In the last week or so I’ve been reading some blog posts that were written in the aftermath of the Science Online conference that just took place in the US last week. Lots of interesting topics were covered all centred around the themes of science communication, research and the web, and the state of the blogosphere. One particular panel session has gathered a number of interesting blog posts – it was called “Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name”, led by Sheril Kirschenbaum, Anne Jefferson, Joanne Manaster, Maryn McKenna and Kathryn Clancy. You can read some good coverage here, here and here.
The panelists and participants discussed some of the problems that women face when they have a public web presence, like this one. They open themselves up to criticism that can feel gendered or sexist on their blogs, and may have their commitment to hard science questioned in their jobs. One interesting comment that all the posts discussing this panel have highlighted, is that women bloggers do less self-promotion than men.
I sometimes get requests to retweet posts, and I usually oblige – but it’s true that I’ve only ever had such requests from men. I’ve never asked anyone specifically to retweet or promote any of my posts either. Commenting is another thing: this blog doesn’t get a large number of comments on the whole, but when I checked, I found very few (single digits!) comments by women that I didn’t have some sort of strong real-life connection with already. That’s a little odd. I suppose to judge the significance of that, I should know the gender ratio of the people who actually read this blog. Can you tell me?
[Note: I'll keep the poll open until 10 pm on Friday 4 Feb - in case you need time to think about it.]
As for negative experiences online, I’ve had plenty more offline! When I started writing a blog, I didn’t explicitly mention my full name but didn’t choose a pseudonym either. I mainly kept my new hobby quiet because I didn’t know whether I myself would enjoy it, and yes, I suppose I was a little worried what my colleagues would think. I’ve been surprised at how great the feedback has actually been, from my peers as well as more senior scientists. I’m much better informed than I ever was before I started writing online, both on the latest research and on astro-politics.
In fact, my online life has increasingly filtered into my day job. In the last 18 months or so, I’ve become involved in a number of projects with people that I know through my online presence – the awesome dotAstronomy conference for example, and more recently the Milky Way Project, which is proving to be a fertile hunting ground for new science and new collaborators.
So while I didn’t set out to write this blog as a way of meeting new people or getting involved in new projects – I merely wanted to do some writing, which I’ve always enjoyed – it has turned out that way, and that’s been an unexpected gift.
The posts that I’ve read about the panel have highlighted the importance of women mentoring other women through their blogs, and supporting each other in difficult and male-dominated careers. I don’t often write about my personal experiences, my feelings (apart from the odd angry rant), my day to day work, or my colleagues. That’s a very conscious choice. There are things that upset me in my job, things that make me angry, and people I’d like to punch. Some of sources of anger may well be related to my gender, some not. In person I’m very (very!) candid about those things, preferably over a glass of wine – just not online.
Does that mean I’m not being enough of a mentor to more junior scientists who could be reading this? I really hope not, but I suppose it’s a possibility. Just to be clear: if anyone (M/F) reading this blog ever wants my advice on anything from wallpaper colours to what telescope to use, please do get in touch?