This has never exactly been a personal blog—while Cultural Learnings started in 2007 as a broadly conceptualized space for personal expression, it quickly morphed toward television and other media, and at some point or another I eradicated whatever markers of personal blogging were left over from the early days.
But, at the same time, any blog is ultimately personal, regardless of the specific topic of discussion, and this is particularly true given how the personal and the professional converge around the space of critical studies of media in my case when I started work as a PhD student in Media and Cultural Studies in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And so it feels right to use this as a space to discuss a professional (and personal) development, which is that having defended my dissertation earlier this month, I will begin a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia this fall.
First and foremost, I need to acknowledge the fortune of this opportunity. Within the space of academia, jobs—and especially tenure-track jobs—are in short supply, both due to a surplus of qualified candidates and the increased (and problematic) reliance on part-time adjunct positions, and I am incredibly lucky to be in this position. This was made possible by the guidance of advisors (both formal and informal), the support of family, and the confidence of friends and colleagues, yes—but it also depends on right jobs at right times, and chips falling in the right places, all of which are more difficult to control. To say that luck was involved is not to self depreciate the work I did, or the support I received at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (and Acadia University before that), but rather to acknowledge that even with all of the hard work and support in the world, there are still people who don’t get jobs. And so the fact that I have this opportunity has put into perspective the various individuals whose generosity, wisdom, and in some cases timing led to the series of events that made this opportunity possible. I give thanks for it all.
But I want to take a moment to reflect specifically on the role that this blog played in this process, given how interconnected it is with all of the above. Although this was not designed as an “academic blog” initially given that I was still an undergrad when I started it, it evolved into one when I became a graduate student, and has transformed in ways that have made it a significant part of my professional identity. There is much debate in academia regarding the role of blogs and other social media in how grad students and junior scholars develop their place within the field, and I knew entering the job market that my output in this space was something that could set me apart for better—“he’s written a lot, on a lot of topics, for a diverse audience!”—or for worse—“why was he writing blog posts when he could have been publishing peer-reviewed journal articles?”
To get a little inside baseball for a moment: Whereas publishing in peer-reviewed journals has an unequivocal value in the context of academic job searches, the value of blogging or other forms of online publishing is less clear, varying from job to job or from search committee member to search committee member. Even within departments where blogging is seen in a positive light, perspectives are likely to differ. Some view blogging as a form of service, which (implicitly) strips individual posts of their value and instead frames the act of blogging as a form of general (albeit meaningful) scholarly outreach; others are more open to understanding posts as having discrete value, whether as assigned reading in courses or as specific contributions to public discourse on given topics.
I have, perhaps not surprisingly, prescribed to the second of these two views, and formatted my C.V. in a way that highlighted specific posts within a larger collection of online scholarship separate from formal academic venues (and if there are any grad students who want to get a sense of what that looks like, shoot me an email). But there’s a certain point where blogging is understood as service in part because there’s so much of it—it’s an ongoing project, and over the course of roughly six years of academic-ish blogging I’ve written much more than any one person could read. With search committees already inundated with materials from (in some cases) hundreds of applicants, the chance of them sitting down to read over a single blog post is already low, and so there’s no chance they have time to dig into the archives to find that time in 2009 when I wrote about the transmedia failures of AMC’s forgotten remake of The Prisoner.
I sat in on a workshop at the most recent Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference about navigating life A.B.D. (or, in simpler terms, when you’ve completed graduate course work and are focused on working on your dissertation). At the time, I had received my job offer, and so there was part of me who wanted to serve as a voice of optimism regarding the value of blogs, Twitter, and social media in the context of a job search. I personally placed significant value on forms of online scholarship through this stage of my career, and I managed—with some good fortune thrown in—to come out the other side with a tremendous opportunity. But I stopped myself because I realized I have no idea if blogging really made any tangible difference. It’s possible that I just got lucky that everything else I did counted, and that the pieces fell into place regardless of my focus on something that may or may have been valued by search committees. There’s no guarantee that blogging will “count,” and so it’s hard to suggest others in my position commit themselves to something that could distract from other pursuits—finishing the dissertation, revising papers for publication, etc.—that are valued in any context.
But here’s what I do know about blogging: it has been valuable to me personally. It was valuable for the connections made, like the aforementioned Prisoner post and others like it based on a 2009 conference I attended virtually, which put me in touch with graduate students and professors who have evolved into crucial parts of my social and scholarly networks. It was valuable for making connections with other scholars who blog (which is becoming rarer), one of whom is a huge part of why I was able to pursue a PhD at all. It was valuable for putting me in touch with an academic community that I wasn’t yet a part of, making it easier to integrate into that community at conferences once beginning my PhD program. It’s also been valuable as a place to think through ideas, with posts helping me work through arguments that would later become term papers, or conference papers, and eventually the type of publication that is more clearly valued in scholarly circles. While I may not know what difference my blogging made in my ability to get an academic job, I do know what I would be neither the person nor the scholar I am without it, and that is the ultimate test of its value.
Based on my initial work here at Cultural Learnings, I have had the privilege over the past number of years to write about my object of study for sites like The A.V. Club, and to work alongside my colleagues to help organize a scholarly blogging platform at Antenna: Responses to Media and Culture. Through Twitter, I have access to a space where I can discuss a wide range of media with a scholarly network of grad students and professors as well as critics, journalists, and fans alike.
I do not use the word “privilege” lightly in this case, as these networks have had a profound effect on my approach to my job and my future career, and I want to offer my sincere thanks to those who have engaged in these spaces in any way. I have learned an incredible amount through interacting with these communities, where a more academic approach to these topics has been allowed and respected (or at least politely entertained), and I look forward to learning more in the future as my work here and elsewhere adapts to a new stage in my career.
Adaptation in this case does likely also mean reduction, although blogging is perhaps the closest thing I have to a drug, and so I doubt that I’ll ever be entirely absent. It is hard for me to believe that something I started because I was looking to gain a few brownie points in a Politics of Mass Media class has evolved into such a crucial component of my personal and professional lives, but it is but one of a number of events that in retrospect were turning points on the road that led here.
Thanks for being part of the journey,