I found an article that scares the hell out of me. In 2005, Inside Higher Ed posted “Too Much Information?”, which highlights the case of Daniel Drezner, (now an associate professor of international politics at Tufts University). In 2005, Professor Drezner was denied tenure at the University of Chicago; it is widely believed that blogging had something to do with his denial.
For those who have not read about me on the Design News Web site, I am an assistant professor (without tenure) in the Mechanical and Energy Engineering (MEE) Department at the University of North Texas (UNT). For almost 11 months, I have also maintained this blog, “I Have The Power!”, in which I report on alternative energy and related technologies. When I read articles about professors denied tenure for blogging, I shake in my boots.
Despite the inherent professional danger of blogging, I do not hide these posts from my peers and colleagues at UNT or in the engineering community. My Dean, Oscar Garcia, is fully aware that I spend time compiling the postings herein. In fact, he and I co-signed a contract that assures I use no university resources and spend no university time blogging. I adhere to these rules absolutely, only blogging using my home computer on my personal time; which explains why my posting rate dropped so dramatically when I took the faculty position.
Despite the long hours, I love being an engineering professor. Being empowered to mold the nation’s first mechanical and energy engineering program at a new engineering college is once-in-a-lifetime dream job. If blogging is so dangerous to continuing in the career I love, why expose myself to that risk?
Daniel Drezner outlines several excellent reasons for academics to blog in his post “Can academics be bloggers?” Note however that Professor Drezner teaches politics. I teach engineering. So, to his list of general blogging praises, I make the following specific discipline-specific addition.
Part of the job of an engineering professor is to raise research funding from industrial sponsors, collaborators, and partners. Blogging is free adverting targeted at precisely the people with whom I want to collaborate.
I am one person with very limited resources. I have no way to find small companies whose interests overlap mine, and it is almost impossible to get the juggernaut companies to pay attention to me. My energy blog is free advertisement for me. Engineers at companies with complimentary interests actually seek me out because they read my blog.
Since I started my job in June, I have tried to drum up industry partnerships through conventional techniques (personal networks, professional organizations, cold calling). I have had no success. On the other hand, the two companies I now count as collaborative partners (Kundel Magnetics and EVCO Mechanical) actually found me through my blog.
So, despite the potential dangers, my intention is to keep blogging because the benefits to my research, fundraising, recruitment, and self-promotion effort far outweigh the risks.
If you keep reading, I will keep writing. Maybe together we can reverse the academic stigma associated with blogging.