A year of Scientist Sees Squirrel: thoughts and thanks

Image credit: Eurasian red squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris, © Peter Trimming via geograph.org.uk CC BY-SA 2.0

Today is Scientist Sees Squirrel’s first birthday!

 When I wrote my first post, I didn’t have a very clear idea of where blogging would take me. In fact, I was quite explicit that my blog’s content would be unpredictable, both for its readers and for me. It’s good to know I got one thing right, because otherwise blogging has brought me mostly surprises. The meta-surprise: they were almost entirely good surprises. I’m going to tell you about a few of them, chiefly because if you’re intrigued but unpersuaded by the idea of taking up blogging yourself, this might help.

  • I’ve been surprised by the reach of Scientist Sees Squirrel. This is my 78th post, and the preceding 77 have been read (collectively) over 64,000 times by readers in 145 countries. It’s become routine (but it’s always gratifying) for someone unexpected to tell me that they’ve read something on my blog – a researcher I admire, a grad student I’m meeting for the first time, a nonscientist friend, a member of my family. Over the same 1-year span, my entire career’s worth of scientific papers has probably had 2 orders of magnitude less readership. Of course, the functions of paper and blog readership are different, so perhaps I’m comparing apples to oranges*. But I’ve heard people suggest that one can have more influence on science by blogging than by actually doing science, and it’s hard to argue. (Doing both, of course, remains my intent.)
  • I’ve been surprised by my inability to predict which posts people will be interested in. Well, I’m not completely in the dark: I’ve learned that posts about statistics get lots of views – as do posts in which I describe how I’ve done something dumb. But other posts I’m proud of have sunk like stones: this one, for instance, and this one, and this one**. Seen one way, this is a bit frustrating – but I prefer to think of it as liberating. Write what you’re interested in writing, not what you think other people will want to read; the former keeps you happy, and you can’t guess the latter anyway.
  • I’ve been surprised by just how much I enjoy writing about science in a form different from the technical material (papers, grants, and reports) that I’m used to. Actually, I discovered this while working on The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, but blogging is even more enjoyable. I can indulge in writing with some style***. I can leave loose ends, or stitch up an argument as tidily as I like. I can write about things I don’t know much about, accepting the likelihood that I’m wrong but knowing that I can start or advance a conversation. I can follow my interests, whether long-term or spur-of-the-moment. Writing papers is painful, hard work for me; but writing blog posts is immensely fun.
  • Saving the best for last: I’ve been surprised by how supportive the blogging community is. Somehow (if rather vaguely), I imagined bloggers competing for readership or resentful when someone else’s new post overlaps with one of their old ones. Nothing could be further from the truth. My blogging colleagues have sent me readers, provided advice, given me positive feedback, and made me feel welcome to a community I only dimly understood existed. I can’t overstate how wonderful this is.

On to some thanks. First: for pushing me into the social-media pool, thanks to my PhD student Chandra Moffat and my postdoc Julia Mlynarek. Without Julia and Chandra, there would be no Scientist Sees Squirrel. Jonathan Eisen whetted my appetite by letting me guest-post on The Tree of Life. A host of others helped the blog grow, by giving advice, reading draft posts, cowriting, commenting regularly, or frequently tweeting or linking to my posts: among them, Jeremy Fox, Meghan Duffy, Simon Leather, Chris Buddle, Alex Bond, Terry McGlynn, Amy Parachnowitsch, Jeff Ollerton, Manu Saunders, Andrew Hendry, Aurélie (of HowToLitReview), Deborah Mayo, Kathe Todd-Brown, and more. I know this list is incomplete: going back to my fourth pleasant surprise, so many people helped my new blog grow that I’ve failed to keep track of them all. So if you’re on my list, thanks; and if you belong on my list but I’ve left you off, I’m sorry about that, but thanks every bit as much.

Finally: if you’ve been thinking about blogging but haven’t made the leap, should you join me? Well, see this post from Jeremy Fox for a detailed discussion. My bottom line, though: Scientist Sees Squirrel has been a great ride so far, and I expect it will be just as much fun in its second year.

But I still don’t know what I’ll write about next.

© Stephen Heard (sheard@unb.ca) January 3, 2016

Related posts:  all of them 🙂

*The suggestion that you can’t compare apples to oranges has always bothered me. Of course you can compare apples to oranges; pointing out similarities and differences is what comparison is for. Watch this: apples have thinner skins than oranges. Apples and oranges compared; job done. I am such a pedant.

**Yeah, I’m trying for pity clicks. It won’t work; you’re on to me.

***And it turns out I do seem to have a “style”. I’m not sure where it comes from, and I won’t be shocked if some readers don’t particularly like it, but it’s fun to use nonetheless.


7 thoughts on “A year of Scientist Sees Squirrel: thoughts and thanks

  1. Meghan Duffy

    Congrats on a year of blogging! You said, “I prefer to think of it as liberating. Write what you’re interested in writing, not what you think other people will want to read; the former keeps you happy, and you can’t guess the latter anyway.” I totally agree!

    Looking forward to the next year of your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Friday links: a morality tale about p-hacking, field notes from the future, NSF 101, and more | Dynamic Ecology

  3. Margaret Kosmala

    Rah rah! I just started my blog, so it’s really fun to see how much you enjoyed writing yours for the first year. Inspiration!



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