How Ph.D Students Can Blog for Success

My girlfriend and one of my best friends are Ph.D students, bless their hearts. I’ve proofread their papers (bless my heart ;)) and seen them read until they’re cross-eyed. It isn’t easy being a Ph.D student, but it is easy to become so focused on present classes and research that thinking of finding a job in 4 (or 5, or 6, or 10?) years isn’t a top priority. Luckily, there are easy steps one can take to start networking and building buzz around yourself as a scholar and also your areas of research.

Based on my posts of the past couple days on helping seminarians thrive in the post-seminary world, and especially as a natural jumping off point from my post yesterday with tips on setting up a personal website and blog, I wanted to make a post for anyone who is or is trying to become a Ph.D student. Honestly, I feel for you. From the never-ending application process, to the never-ending stack of reading and writing that needs to get done, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy to suggest having to write one more thing. But in the midst of all that work, there are a couple things you are short on: time and being published.

Fear not! I have tips on how you can use a personal website and blog to boost your career, save time, and maybe even help get you published. Here’s my definitive list to help Ph.D students blog for success. Here we go:

  1. Set up a personal website/blog that will be low maintenance. As I said in my post yesterday, there’s a lot to take into consideration when setting up a personal website and blog, but you probably don’t have time to mess with that. I swear I’m not being paid by them (even though this is my 3rd endorsement in as many days), but you should check out WordPress. It’s free, easy, and after minimal setup you can post in one click.
  2. Create an “about me” page. The purpose of your site is to do two things well: share your expertise in your area of research and get people interested in you as a scholar and as a person. That’s why your “about me” page is so important, because those who visit your site based on your blog posts will often want to know more about you as a person. Visitors will click on your About page, trust me! This is your opportunity to put your best face forward and give professors, other students, and potential employers even more of a reason to become interested in your work. Be real and creative about sharing who you are, but remember that you want to leave whoever visits your site with a certain impression of who you are. What’s your thesis about who you are as a scholar and a person? After you create your page (your favorite photos of yourself and of you teaching would be great here!), ask someone who knows you well to tell you how accurately your personal thesis you put forward on the About page represents who you are in real life.
  3. Create a page for each school you’ve attended. This section is designed to feel like an interactive resume/CV, where you can list your academic accomplishments, awards, and extra-curricular activities at each school (again, photos of you receiving an award, for example, would be great here). This is important not only from a content standpoint, but also from a Search Engine standpoint. Early on in each respective page, you want to write a phrase like “Adam Bowers Princeton” so that if anyone does a Google search for you and your school, there’s a good chance your blog will appear higher in the results. The fancy term for this is Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, and while there’s no guarantees, putting exact phrases you think people will search for relating to you and your work will definitely improve your chances of being seen.
  4. Create a page for papers published/conferences attended. Early on, this might not have a ton of content, but that’s okay, part of your job throughout your program is to fill it with as much as you can. Provide links to the website associated with a conference so that scholars can easily see what the conference was like if they weren’t immediately familiar with it. And of course if you’ve been published, fantastic! Good for you! You should provide two links here: one should point to your article on the publisher’s online journal, so that someone looking into your work can see it in its original context, but you should also include a link to the paper as a direct .pdf download. Why? Depending on where the scholar is and what journals their institution has subscribed to, they may or may not be able to access the full text if hosted in a pay-to-view journal site. You want to make it easy for people to access your work, but also to direct them to the original journal so they can see how your work converses with others in the same issue. Having your paper titles as keywords will also help if someone is searching for your exact article, according to SEO principles I mentioned above.
  5. Blog about your current research and papers you’re writing/have written. Bet you were wondering when the actual blog piece fit in. Of course, you could blog about anything related to your work as a student and other areas of interest, as long as you remained focused on that particular area. You’ll keep people coming back again and again by creating a trust with them that your blog with feature certain topics. But in terms of getting published, it would be a great idea to write a blog post with the title of a paper you’re either working on or just finished, along with a brief synopsis of the paper. How can this help you get published? Google, Google, Google! As other scholars are doing research, they type in pretty exact phrases to get the sort of results they need. My girlfriend did a search for Pseudo-Dionysius and Ibn ‘Arabi last semester. Pretty specific stuff! If you had that phrase somewhere in a title or in the synopsis section of your paper, there’s a good chance she would have found your blog and have seen that you share similar research interests. You never know how these connections may benefit you in the future, especially if you get noticed by a scholar who just happens to be the editor of that publication you’ve been dying to get your work in. As you develop your blog (and I would say, add a Twitter account and Facebook page as well!) you’ll begin to be appreciated for your expertise in your subject area. Plus you get to hone your writing and communication skills, always a good plan for a Ph.D student. But it won’t really take you much time, because you’re already working on the paper, so a short synopsis shouldn’t be difficult. And if you’re anything like the Ph.D students I know, you’re so passionate about your research area that you could talk all day and all night about it if someone let you. Why not turn that passion into scholarly capital that one day might seriously work in your favor?
I think I’ll stop there before I’m accused of being long-winded by the folk who know best ;). Please share your own blogging success tips for students at any level in the comments below. If you like what you see, subscribe and follow me on twitter. Thanks!