’s easy to forget about taking concrete action. We’re so often reactive, and (out of necessity, or perceived necessity) leave the proactive work to somebody who’s not trying to write a dissertation.
I’ve always been concerned about campus sexual assault. I’ve made it a point to talk to my students (male and female) about staying safe when I know a big party’s on the horizon. I’ve tried to ensure students feel they can come to me for help if they need it.
I’ve consistently reacted to a campus culture I find abhorrent, and at the time I felt I was doing the best I could.
The truth, though, is that I’ve been reacting to the symptoms, but I’ve done nothing to address the disease. When I saw the cover of The Chronicle of Higher Education, I saw the disease, right there in front of me, in writing. Writing is my medium.
For days I tried to ignore it. It would be easier to let somebody else write about it… and I’d happily retweet them.
The thing is, when you have a blog, EVEN IF NOBODY’S READING WHAT YOU WRITE, you have a platform. That knowledge alone changes your perspective. I would have had to make a conscious choice not to speak up, because the opportunity was quite literally at my fingertips. I’m a (really) busy graduate student, but I’m also a global citizen, and I’m holding a megaphone.
I can’t write about everything—I tried, but ultimately couldn’t bring myself to write about Ferguson, for example—but I do have an obligation to speak up when I know I have something to say. I probably would have come to that conclusion without starting a blog, but SMDS sure helped.
Should I be embarrassed that I took a break from vertical-viewing “Dr. Who,” because I was too gutted by David Tennant’s exit to go on? I’ve been in mourning for like, a solid year now.
So there you have it folks. If I’ve not convinced you to enter the blogosphere at this point, I’m probably not going to. To the extent that I can, I’ll continue passing on the lessons I’m learning through this process, so you can blog vicariously through me.
Thank you so much to everybody reading SMDS. As I hope this post illustrates, your time is a gift I value immensely, and I am going to do my best to continue earning it.
“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.