4th anniversary

I started this blog quite unspectacularly four years ago on this exact day. The real motivation behind starting this blog was that I wanted to do something (anything!) with the web space I purchased over a year ago in 2009. I had egotistically purchased the domain davetang.org1 because it was on my list-of-things-to-do-in-life2. But that was it; I had no plans on what to do with it.

Before the birth of this blog, I was six months into my PhD and had been trying to get familiar with a lot of bioinformatic tools and concepts3. I thought the blog would be a great place to document what I’ve been learning since I could come back to the site to see what I did and it’s easier to access stuff online. I tentatively gave my blog a rather plain but descriptive name (Musings from a PhD candidate), without realising that the pros all used really cool blog names4 such as “What You’re Doing Is Rather Desperate” or “I Wish You Made Me Angry Earlier5“. The early posts I wrote were extremely bare6 and mostly contained code snippets but they were still a useful reference point.

Somewhere along the way I noticed that my site was gaining more traffic7. In addition to this, when I visited the institute where I used to work in Australia, an ex-colleague told me he had found my website and that it was quite useful7. Later on, some colleagues who I worked with also let me know that they found my blog and that it was quite useful. I had submitted my site for indexing by Google way back in 20098 but other than that I never really promoted this site, so I was surprised that people found it.

The increase in traffic and exposure made me a bit self-aware, so the rate of publishing decreased a bit but each subsequent post was of higher quality9. In addition, the blog became more than just a dumping ground for code. I actually wrote posts where I mused about topics related to my research and would elaborate a bit more on the code and the concepts behind each analysis; I should have done this in the first place but being in the public eye made me demand a bit more of myself. For each post, my philosophy was (and still is) to keep things as simple as possible and write each post as if I was teaching someone about what I had just learned10.

What have I learned from four years of technical blogging?

  1. It’s a great and easy way of keeping a record of what I’ve done.
  2. Trying to teach really is the best way to learn.
  3. Technical blogging is fun and yet still related to work11.
  4. Sometimes it’s a good way to get some feedback from others12.
  5. It’s a great way to share knowledge.

I would promote the idea of keeping a professional blog13 for all the reasons I’ve listed above. Perhaps it’s daunting to know that anyone on the Internet can access your site and hold judgements about what you write. But as long as you keep it professional and rational, I believe it will be fine. Oh and also check out Twitter14.

Footnotes

What’s with all these footnotes? I recently finished reading What If by Randall Munroe15 and got attracted to the liberal use of footnotes.

1 I originally wanted .com but that was long gone to, as far as I’m aware, a cyber squatter.
2 Not the most adventurous todo list.
3 Prior to starting my PhD, my work mainly involved providing bioinformatics support.
4 Perhaps that is more motivation for me to finish my PhD, so that I have an excuse to change the name of this blog to something cooler; definitely not Musings From a Post-doc.
5 The blog formerly known as “I Wish You Made Me Angry Earlier”.
6 I have actually gone back to improve many of the older posts because they were embarrassingly embarrassing.
7 My initial reaction was “really!?”.
8 I just wanted to google my own name and have my own site as the top hit;
see egosurfing.
9 Well, the word count definitely increased.
10 Sometimes I do write posts just for the sake of teaching.
11 Work is fun, but not as fun as blogging.
12 I say sometimes because while I do get comments on my blog, it’s not that many.
13 Do keep it professional; I had a very haunting experience once, due to me being unprofessional.
14 See “An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists” in
PLOS Biology
15 Or better known as the author of the web comic XKCD.

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11 comments Add yours
  1. Happy Birthday to your blog! 4 years!?

    I wish I had started reading it when you started writing it…

    – A fellow 4th year PhD candidate who writes really ugly code

  2. Thanks for writing and sharing all this stuff. For me as biologist who (must) learning informatic and R during my phd, it was extremely helpful! Also the early posts.
    Good luck for the next 4 years!

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