Want an academic job? Hold your tongue.

At our house last night we had a Hanukkah party with a mix of friends and co-workers.  We had a dozen kids over and they loved lighting menorahs and playing dreidel for chocolate hanukkah gelt.  I got joy watching kids who have never done this before having a blast too.

In the midst of the latkes and blintzes, I overheard a conversation about blogging that –while it may not have surprised my seasoned interweb colleagues– shocked me a little.   A senior scientist mentioned googling a potential faculty recruit and found the person’s blog describing the trials and tribulations of a life in science.  The faculty member said the blog, while it was to be commended for its forthright tone, was so informal and laced with profanity that the professor could not help but hold the blog against the potential faculty member.  A second senior scientist nodded in agreement.  It was the consensus that aspiring young scientists should steer clear of such activities.

“Wow, that blog sounds like any one of a number of people I know,” I thought.  Over the past year, I have made friends with a friendly group of scientist-bloggers whom I have grown to admire for their passionate activism.  The comments of my interwebophobic colleagues sent a chill down my spine.  Real negative consequences of speaking one’s mind on a personal blog.  Yikes.  Of course, people get in trouble for what they say on the internet/twitter..but yes, I am just coming to the realization that there are consequences within the science community for saying things about that community.  Community, hm.

To my pseudonymous colleagues, this is old news.  This story  only provides the “derp” for why one should take care with one’s identity while blogging/tweeting. I wanted to bring this up here for young folks starting out so they do not have any illusions about how the world may or may not be changing in terms of online communication.  If you don’t have tenure yet, use a pseudonym.


And I’d also like to express disappointment and frustration with my old guard colleagues who saw zero problem discriminating against a faculty recruit on the basis of their personal thoughts and the tone in which they were expressed.  That’s sad.  Maybe if the blog revealed attitudes and ideas that were at odd’s with the mission of the university, OK.  Criminal activity, sure.  But filtering out faculty members for speaking their mind about the process of science seems like a stupid old guard thing to do and against the principles of the academy.

I have tenure and still feel pressure to shut my mouth.  I’m not going to because in my naive brain, the whole point of tenure is having the freedom to say what I like.  We are losing valuable insights by muzzling people before tenure.


“Like the Federalist Papers don’t count because ‘Publius’ wrote them?”  – my mom on people who don’t take psueds seriously.

27 thoughts on “Want an academic job? Hold your tongue.

  1. Your mom is awesome. This is good information to know. When I started my (currently neglected) blog I gave myself strict guidelines for post topics so I wouldn’t be tempted to spout off and potentially look bad to faculty who could find out who I am. With my bloggy exploits at EB this spring, I have indeed been de-pseuded which is disconcerting at times. I spout off on twitter about many things, including the process of science, but excluding any troubles I may have that involve other people (except my son. Ugh.). I’ve wondered if I should start another pseud account to protect myself but haven’t take the plunge. Something to think about. Thanks for the post.

  2. Surely in academia you are judged hugely on your publications? Aren’t blogs are another form of publishing? Also, it seems that it was the tone and language of the blog, rather than the content, that put off your colleagues. I’m playing devil’s advocate slightly here, I’d admit, but surely we all need to be aware that anything we write on the internet may be used to judge us (good or bad) in the future. After all, isn’t profile raising one of the reasons many blog?

    • Seems to me that the issue is *why* you blog. For example, if you’re blogging about science or doing outreach, then it’s understandable that it would be judged as any other professional activity. If your blog is personal, I think this is more problematic. That’s the gray area, though. If you talk about the workplace, when does it cross into the realm of being a professional activity?

      • To me, if you blog about your work, issues related to your work, or during work time, then it is represents you professionally. That doesn’t mean the blog should be considered part of your job, after all most of us write about our work for personal reasons.

        My blog (which I don’t write under a pseudonym or anonymously) covers topics related to my professional area, or my career experiences. I rarely, if ever, write about specifics of my current job, particularly as there are issues around commercial confidentiality/sensitivity.

        However, I understand that those reading my blog will make judgements on my professional character primarily. In fact, that is what I hope they will do.

        Re profanity and academia. In a professional context, I am put off by swearing, no matter who the person is, but I am beginning to appreciate the issues as outlined by Michael in his comment at 3.24pm. I think this was recently brought to the fore in the controversy around SciAm’s treatment of one of their bloggers, and some readers’ responses to the blogger’s “style”. Something to ponder…

  3. It bears repeating that being pseudonymous and anonymous are not the same things. The main reason to for me to be pseudonymous has been to keep my blog and scientific publications from being conflated in a Google search. It’s not a license, by any means, to say things you wouldn’t normally say.

    And I agree with katiesci. Your mom sounds like a cool lady.

  4. Hi
    This is indeed troubling. When I opened my blog, the whole idea was to share my knowledge, expertise and some other stuff I think are useful or just plain fun. Luckily, I’m not aiming at the TT race. Yet, I’m refraining from using inappropriate language while keeping my writing as professional as possible because people can be VERY judgemental!
    This is another issue that is rooted down in the current difficulties of getting a position let alone secure it! Science, and science making, should be discussed since this is the foundation for our future technological progress.

  5. “so informal and laced with profanity that the professor could not help but hold the blog against the potential faculty member.”

