At the start of this month, I set myself the challenge to write a blog every working day – 22 June blogs. In reality I managed 14, plus a couple of days where I edited existing blogs instead of writing new ones. I’m pretty chuffed with that.
Importantly, the exercise has proven to me that despite a year of relative neglect this blog does still have value and I hope my experience this month will help me to prioritise blogging in the future.
Looking back on what I’ve written, the biggest chunk falls into the category of “stuff academics need to know that no-one ever tells them”. These posts are – I hope – useful to early career researchers gaining independence and taking on new responsibilities like supervising student projects and writing grants. Others are directed specifically at PhD students, like this post about how research questions can evolve over the course of a project. In the past, I’ve written some posts like this in partnership with the inimitable Duncan Astle – a colleague and friend based at University of Cambridge. I didn’t have time to co-ordinate that this month, but these kinds of blogs are always better when the two of us combine our experiences and perspectives. In fact, one of my hopes for the future is that we might manage to write a book based on these blogs… would you want to buy it?
People sometimes ask me how I find time to blog. Often the answer is, “I don’t” – but when I do the key is to make the exercise useful and these kinds of blogs help me in my job. I am forced to articulate what I think more clearly and in more detail than usual. And I can share those thoughts with colleagues for whom they are relevant. I also hope this content is of interest to any readers from beyond academia. One of the issue with the ivory tower is its apparent mystery and I’m always keen to expose what really goes on so that everyone else can understand – and critique – it more effectlvely.
Talking of critique, there was one blog written this month that I am not so proud of, which aimed to examine the nature of the difference between autistic and neurotypical people. I don’t want to rake over old ground but I have been thinking about this a lot, and trying to learn from the experience by discussing the blog with autistic and otherwise neurodivergent friends and colleagues. It’s important to me that I an open to feed back and develop from it. I think the bottom line is that my academic training, from undergrad onwards, and my working context now, both encourage me to think about things like autism in intellectualised terms that abstract the discussion away from the lives of autistic people. I was metaphorically stroking my beard, pondering “the nature of autism” and I think I now understand better why that was dehumanising. So a valuable lesson learned – not to hide academic discourse from the autistic community beyond academia, but to work harder to contextualise and frame that discourse so that it sits more comfortably with autistic readers, and adds value to the on-going quest for equality of opportunity for autistic people. I gain hope from the fact that other blogs have managed this more successfully – like this one about the important distinction between neurodiverse and neurodivergent.
The final theme in this blog series was about privilege – something that has been more acutely felt than ever these part month as the Black Lives Matter movement soared to prominence, as Covid-19 exposed social inequalities that society had previously tried to ignore, and as I gained a promotion at work, the culmination of hard work, yes, but also a series of privileges and opportunities that are not afforded to most. I’d like to do more blogs in future about these sorts of topics – about how, as academics with a wealth of influence, respect and resource, we can work to redress inequalities. I feel that this work is woven together in fact, with advice to early career researchers, and with my own research specialism in developmental psychology as applied to understanding autism. So, I guess you can expect a bit more of that sort of exploration of how to use academia to lead on social justice issues in the future. Buckle up!