Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blogging Professionally: Interview with Chemjobber

One of the things that I have realized while job hunting is that there are plenty of ways to do important, professional things that aren't paid, which means I have a lot more choice about participating.  One model that I really look up to is Chemjobber.  Chemjobber is a blogger who writes about jobs and the job market for chemists.  Chemjobber follows the movements of the American Chemical Society, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and various commentary by science writers on this theme.  It's all very thoughtful stuff, and the blog attracts equally thoughtful commentary and readership.  You don't have to spend much time there (or be a Chemist) to feel like this provides an important place for a community to discuss the under-discussed issue of chemist unemployment and under-employment.

And Chemjobber? He's not paid to maintain this blog, he does it because he wants to.  And actually, that got me curious.  So I asked if he would be willing to talk to me about it: why blog? And of course, he was glad to. I was SO pumped about this conversation before and after so I wanted to share here.

Chemjobber is a really nice guy, the kind of guy who would dedicate hours a week to writing about the issue of employment even though he actually has a job. He sees average chemists struggling, and a lack of dialog about that issue and uses the power of his blog and pseudonym to address it. By blogging, he can collect resources, add to (or start) the dialog and be a fact-checker for other writers.  All this helps get thoughts in order, it allows for ideas to be shared with a critical audience, and sometimes it's even a service.

When asked if it's worth it, he told me that as a scientist he has learned to take his wins very narrowly.  He's been able to connect a few people with jobs, or be an ear for someone navigating some career mystery, and that seems equally, if not more important than being quoted by famous bloggers, or even print journalists.  For him, connecting people with information and elevating a dialogue about the very scary struggle of the average chemist is important.  Worth dedicating time away from his family for.

To be honest, I probably could have guessed most of that about Chemjobber, although I was surprised to learn that he didn't choose to write about this issue because he had experienced unemployment.  Seriously, he just writes about it because it seems important for the community. He's just that kind of guy.

I also wanted to know about the pseudonym, and not just the funny story about how he picked it (someone should make him explain it).  Does a pseudonym protect you?  Give you different freedoms?  He sighed when I asked about this, and said a pseudonym is never better that writing with your own name.  Instead, he uses it to divide this hobby (blogging) from his work.  This is a little surprising, he rarely mentions his work on the blog, and he told me few people at work know he is Chemjobber.  People often don't trust the pseudonym (and this is a good rule of thumb). When he has been contacted by reporters, they can't credit him as a source.  And I think that is part of the reason he maintains the strict difference- the journalist will site Dr. Jobber, chemist at ChemCo, and that isn't really who he represents as a blogger.  Even though we may never fully understand the motivations of the pseudonym, it seems to provide the space for Chemjobber the blogger to be thoughtful, critical and objective (and prolific) in a way that he might not if he thought his employer might read it.

And this got us into the subject of blogging generally.  Chemjobber had lots of thoughts about how to develop a following and encourage discussion with a generally positive community. (Hints: Write lots, and don't pick fights.)  Using a specific mission statement, there seems to be an unending amount of content, but he hasn't seriously discussed women in chemistry or immigration and jobs.  He's found the chemistry community to be dominated by other thoughtful, objectively critical folks who make the dialogues much more engaging (and man, I wish people left such great comments on my blog- seriously, go look at some of that stuff). We talked about how there isn't a similar blog covering the issue for Biologists, or even all of STEM.

My purpose in my own blog so far has been simply to document what I am doing, it's very autobiographical.  I thought it would help me to collect my thoughts on my job hunt, and possibly provide a record for me to share with others, and it certainly has done both.  But I'm coming to a point where I might not need to blog about job hunting anymore.  Would I blog about looking for clients or contracting? Could I do that in a meaningful way, or would I have stumbled on a topic even less likely to spark discussion?  As Chemjobber told me, "It's not nice to write about people on the internet" and I don't want to be whining about my editors or clients. I like blogging, but I think this iteration may have run it's course.  Do I shut it down?  Change course?  Talking with Chemjobber certainly got me thinking about using my blog as a forum to discuss the science policy issues I am interested in.

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, I think *that's* a great idea (blogging about the science policy issues you're interested in).

    You would need to revisit all the branding / anonymity issues you and Chemjobber discussed . . . but think how much you've learned here about the mechanics & tactics & benefits of blogging.