As I reach the end of my time in Ann Arbor, I’m doing a lot of restrospecting, so it was fortuitous that the Rackham blog team asked me to write about my experience of being a blogger. I started blogging in the fall of 2012, which means that I have been writing for almost 5 years now (and am the longest-serving member of the blog team!). Because 5 years is in some ways a very long time, I thought I would start this post by revisiting my application to become a Rackham blogger.
I didn’t remember all the details of the blogger application, but I did have a strong memory of writing about how I wasn’t going to toe any party lines. As I recall, I was extremely worried about being asked to present an entirely positive picture of the University of Michigan and my graduate student experience. A few choice sentences from my application show this quite clearly:
As Rackham blogger, I would not be willing to give a false impression of my experiences and those of my colleagues. My primary concern would be to be an accurate voice of (and window into) the graduate student experience.
This was significantly toned down and polished from what I initially wrote to my friend, when I was considering applying to be a blogger:
Me: so part of me thinks this blog thing would be cool
and part of me thinks this would be a big pain in the ass
like, i dont know how meddley rackham would be
and how much they would let me just write whatever the **** i want
I stand by my use of meddley (in place of meddlesome, in case that word wasn’t clear), but looking back, none of the rest of the sentiments that I had are particularly applicable. Rackham has gladly featured a wide range of potentially-controversial posts, written both by me and others. They have gladly given graduate students a platform to write about the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), even though the University’s bargaining team may be actively trying to remove benefits from us. Though I was concerned that the graduate school might not want to publicize the extent to which graduate school can (and very often does) effect students’ mental health, I have been pleased at the constant willingness of the blog team to support posts by myself and others on the topic of graduate student mental health. I was afraid that the Rackham blog would be more concerned with the public image of the University than with allowing authentic graduate student voices. I’m very happy to say that I was so very wrong.
With that in mind, I would like to encourage you to apply to be a Rackham blogger. Blogging has given me a place to discuss issues I care about deeply, from pedagogy to mental health to current issues in academia (such as gender and race biases in student evaluations). It has also allowed me to meet graduate students from across the university, in departments outside my own. On a personal level, blogging has given me a platform and helped me think of myself as a public scholar, and this change in my conception of myself has driven me to seek out other opportunities for public engagement. Blogging has put me in touch with other people (graduate students and staff, from all over campus) who share my interest in outreach and public engagement, and those connections are something that I will take with me, even after I leave Ann Arbor.
I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but I really do think that blogging was something that changed my (academic) life, and I would encourage anyone who is interested to give it a try. We all have thoughts and passions and opinions, but we often lack an outlet for expressing those thoughts. There is no place in a seminar paper or a dissertation for a digression about how the treatment of adjunct labor in this country concerns you deeply. There is no place to talk about personal struggles you might be going through or ways that you’ve improved your teaching. For me at least, it felt like my academic life was separated from my personal life in a way that was deeply unsatisfying. Blogging allowed me to integrate those two aspects—the image of myself that I present to the world (i.e., what happens when colleagues and prospective employers Google my name) is one that reflects my passions and interests and opinions. I might have been able to get these same benefits from a personal blog, but the platform provided by Rackham is more visible and more official. Expressing my opinions as an official part of the University may not actually lend any extra legitimacy or weight to those views (I’m positive there’s a disclaimer somewhere about how the views of Rackham bloggers don’t represent the views of the graduate school), but it has changed the way I think about my own public-facing writing and the way I think about myself as a member of the academic community.
So, in short (though, not particularly short), I would like to encourage anyone who is thinking about blogging to give it a shot. I met wonderful people and gained tangible academic benefits. And if that wasn’t enough incentive, there’s a free lunch every semester for all the bloggers! But in all seriousness, I do encourage you to think about becoming a Rackham blogger—I can’t promise you that you too will be inspired to wax hyperbolically and nostalgically about your blogging experience, but I can promise a supportive, engaged, and intellectually diverse community of fellow bloggers which will make it well worth your time!