A blogging professor in print

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Academeology: Random Musings, Strong Opinions and Somewhat Bizarre Anecdotes from an Academic Life

Lulu: 2008. 283 pp. £9.26

As a science undergraduate, I imagined that being a professor involved little more than teaching a class each semester and 'doing research'. The inner workings of academia were a mystery to me. Since then, an explosion of blogs written by students, postdocs and faculty members has opened a new window into academic life. Blogs allow scientists at all levels to peek into the professional lives of colleagues at other institutions and in different fields.

Pseudonymous blogger Female Science Professor (FSP) first introduced herself in May 2006: “I do not look my age, I do not look like a professor, I do not look like a scientist. My colleagues are, with a few exceptions, very kind and polite to me, and some (many? most?) even like me ... but they do not take me seriously.”

That post set the tone for what has become a collection of more than 500 short essays describing her experiences as a scientist, a professor and one of the few women working in her field of science. She has revealed little about her life beyond the fact that she is a 40-something professor in a physical-science department at a large US university, is married to a fellow science professor and is mother to a “tween”-aged daughter. FSP's blog has steadily gained popularity, with her clear writing style, candid revelations and often humorous musings. The blog's comment section allows her readers to share their own academic experiences.

FSP has published a selection of her essays as a book, Academeology. Arranged by theme, the posts are interspersed with pithy points of academic etiquette. Many of the topics she covers, such as getting a job in academia, tips on teaching, giving seminars and writing grants, might be found in any academic career guide. But rather than give generic advice, FSP presents her own experiences in an informal and entertaining style. Writing under a pseudonym allows for candid descriptions of students and colleagues. Among the topics she covers are graduate student admissions from the perspective of a faculty member, dealing with coauthors — and advice on how not to be a 'sexist jerk'.

FSP's stories of being a woman in a male-dominated field are engrossing. She describes the casual sexism, such as being ignored or treated as a secretary by visiting scientists, or having male colleagues comment that she received an award “because she is a woman”. These tales might be disheartening to some. But FSP also relates her successes as a scientist and in navigating difficulties as one half of a scientist couple who began her academic career with a young child. Never claiming that her experiences are universal or that her path has been easy, FSP shows that it is possible to have both a career as a scientist and a life outside of science.

Yet the book's strength in discussing many aspects of academic life is also a weakness. Each essay has a different audience: some are aimed at undergraduates applying to graduate school, others at graduate students or fellow faculty members. The style and tone vary between entries. And the book misses the added value of the comments associated with FSP's original blog entries. That said, Academeology is an enjoyable read for anyone interested in how academia works. I would have loved to have had a copy during my own student days.

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Kolm, P. A blogging professor in print. Nature 456, 445 (2008) doi:10.1038/456445a

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