An academic perspective on blogging
By Domi C Sinclair, on 8 December 2016
Words by David Bowler:
I write a semi-regular blog (updated between weekly and monthly) which covers both interesting papers in my research area, and the teaching that I do to fourth year undergraduates and starting graduates (www.atomisticsimulations.org). My research is in atomistic simulations, where we model the properties of materials at the nanoscale by taking into account their atomic structure; I apply and develop electronic structure methods, using quantum mechanics to understand the interactions between atoms. I started blogging to support a book I wrote (Atomistic Computer Simulations, with Dr Veronika Brazdova, also at UCL) but it has developed. The book is aimed at those starting to use atomistic simulations, and is, so far as we know, unique: it is the only book that contains practical advice on how to perform the calculations and analyse the output
Last term (first term 2015-2016) I started to post blogs that summarised the discussions of background theory I had with my fourth year students. I’m supervising four students, and wanted to explore whether posting the content of the sessions would help them, and the wider community. The experiment has worked well, attracting interest both from my students and from further afield, with 50-100 views per month.
I recently moved the blog from a local server in the department running WordPress, which I maintained, to GitHub, which provides simple, markdown formatted blogging with LaTex/MathJax for equations and symbols. This was largely pragmatic (free, low maintenance hosting) but is also tied to the electronic structure code that I develop, CONQUEST (www.order-n.org). We moved the source code for CONQUEST to GitHub, and having a single site and interface for all my teaching and research activity has been very helpful.
Blogging and my associated Twitter account (@MillionAtomMan) has introduced me to new people in my research field, and educators across a wide area. It helps me to keep track of the research literature, and to focus my thoughts within the very broad area that is relevant. It should also help me with future teaching, focussing the sessions that we cover, and helping my students to know what is coming up. I would like to explore having my students blog about their research, and the difficulties and interests of doing research, as a form of outreach, as well as giving them a forum for reflection.