Monday, December 15, 2008

The dangers of blogging.

An amusing exchange on scienceblogs has been used here as an example of the dangers of blogging about a job search. In summary, a few months ago commenter Are sent an email enquiry relating to her concerns about the scheduling of a informal "tailgate party" during a faculty visit, and some interesting debate ensued with IMO some valid points on both sides of the "grow up and learn to cope with normal social environments" vs "sounds like it might be a hostile climate, especially for women" argument. It seemed pretty reasonable to me, so I was surprised to see just recently a rather hostile comment from someone identifying themselves as the search chair, having a go at the applicant. Sciencewoman had lifted their comment out of the previous thread and featured it as new post, so I went back and checked...and found this gem from Are immediately preceding it! Suddenly the chair doesn't sound so bad, and just in case there was any room for doubt, Are sticks her foot in it over and over again with a sequence of hostile and bizarre comments down the ensuing comments thread (exhibit 1, 2).

So does this mean that people should not talk about their experiences during job searches? Actually the message seems rather more general to me. It is not an example of the risks of blogging a job search so much as the risk of blogging under the cover of anonymity - or rather, the presumption of anonymity. It provides a prime illustration of one of the main reasons why I don't blog anonymously - I would much rather write in the knowledge that anyone might read this, and choose my words appropriately for a public discussion, than sound off under the presumption of anonymity and then suffer the embarrassment of being uncovered. I do accept that some people may have good reasons for blogging anonymously, but am somewhat concerned that it appears to be predominantly female bloggers who feel the need for this cover (perhaps my perception on this is skewed, so if anyone has some hard numbers they would be welcome). But anonymous or not, it is always necessary to consider how people might react when they read what I write, and in fact if I blogged anonymously I would probably have to conceal more (to protect my identity) than I do knowing that I'm out in the open. Even though the typical institute atmosphere is perhaps slightly more "corporate" than a university setting, we are still officially encouraged to present our work to the public and I would not be comfortable working somewhere I was not expected to offer my opinions in public. In principle, many big scientific meetings are open to the public - at least on payment of a fee, and sometimes journalists also attend.

Getting back to the topic of job searches, it seems to me that the main reason for keeping quiet would not be related to offending the potential new employers, but rather so as to not alert the current one, especially if the blogger in a vulnerable position. (Of course if the current position was a term-limited post-doc with no chance of extension that would not apply.) The only time that have I told a boss I was planning on leaving (and why) before actually having a new job lined up, his response was to ask for jules' CV in order to see if he could find a suitable position for her...


Mike Tocci said...

That was an interesting read, I have to agree that the applicant comes off looking pretty childish.

I went to grad school at a large state university in the South, and the thing that I found strange about her complaints is that very few professors in any science/engineering department are from the South. Usually there's a few older professors who might be characterized as "good ole boys", but the younger professors are typically from all over the world. And I've never met any professor who would look down on you if you didn't drink a beer at at a social event. Why even worry about that?

EliRabett said...

Given what went on over there Eli suspects the same person was on both sides of the unpleasantness.