Tuesday, December 30, 2008

About research blogging

This autumn there was a slight stir in the Norwegian blog arena, as the forskning.no, the web site associated with the Norwegian Research Council, started a blogg with invited guest bloggers. Jill criticised the style and approach, while I said "yes please, and can I bring some friends?" when I was approached and asked if I wanted to blog for them.

It's the "bring some friends" part I am the most happy about, and it's also starting to spread on the blog. At first we (Ragnhild Trondstad, Kristine Jørgensen and me) were the only ones who blogged under a common name - spillforskerne, "the game researchers." Now there are more groups popping up, such as the sports researchers and the welfare researchers.

At the beginning, the blogs were an odd mix of too long and too heavy articles which could just as well have been printed in a journal, and too light articles which looked like "sex-in-the-city-goes-to-university." Now, a few months into the project, most of the bloggers have learned. Today's blogger is a typical and very good example. He's the dean of the medical faculty in Trondheim, but just before Christmas he slipped on the ice, fell, and broke 4 ribs. This leads to reflection on his field - medicine. A personal experience combines with his expertise to a process of contemplation and reflection which leads to sharing with others.

While this is not exactly blogging about ongoing research, it definitely communicates research. He links to other people's research, he puts it into a larger context, and he personalises it through sharing his thought process. By doing this he also describes how integrated research and reflection is in the life of researchers. He opens up to the process. Instead of spending his time dwelling on his considerable pain, he searches for a distraction through his job. Most researchers recognize this feeling. It's why we work until we get repetitive stress injuries, until we burn out, or until we are numbed with pains from the neck to the butt.

Also, he answers the question "when do you get time to work?" We get time to work all the time. Most of the researchers who publish regularly, who search for new projects and are active in their fields display a deep and abiding interest in the field, and can work while having a conversation with their children, going for a walk, or reconvalescing after accidents.

Of course, this means that we never really get to work. When you have the job pulling at you constantly, you're also constantly interrupted. The child does not want to listen to your lecture, your partner needs to talk about his own things while walking, the painkillers takes away your ability to really focus. Not to mention the distractions during the work hours. Students, lectures, meetings, colleagues, phones, assessments, reviews, deadlines, budgets, equipment - where are the ivory towers when we need one?

All of this is very nicely displayed on forskning.no. The system used for blogging is still not the best, and the approval process is comparably slow. But it has a good balance between the personal and the professional, it presents the people behind the research, and it's the most popular page on an already quite popular website.

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