    The profanity here is key. I think a well reasoned, well thought out blog can be helpful, and will positively impact your chances as it can showcase your personality and worldview. However, profanity will count against you the same way that inappropriate pictures would count against you. As Katiesci pointed out above, it’s good to have a personal “code of conduct” that remains true to you and your values. If that includes using profanity, then that’s your decision, but you have to be aware of the consequences.

    • I have some sympathy for a no-profanity policy, but this touches on the issue of “tone” in discourse..which I have learned is often used as a way of manipulating discussants from different cultures. I agree professionalism is important. But isn’t there a forum where people should be able to speak their minds, in the way that they would like to?

  6. Could it be any more counter to the norms of science to judge a scientist on the basis of whether they use some motherfucken profanity?

  7. “The faculty member said the blog, while it was to be commended for its forthright tone, was so informal and laced with profanity that the professor could not help but hold the blog against the potential faculty member.”

    I’ll put even odds that these senior faculty can be heard swearing in their offices, labs, and at conferences.

  8. As a seasoned academic dealing with issues of hiring and tenure, the attitude about profanity, blogging criticism at the personal level is a red flag for me. If the potential faculty member is so public, what will it be like to work with them side by side. On the other hand, it is not a deal breaker for me. A few behind the scene phone calls through my network to gather more information as well as open and honest interview provides more pieces of information. The blog alone is only one indicator.

    In retrospect, my greater concern are colleagues who cover major problems about a candidate to get rid of them. Have had this happen twice with disastrous consequences. I certainly would prefer an open and honest blog to a deceitful colleague!!

    • Hi Keville! Interesting the tension between free discourse and professionalism. The lesson I have learned (perhaps obvious) is that one’s on-line activity, even with a pseudonym, is an extension of oneself and can have real and serious consequences professionally. The online world offers so much freedom and spontaneity, wonderful things–avenues for new ideas and voices..but with great power comes great responsibility. Communicating in this space requires an extra awareness of potential unintended effects.

      • Another perspective on this topic would be for the potential interviewee. Would it be a good fit for an academic who values free speech (sort of) in a place that makes decisions based on blog communication?

  9. What chaps my ass about this post is that you point out just how petty things can be in faculty searches.

    Throughout my career I have been accused of being arrogant, aloof, or “on the spectrum” because I do not engage in drinking, partying, or overstating my personal life with professional colleagues. This HAS cost me professionally.

    So now…apparently a person cannot even express their opinions without being punished. Great. That’s all we need, one more excuse that can be used to dismiss an applicant without even reading their CV first.

    Personally, I give my blogs and twitter handle on my CV, right after google scholar and ORCID ID. If a search committee uses this info to exclude me without due consideration, they can (to quote Kurt Vonnegut) go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut, in fact, they can go take a flying fuck at the moon.

  10. I’m kind of surprised that this story is a kind of revelation. It seems pretty obvious to me that a blog that is coarse in tone would be offputting to some search committee members.

    I am applying for other jobs on occasion. I wholly expect that my (albeit unseasoned) non-pseduonymous blog would be discovered and be part of the evaluation process. To think otherwise would be extraordinarily naive.

  11. Pingback: Pseudonymity and all the cuss words | minglingken

  12. Pingback: Are we revolutionaries?

  13. Pingback: Links 12/5/13 | Mike the Mad Biologist

  14. This post makes me incredibly nervous. I made my blog open from its start, early in my graduate career, because I love the transparency that is science. Especially where I work, in my home department, there’s an overwhelming sense of requirement (and benefit) to be honest, open, and collaborative. My blog is a way of demonstrating what I’m learning, a way for me to be an open, collaborative, real person; to draw those who may not yet be tenure track, post-docs, or even graduate students, and to show them that life as a female in a STEM academic career – even in a pre-tenure stage of my career – can still be fun, and is more fun than its a struggle. I think that’s important, because not everyone may have a great mentoring relationship.

    That being said, my blog often lacks depth and “seriousness,” focusing more on my training and racing, as it is more sports-related than science-driven. Part of that comes in with my readership (e.g., runner-community) and my Twitter followers. However, I think showing the “other” side of me (e.g., my extracurricular activities), as a post-doc starting her TT search, is worthwhile for those who are entering the realm of science/academic-focused careers because it shows that, as an academic that wants to be successful, you don’t have to be a whackadoo that always works and never plays. Then again, that brings on a whole slew of questions, like:
    “How do you measure success?”
    “What really IS the work-life balance?”
    “Why can’t I have it all?”
    …and those questions will totally hijack this post, so I’ll end here.

  15. Pingback: Conditionally Accepted | Please Blog Responsibly

  16. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I assumed this submit was good.
    I do not realize who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger for those who are not already.

  17. “Muzzling before tenure”? You ought to talk to students before graduating, to postgrads before getting their thesis passed, and maybe to the cleaners that look after your office. Where on earth is there a place where someone with power will not be hearing what he/she wants to hear rather than what people think? If there ever were brakes on progress, this is it. And … why would Publius not use his real name “back then”? Hm …

  18. I totally agree with you that many interesting opinions get lost because things like this happen. I find it really hard to understand why it is used against people if they want to publish their ideas on a broader platform.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s