A few weeks ago, I sat in my advisor’s office talking about this current semester and about the woes I was having about classes (which, fortunately, have all worked out now.) We eventually got onto the subject about blogging and I had mentioned to her a few of the people I managed to have discussions with or read about through blogging and how I think it was a really great thing and that it was something that I felt expanded my knowledge of primatology tenfold. Unlike a lot of my peers in the same class, I was often giving the most recent information in the field in some examples–sometimes even information that came out just hours previous to the class meeting on the day of the class.
Yet, despite all of the positive things I could list that came from being able to have this blog, all my advisor did was express she did not read any of the blogs, some questioning over my status as an undergraduate and mentioned that sometimes, it wasn’t appropriate–although, there were some examples of good blogs such as John Hawks Weblog. (Who was partially the inspiration for this.) All in all, I’d say I was frightened for the result–but not surprised and even thankful I didn’t get chided as if I were a naughty child in the cookie jar before dinnertime.
When I read Dr. Kate Clancy’s article over at Context and Variation on the subject as women sciencebloggers under their own name, I began to think about my own background. Certainly, I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’ve experienced a lot of she has felt; and I only use my first name sometimes while preferring to keep my real name hidden. But, I would say that it definitely made me think about my experiences as an undergraduate female blogger: why I did it and why I want to keep doing it, even if it has some potential negative consequences.
Bold, Ambitious, and Paranoid.
It was perhaps naive (I think I took the “Be bold. Be ambitious. Be a little bit of a bitch.” advice to heart before I even knew that I should be doing it), but I wasn’t sheepish about telling my advisor I had a blog; I came right out with it for a lot of reasons, though I never told her the address of it or the name for reasons I perceived to be apathy. One, I wanted to test the waters for professional reasons–is it wise for an undergraduate to even attempt blogging? Clearly, I don’t have a lot of credentials to my name other than I’m doing my best to try and learn about the subject from someone more educated. But, after taking a course where blogging was one of the methods of receiving a grade, I was a little more comfortable with this idea. Still, there are plenty of times where I feel sheepish about writing some posts because–well, what if I don’t have the credibility to be saying some of these things? what if I have someone with more credibility suggest that I obviously had no idea what I was talking about and that I’d be “academically blacklisted” or something of the like in my mind. And, for someone that potentially wants to get even more education in the subject–that has some scary ramifications.
The second reason I told her was because, while primatology is a female-friendly science; at the time when I first started this blog, the first few blogs I found on the subject (or the more popular ones, I should say) were The Prancing Papio and The Primate Diaries; both of which are run by male bloggers. Initially, I tried to blog gender neutrally because I had every intention of being taken seriously and well–when you see that two of the more famous primatology bloggers are male, perhaps it was better to hide your gender. That, and for privacy reasons related to being an undergraduate–aside from wanting to have some anonymity in case some professor I wanted to work with disapproved–what if my advisor disapproved? If she did, would she write about it in any letters of recommendation or any of the like? Would I be cast out of her good graces? I had a lot of paranoid thoughts.
But then, I thought about it and realized I wanted to stand out as a female undergraduate who was really passionate in the subject and could articulate information on the subject effectively so that both primatologists and people not necessarily trained could understand what I was trying to convey because I knew it would be an essential tool later on in my future career–no matter where or what I do.
And the third point as to why I told her, like suggested above, was for professional development reasons. Initially, I also had every intention of using this to one day stand out from the rest of the pack in my graduate school applications. I wanted to use this as proof that I wanted to go into primatology; not because of all teh ky00t orangutans and animaws that I can watch and play with all day!!1 or something to that effect. If you get to watch orangutans–great! But I’m not here doing this for the cutesy factor some perceive women to be doing in primatology (which is incredibly patronizing.) I’m here doing this because I think primatology is critical to understanding ourselves as an animal species, and, equally as critical to maintaining our own survivability as what affects other primates will likely affect us (re: environmental health, global warming, climate change, etc.)
I’d also be lying if I didn’t have the idea that I wanted to see what other scientists were doing because maybe, just maybe, I’d find someone doing something just that one thing that might be what I want to do and maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to form a connection with them and make myself a more appealing candidate in terms of as a future graduate student, a volunteer for research projects, or whatever else. I know I have a relatively good background for someone in my field at this point in academic status–I’ve got a rock star advisor, rock star graduate student mentor, experience in research in both captivity and field, leadership experience in a professional organization, and I’ve had enough classes that I’ve been told I’ve maximized all the primate-relevant courses available at my university. From this, I can put into practice and show what I’ve learned from these classes and further tell others why I’d make a great candidate to be their graduate student.
I pay a lot of attention to what the Ph.D.s and graduate students have to say on their blogs because I know what will affect them will, in turn, affect me–if not now, then later down the road. I pay attention to a lot of individuals who aren’t in my direct field (Anthropology) because I know that some of the issues they face will probably be what I will experience one day too, if I decide to go into academia (which, ultimately, is what I’d like despite knowing it’s over-saturated.)
But, until then, I’m still an undergraduate and I know my place: to learn, to build a starting resume, and build some relationships; all of which I can do with blogging. I know I’ve got a lot to learn, but I think doing this can help me learn those things faster and more effectively.