I’m entering the third year of my bachelors degree in Media Arts, and it’s been a big one. This year, I figured out what I'm writing my dissertation about. I finally identified how all of my research interests fit together and pinpointed the specific question I'm trying to answer (after a few breakdowns). I persuaded myself that this project matters and actually makes sense. I tackled a mountain of reading in order to situate my project in the existing literature. I drank coffee. I poured over dozens of archival databases, library finding aids and bibliographies to identify the relevant sources. I came up with a catchy working title. I developed a detailed chapter outline. I wrote a grant proposal. I drafted the prospectus. I drank a lot more coffee. And I felt like I had accomplished something.
And then I realized I forgot to tackle one important question:
Should I be blogging this process?
I’d always anticipated that once I made it through the magnitudes of coursework, I would decide whether or not to commit myself to documenting my dissertation project online. I’d assumed that because my schedule would be a bit less structured, I might finally have the energy to transition from the sleepy Instagram-er I usually am whilst in the midst of modules to a more substantial hub for my ideas and questions. But the final weeks of this academic year are drawing near, and I still haven’t figured out the answer.
I’ve been making a mental list of pros and cons. To be honest, on the one hand, sharing my research with the internet feels a bit unnecessary. Not because I’m afraid of getting scooped (though of course that would be awful, I’m crossing my fingers that it’s more an urban legend than an actual hazard), but rather because I’m apprehensive about drawing conclusions and making arguments in public, before I’m absolutely certain about what I want to say.
I also worry about the scheduling commitment necessary for this sort of online blog. Now that I’m confronting it up-close, I can see how time-intensive the dissertation process really is. Adding in the task of maintaining a research blog seems like it could be a bit exhausting. And how do bloggers navigate property restrictions when sharing archival photographs, scans, and data? These questions have all been whirring around in my head as I try to figure out whether I should blog about my dissertation research.
But on the other hand, while my project is not a “digital dissertation,” I can think of a handful of potential benefits of maintaining a research blog. First of all, thinking about how to communicate my research findings from the very beginning of the process would help me to articulate my questions and arguments more cogently. And knowing that I’m sharing my research with a public audience (“thinking out loud”) might help me to remain motivated and productive. Writing on a regular basis might help me to just plain keep writing. Additionally, writing and thinking in public might help me to overcome the nervousness that accompanies sharing one’s research. It might help me to discover and network with people who are working on related topics, and to better connect my project to current scholarship. And finally, it might be nice to have a sort of archive that allows me to chart how my project evolves over time.
So, to no one’s surprise, it seems that there are potential risks and benefits here. I’ve been combing the internet in search of an answer, reading every blog entry and advice column I can find about why you may choose to blog or not to blog about your dissertation research. But I thought it might be helpful for those other graduate students out there wrestling with this decision to just ask the readers here.