As an educator and academic, I am a reader of the Chronicle of Higher Education...it's a professionably viable thing to do, and they often have intriguing articles. Case in point: in the job section of this week's edition, they had an article written (anonymously) by a member of search committees called "Bloggers Need Not Apply."
The basic slant of this article was that whenever they've been able to dig up a blog of a job candidate, it has usually somehow worked against the potential hire. The article (as well as the author's searches) seems based on the assumption that the blog, in order to be anything other than a drawback, has to be an attempt to bring the author's scholarship to the masses. If it is not, the article argues, you should eliminate your blog from the ether.
There are a few really weird assumptions that result from this argument. First, one candidate's blog worked against him because it "revealed that the true passion of said blogger's life was not academe at all, but the minutiae of software systems, server hardware, and other tech exotica." The underlying assumption here is that in order to be an academic, your teaching and field of research have to pervade every mote of your being. To show that you have interests outside your work is to show that you are not a viable professional academic.
This of course means that academics is only for the totally obsessed among us...at least in this article's view of the world. I've got to wonder. My brother is an electrician, and a damn good one at that. Still, he has hobbies other than electricity, and he doesn't think of running wires every minute he's away from the job site. If he wrote a blog about his rabid love for music, would he be considered less of an elecrician? This example, incidentally, is not going to happen; not that he doesn't love music, but he's too much of a technophobe to have a blog.
Anyway, is being an academic really so far different from any other job that you cannot be good and it and have a life and outside interests? Personally, I've known a lot of academics who do nothing outside their research. They are not fun people. They can't hold a normal conversation, they're ill at ease with people, and they can't talk about research without (a) looking at the conversation as an excuse to dominate or argue with their position, (b) steal potential ideas from those with which they converse, or (c) use the talk as a tool to intellectually rank and compare their colleagues. Is this really the type of person that you want as a colleague?
When I was going after my MA, I was pretty much a school/work hermit, and I don't know if I did anything significant other than those two. When I started my PhD, I promised myself I would still have a life, I would converse, make friends. Guess what? I found that having some kind of existance outside of academics, rather than distracting from my work, actually allowed me a type of perspective and awareness that I could not get when thinking about scholarship was all I did. Knowing other parts of the real world allows academics to better relate their work to that real world...strange but true.
In many ways, many academics want to have their field dominate all existance...both within the university and without. I understand this...it's largely tied up with the struggle to stake out ground for your discipline in general and your research in particular. However, outside perspective, I would argue, is also something you might want.
Later in the article, another serious point came out, one that I feel the need to quote at length.
Part One: "it's best for job seekers to leave their personal lives mostly out of the interview process. It would never occur to the committee to ask what a candidate thinks about certain people's choice of fashion or body adornment, which countries we should invade, what should be done to drivers who refuse to get out of the passing lane, what constitutes a real man, or how the recovery process from one's childhood traumas is going. But since the applicant elaborated on many topics like those, we were all ears. And we were a little concerned. It's not our place to make the recommendation, but we agreed a little therapy (of the offline variety) might be in order."
Part Two: "More often that not, however, the blog was a negative, and job seekers need to eliminate as many negatives as possible. We all have quirks. In a traditional interview process, we try our best to stifle them, or keep them below the threshold of annoyance and distraction."
If the people writing the blogs have nutso politics, then yes, maybe they might not want to advertise that fact. But the idea that you should squeltch your personality entirely to do a successful interview? That I have problems with.
Why, as an interviewer, would you not want to get to know any of your interviewees and in fact encourage them to hide this stuff? On what basis then are you hiring? A CV/resume? Some candidates have a great cv and look good on paper but would make awful candidates as they have no character or social skill. The very strength of other candidates is exactly in how they work with others, how they would work with your students, how they would work with your department, and if these things are not matters of character and personality...the very thing the article recommends squeltching...what are they? I've been reading Kitchen Confidential, and Chef Bourdain argues (I'm paraphrasing here) that when hiring, character is the very thing you want to look for, as everything else can be taught but character cannot. I've also hired in my past, and Bourdain hits it on the head.
The artice continues: "Our blogger applicants came off reasonably well at the initial interview, but once we hung up the phone and called up their blogs, we got to know "the real them" -- better than we wanted, enough to conclude we didn't want to know more." Should I mention that I find the whole idea that reading a blog and assuming you now "know" the person is just slightly presumtuous?
This isn't the first time I've seen someone questioning the logic behind doing a blog, and although I don't fancy myself a blog apologist, I have had to answer the question "why do/would you do the blog thing?" Lotsa possible answers. For me, the first reason is that I needed to have an outlet for non-academic writing. Writing scholarship requires an ultimate intensity...I'm glad I do it, and I do enjoy the process and the results, but it isn't always what one would call "fun." The writing style that I apply to the blog is much different in form; it can be fun, breezy, light, artistic, needlessly caustic, or any other mood that fits my whim. It is an artistic outlet more than anything else, and having it lets me be a more confident writer in all areas, including academics.
Of course, there are other reasons...I have lotsa friends all over, and it's nice to be available in some sense to them. I like the idea of having a body of work that I created, that other people enjoy, without having to go through the "submit/reject" cycle.
I also have serious ideas as to what goes here and what does not. This is not an academic blog, so I do not chronicle my research. I think of myself as a professional educator, so I do not go into specifics on individual students. My job search (except in broad, general strokes) is off-limit because the decorum of such a quest demands it.
To take the approach that a blog is inherently a bad thing for jobseekers seems shortsighted and assumes a relatively narrow view both about what a blog is supposed to do and about appropriate potential employee behavior. Of course, if someone was to read this blog specifically and directly tell me "you are a crazy person and will never get hired unless you hide your insanity from the world at large," then I might consider differently...