So down at the bottom right of the ScienceBlogs mainpage (not that any of you EVER go there, no, you click straight through to Neurotopia first thing every morning with eyes shining in anticipation! Of course you do!), there's a little thing that says "Ask a Scienceblogger". The question most recently is "Why do you blog, and how does blogging help with your research?" Many of the other SBers have weighed in, and as usual, most of them express things a lot better than I do. You can see some good stuff from Janet, Drugmonkey, Laelaps, Chad, physioprof, Alice, Aardvarcheology, and Grrl. They are all different points of view, and all slightly different from mine. And yeah, I'm always ridiculously late on the bandwagon.
Being that blogging is a pretty recent phenomenon for me (my original WordPress site only started in May! Truly, I have come a long way), it's something that I actually think about relatively often. Why did I start this new "hobby" which involves literally hours of writing each week (I'm not very fast), even more reading, and tons of internet perusal to find what the newest stuff is on the blogs? Why am I not using this time to do things like:
1) work on my experiments
2) write my dissertation
5) do healthful things
(Please note that this is the typical rendition of a graduate student's life, wherein work and writing come before things like eating, sleeping, and living a decent lifestyle. Oh, and Stephanie, I had cake for breakfast. :))
Hell, looking at that list, why DO I do this??
I started a blog for various reasons. Since my current work is in physiology and pharmacology, but is also concentrated in neuroscience and psychiatry, my knowledge base is generally pretty broad. I like that, I'm a Rennaissance woman, and love knowing copious amounts of relatively useless (or useful) material.
Even in my first year of grad school, my friends and family started asking me questions. "What is addiction?" "How does diabetes work?" "How does cocaine work?' These were only a few of the questions I got asked. At first, trying to answer these questions was hard. I'd start talking science-speak, and people's eyes would glaze over a little. I began to realize (and even be shocked by) how much of general biomedicine people didn't seem to know. So I became really interested in trying to communicate this stuff in a way people would understand. And more than that, I wanted to communicate it in a way that would get people interested.
Science is hard. They use that phrase "it doesn't take a rocket scientist" for a reason. But just because it's hard doesn't mean it's beyond anyone. Most of understanding modern scientific findings is just a grasp of the background material. And the background material is out there. Unfortunately, the background material is out there and written in such a way as to make a dentist visit more exciting.
For those out there not excited about science, I feel you. I wasn't. Even up through my junior year of college I wasn't. I would sit there in my biology and chemistry classes and yawn. It was just a series of stuff I had to memorize and spit out on the test. What I looked forward to were my Philosophy classes, where you'd go off on obscure aspects of language and logic and ethics. If you've ever seen Harry Potter, and seen Hermione shoot her hand up in class, you have an idea of what my presence was like in my Philosophy classes. But my science classes, I slumped through.
It wasn't until I found two professors, one in Biology, and another one in Physics, who really blew me away. They had both been teaching for well over 10 years, but they still had the spark. They loved doing experiments in front of the class to show how things worked. You could see them just light up when someone asked a really good question. They loved science, and they loved teaching. It had a profound effect on me. From then on, I wanted to teach. And for the first time, I began to see what was so exciting about science.
Another step came in my second year of grad school. I was excited about the work I was doing, and I was excited about what I was learning in class. But reading the papers from other labs was something I slogged through with all the determination of something shoveling out a pig pit. A paper would sometimes take me an entire day to understand, puzzling out each sentance of the science-speak and writing down in normal English. But over my second year, reading suddenly got easier. This was because I suddenly had all the background knowledge from my years of courses at my beck and call. I knew what the methods meant. I knew which brain areas they were talking about. Suddenly, I found myself reading papers and thinking "this is SO COOL!"
Now I'm excited about science. I want to communicate it to everyone. I want people to know that this stuff isn't so frightening. I want them to feel the same "whoa" factor I get every time I really consider what is going on inside a single neuron, let alone the entire brain. And I'd for you all to feel the same curiosity when you finish reading a post. Sure, they found one thing, but how many other questions does that raise?
I also want to educate people, and hone some of my teaching skills (or at least my written communication skills). And the more you know, the less likely to you are to give in to some of the crazy shit out there. Once you know how addiction really works, you might be less likely to think of it as a "moral issue". Once you know how psychiatric diseases work, you might seek help instead of just trying to get over it. And once you know how drugs REALLY work and what they really do, maybe that line of cocaine your friend is offering won't be so appealing.
I also use this blog as a way to keep ME excited about science, all of science, not just my tiny little corner of biomedicine. Sure, we're encouraged to "read outside our field", but really, you could get through an entire grad school experience having only read what you need to survive. I feel that the wide reading I do for my blog opens me up to new possibilities, and makes me think of new things when I'm planning experiments. The feedback I get on some of my posts makes me think about the theories that are prevalent in my field. This blog has made me more confident about what I know, as well as making very clear what I don't, and forcing me to find it out.
So this blog has been good for me. It's also given me a support network. Science can be a dog-eat-dog world. You become very afraid to say anything you are not 100% sure is correct, and you never say ANYTHING without a citation. You often become afraid to admit you do anything outside of science, because no one else seems to, and "any hour not spent in the lab is a day without a PhD". I love the science bloggers I've met through my blog, they are interesting and fun, and many of them give wonderful personal and professional advice on how to survive and thrive in science. They are people I want to be like, successful scientists with lives outside the lab, and people who have made respected careers in science entirely away from the bench.
Oh, and I'm a HUGE fame whore. There's that aspect of blogging, too.