On blogging

When I was an honours student (in Australia an honours degree is a one year [in practice, it’s about ten months] undergraduate research program you can take after your Bachelor’s and has nothing to do with the traditional meaning of the word “honours”), I literally jumped into the deep end of bioinformatics. I recall joining the first lab meeting where they kept talking about these things called Markov clusters, which even when I considered as separate words, had no idea what they were. I thought to myself, what have I gotten myself in! In my Bachelor of Science degree I did not take a single computing or mathematics course and I had no prior programming exposure (apart from writing some HTML, which doesn’t count). Despite being determined to learn, it was difficult and almost impossible for me to learn because what was supposed to be introductory material was completely incomprehensible! But the thing that made matters worse was that I didn’t ask for help because I didn’t have the self confidence to admit that I didn’t know something.

That experience really drives me to help people, as much as I can. I know what it feels like to dive in the deep end and how demoralising it feels when you can’t even make sense of material that is supposed to be for beginners. (In hindsight, I don’t consider the book Inferring Phylogenies as beginners material even though that was what was given to me but my point still stands as there are a ton of “beginners” material that I can’t comprehend.) While I started this blog as a means to document what I was learning, it slowly evolved to be more pedagogical. When I was a PhD student, I would happily help colleagues out and some of my blog posts were inspired by their questions/problems. It gave me a great sense of joy to be able to help others. I know this sounds a bit touchy-feely but that’s how I felt (and feel) and what drives me to keep blogging.

However, over the years I had to face various personal and professional challenges and didn’t blog as much as I used to. Though I think the major factor is that I wanted to write bigger and more comprehensive posts, but many of them ended up unfinished and are just sitting in my drafts section. Another factor that played a part in the lack of posts, was when I started to think about the benefits of blogging especially with a cost-benefit mindset. For example, how does blogging help my professional career such as getting fellowships and grants? And to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it helps you much on a fellowship/grant application to list blogging as an item in community outreach. In the end it comes down to publishing and as they say, publish or perish.

Now after musing about all of this, I think that in order to keep blogging I need to go back to my original driving force, which is to create content that is useful and helpful for others (including myself). I didn’t care much for recognition (although it’s nice to be recognised) and I shouldn’t let this play a major factor in my blog. I should just publish shorter posts instead of having posts sitting in the drafts not seeing the light of day. Finally, for those of you who are thinking about starting a blog, think about what you want to achieve first because there are some things a blog can’t achieve (at least for now).

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