My “Prepared to Be a Pioneer” brand and blog were birthed when I realized that I was prepared to be a professor but I had no idea what challenges I would face as a newly hired Assistant Professor in the College of Engineering at Purdue University. I discovered only after I was hired that no other black female had ever earned tenure in the College of Engineering prior to my arrival. After engaging in a professional experience that had its up and downs, in 2011, I became the first black female to earn tenure in engineering at the university.
During this time, I had numerous women of color (WOC) mentors whom I called with questions about almost any aspect of academic life. Nevertheless, I did not possess a repository of written responses that were available whenever I needed them. For this reason, I recognized the need to document my experiences and to share them with others who were experiencing professional challenges as faculty. To date, I have written about being a graduate advisor, working in an incompatible working environment, the importance of character development, and many other topics, including a miscarriage and the challenges that went along with that in 2015. Blogging serves as a form of therapy for me. I now know that blogging connected me to people in ways that I would not have connected to them otherwise. Below are five reasons that I think all academics should blog and at a minimum, journal their personal and professional experiences.
(1) A blog presents an opportunity to reflect deeply on life.
With the hustles and bustles of life, it is easy to work and never process what led us to where we are. My blogs have helped me to reflect on the lessons that I have learned in life, particularly during my years as an academic. I don’t just think about situations and what happened to me, but I reflect on what I learned from those situations and what I ended up doing based on those situations.
(2) A blog allows virtual mentorship.
Physical mentors will not always be available to mentor their mentees at the exact times that they need them. Blogs, however, offer advice 24/7 to anyone who owns a laptop or smart phone. I realized the true impact of my blogs when I began to receive private Twitter and Facebook messages and hand-written letters from people who told me that they related to my blogs’ content and my heartfelt reflections. The ultimate joy, however, is always meeting a social media “friend” or a virtual mentee in person for the first time. We often take pictures together and form long lasting bonds.
I knew that I was onto something with this blogging/virtual mentorship connection when a couple of my former graduate students informed me that my blog content helped them when they began their positions as Assistant Professors. The content did not relate to them at the time they were my students, but once they were in faculty positions, they could refer back to the advice that I offered in my blogs. Similarly, in 140 characters or less, on Twitter I post about my personal and professional experiences and present my authentic views to people who may never meet me in person.
Now that I am a department chair in the Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University, I have new experiences to blog about. Although I still want to be my authentic self, I am more conscious of the responsibilities that I have as a leader by not referring to specific, real-time, confidential workplace situations in which I am engaging. Despite these challenges, I know that I still can offer advice to people interested in pursuing academic leadership positions in the future.
(3) A blog post transcends populations.
Although I write about academic life, I have heard from business people, administrative assistants, consultants, and students about their ability to relate to my blog content. Since I present my personal views and experiences, the heart of the feedback relates to my authenticity and to the vulnerability that I display by sharing both my good and bad experiences. At the end of the day, blogging is about sharing thoughts and impacting people. My purpose is to inform people about what it’s like to be on a pioneering journey; to encourage people, particularly women and minorities, to consider and to pursue academia as a career; and to help people to be courageous about pursuing pioneering opportunities in their respective areas.
(4) A blog tells stories better than CVs or resumes.
When I applied for my current job, I directed potential members of my department and my future employers to read my blog. In my interviews, I shared that if they wanted to know who I really am and if they liked what they read on my blog, they should hire me. In 2015, I decided to “put myself out there” by blogging more authentically, and I have seen new doors open for me as a result. Blogging is a calling card because it allows a person to own his/her brand by writing about topics that are important. Blogging also demonstrates that someone is willing to communicate. Partners and employers know who bloggers are before they hire them, and as a result, there is a greater likelihood that expectations will align.
(5) A blog builds a legacy.
A person’s words can outlive them. Blogging shows who a person was at a point in time. A blog can be archived for one’s children and grandchildren and for future generations who want to know what it was like to live during our time. Bloggers are historians who tell stories that are worth sharing.
In conclusion, I highly recommend that my fellow academicians share their stories with the world because so few people have access to the knowledge and to the experiences that we have. Like a peer-reviewed journal article, a blog is a form of knowledge dissemination, and as educators, we have an obligation to share our insights in ways that appeal to the masses.