I adore my job as an academic researcher. It is perfect for me and is arguably more productive and less wasteful than many other things I could be doing. Yet there is at least one problem for me, and it applies to other academics too: much of my effort, and that of my colleagues with whom I work, goes largely unnoticed. Or it would if I let it.
A good result from years of work is a handful of papers published in a scholarly journal. It pads the resume in just the right way to support promotion later. But how many people read those articles? How many cite them? If they’re policy relevant (as some of mine are), do they actually affect policy?
Good answers to these questions are “very few,” “hardly any,” and “not so much,” respectively. So why go to all the trouble (apart from promotion and justifying one’s paycheck)? What’s the point of toiling in obscurity if one doesn’t have to? Moreover, why try to make one’s work policy relevant, which is hard to do, if it never informs the policy debate? I see little point in it.
But I don’t have to settle for obscurity, and neither do other academics. Good old-fashioned self promotion can raise the profile of one’s work. But the good old-fashioned way of doing it is incredibly resource intensive (e.g. involving a lot of travel and giving of talks) and doesn’t always reach the right people (how many policy analysts attended the workshop on, say, nested logits you gave at last year’s research meeting?). Actually, a lot of these self promotion activities are being cut right out of research budgets: travel money is hard to come by. If you can’t fly to DC regularly it can be hard to plug into the policy debate.
Fortunately, the eyes of the readers one may wish to reach are glued to their computers most of the day. Getting an e-mail to them isn’t so hard. Having a blog-full of relevant content to direct them to is hard work, but doable. Moreover, it is doable gradually over time. Or, one can piggyback off existing blogs (The Health Care Blog accepts many guests posts; I would take some).
If one really has publications of relevance to the current policy debate blogging seems to be a good way to get them noticed. If one isn’t willing to do that I think it is worth asking, what’s the point of having published policy-relevant research?