What should a Political Science PhD student do? Should she blog?

tdaxp’s Note: Once in a while I use the platform of this blog to give personal advise. Recently a blogger, who also comments at Duck of Minerva, asked if blogging was a sensible choice in today’s world. This post is an attempt to answer that question.

Over at Duck of Minerva, Anita Kellogg also asked recently if she should blog while preparing for a career in academic International Relations. The full text of her question, posted at Duck of Minerva after the defenestration of Brian Rathburn, was:

I am an IR scholar who in the last couple of weeks decided to try blogging in earnest as a counterbalance to the isolation of dissertation writing. When I read Brian’s post yesterday, I definitely started to have second thoughts. I know I will make mistakes. I am still trying to find my voice and focus. I would like to write about politics more broadly, but should I only write about issues where my qualifications are stronger? Even if I stick to IR, do the potential negatives for job searches in the future outweigh the more immediate benefits now? I am really unsure of my answers to these questions at present

The short answer is:

Drop out of International Relations immediately

The long answer is below…

But first, some context…

Actually, Anita’s choice whether or not to blog first depends on why she is in the academic ghetto.


As I’ve said many times, there are four types of people in that land of few jobs and low wags:

1. Pimps who run the racket
2. Losers who are exploited by the pimps
3. Escapees who are preparing to leave
4. Disaster tourists who get a kick out of the whole thing

Average salaries for political science PhDs are not pretty, implying that successfully pimping (teaching at a research-one university) with that degree is as unlikely as ascending to the top of the Black Gangsta Disciples.


Assuming that Anita is not actively trying to leave Political Science, that leaves being a Loser or a Disaster tourists. Disaster tourists come in three shades

1. Those with income from parents such that they do not need to work to support themselves
2. Those with income from spouses such that they do not need to work to support themselves
3. Those with sufficient personal capital (financial, skill-based, etc) that the years in graduate school can be seen as an extended “finding yourself” vacation

Assuming she’s not a disaster tourist, the best advise for Anita is to run.


But let’s assume that Anita’s goal is to be a pimp — to land a job at a research-one university — and she doesn’t mind that she will be exploiting others to do so. (The countless students who will take on student loans, work hard for years, and leave with few jobs and low wages). Then the answer is still obvious

Don’t blog if you need a job in the humanities ghetto

The reason is that there are two sorts of job markets

1. Job markets where few individuals have veto power over hiring
2. Job markets where many individuals have veto power over hiring

In the first kind of job market, an individual needs to impress a superior in some many: ideological bias, pleasant personality, research skill, whatever. While hiring here in such an environment is idiosyncratic and arbitrary, it’s attack surface area is relatively small. Only one individual must be assuaged, meaning at worst you’re dealing with the idiosyncratic and arbitrary prejudices of one person. One might, however, get a job because one’s odd beliefs somehow flatter the hiring manager.

The second kind of job market describes political science, as well as the rest of the humanities ghetto. A hiring committee is more idiosyncratic and arbitrary than a hiring manager, because in a hiring committee the disqualifying attributes are the sum (set union) of the disqualifying attributes as decided by all of the hiring committee members. The hiring committee process, further, is set up to avoid anyone receiving a job because one’s beliefs somehow flatter a specific member.

You can think of the possibility of not getting a job as a result of an idiosyncratic bias as a series of draws. One hiring manager means one draw per thing associated with you. Two means two draws. And so on.

To use Anita as an example, recently on her blog she’s gone out of her way to attack (or discuss) conservatives, a Christian evangelist (on the subject of charity) anti-vaccination activists (who, admittedly, are nutcases — though some have PhDs), a sitting Senator (who I’ve also attacked), public radio (albeit humorously), and St. Thomas Aquinas (albeit indirectly).

The possibility of being interviewed by a conservative, or an anti-vaccine nut, or a fan of St. Thomas Aquinas is relatively small. But the more members of the committee, the greater the chance. The more posts you have written, the greater the chance.

The only students in the humanities ghetto I know of, whose careers were helped by blogging, were escapees leaving the ghetto.

If you want to blog, run.

9 thoughts on “What should a Political Science PhD student do? Should she blog?”

  1. The biggest un-asked question in the blog post above is: Why blog?

    I don’t think enough bloggers are honest with themselves re: that question.

    And then, also, there is the question of whether one can accomplish whatever one wants to accomplish in blogging — by blogging anonymously. This path would eliminate some of Anita’s concerns.

    What is funny, and re: my point above, is the fact that the answer behind Anita’s question seems to be NO, can’t accomplish the blogging goodness via anonymity. What does this mean? I think that some people view the whole blogging enterprise as a surrogate method for building up a brand-spanking new Old Boys Network or entering into a pre-existing Old Boys Network without having to go through all normal gyrations.

    If some other reason is behind the desire to blog, then why not blog anonymously?

    But then the tendency to drop names or argue from authority when making an argument…might be imperiled….as a method…for….????

  2. If she really wants to blog, she could to do so behind an alias and leave few or no clues or fake clues as to her real identity. For instance, few people realize I am actually a 37-year old Latina from Racine Wisconsin.

  3. The “why blog” is the big question. I have mostly gone tired of it (and of twitter). I’d rather read a book. I still “blog” it in my head, but rarely actually type them up. While It is true I have been working extra long hours for the last few years, that isn’t the reason I Iost interest. If I started to blog again, it would be to just review books (or other consumable media) I have been reading, mention some lifehacks that work for me, and maybe pick a topic once a month or so just to work out my thinking on it. I have a few good post queued up in my head I should just finally blog to make room for something else.

  4. PSlog,

    The “why blog” question has bothered me for some time, mostly because I know I want to blog but simultaneously feel that my attempts are either pointless or for slightly wrong reasons. There are times I’d like to focus on merely reviews of movies/television, pop culture, and misc., written informally, while at the same time feeling that the blog posts should be professional or at least conscientiously written rather than thrown down on the page.

    So, my general impetus is for having the type of private journal all the 19th C. writers/thinkers/adventurers had—complete with errors (spelling/grammatical) and blunt observations, written for mostly private purposes—and this conflicts with my feeling that a public blog should be like a professional journal or formal writing meant to be read and appraised by a public.

    So my question about Anita’s question was made in this light. There is some justifiable concern about leaving a paper trail that can be judged later—and also, about the utility of blogging for building up good ol’ boys networks or at least a fan base one can milk later. But I’ve never been very fond of feeling those kind of shackles.

  5. There are shades of anonymity online… PS seems to have a bullet-tight alibi, CGW posts openly, and I’m pseudo-anonymous (I don’t publicize my name, but I’ve publicized my real world work, which shows my name)

    There are also shades of purpose. My goal has been largely to improve my own thinking. I think the blog has done a great job for that: it (and readers, especially CGW!) to consider what I write in the context of what I wrote before.

    For others, the blog is mainly an avenue of self-promotion, and internal consistency is a liability. Sometimes bloggers with different purposes interact in an unexpected ways. The drama around this post http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/08/21/the-definition-of-the-functioning-core-and-the-non-integrating-gap.html is an exapmle of that.

    I started blogging as I was preparing for a disaster tourist vacation in the humanities ghetto. I wouldn’t have put it that way at the time, but as I was more concerned then about understanding the world than about jumping thru arbitrary hoops, blogging helped provide a better context for my time in academia.

    I know only one humanities student who got a dream job largely thru work that initially appeared on his blog. Maybe one day Catholicgauze will share that story. http://www.geographictravels.com/

  6. Dr. Tdaxp: Technically, I may blog openly. But neither my day-job acquaintances, nor my family, would give two bits about anything I might write about. I am like a ghost traversing between two realms that themselves never cross.

    I am beginning to think that I am a “disaster tourist extraordinaire,” however. Only, in this case the entire ‘Net is one big disaster.

  7. Ironically, on a. post about a disaster tourist memoir (“Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Dr. Samuel Johnson), a family friend commented “…..we will never be able to share a library…..”

    Without the internet so many who think would be so alone…

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