To write or not to write: science blogging as a side gig?

By Rachel Diner

j-kelly-brito-256889-unsplashAt a recent SANDSWA event, I noticed most science writers I met did it professionally. Freelancing, working at an agency, teaching:  SANDSWA members often get paid to write about science.

I do it for free, running a science blog as a side gig. I’m a Ph.D. student in marine microbiology, meaning I write often: technical science papers, presentations, grant proposals, reports. But sometimes I simply want to tell a science story, preferably one not at all related to my research.

That’s why I started Mother of Microbes about a year ago. Through the blog I get to explore something different than my research but still important to me: connections between science and parenthood.

I love my blog only slightly less than I love my child. But very much like raising my child, blogging is often a thankless job that costs but doesn’t necessarily pay. After meeting the many paid writers of SANDSWA I started to wonder: should I keep doing this for free?

To answer this question, I compiled some pros and cons of science blogging as a side gig.

Pros:

  • Writing experience: You don’t become a good writer without practice, failure, and more practice. And more failure. Blogging gives you this. With complete freedom over what you write about, how long it is, and when you want to publish it, the only thing preventing you from gaining writing experience is you (which, to be fair, is not a nominal hurdle).
  • Source of income: Some blogs do make money for their authors, but most don’t. But anything’s possible, right? This book presents tales from successful science bloggers who made blogs work for them.
  • Samples for a future paid gig: Many people start out writing for free, then use these samples to apply for paid writing positions.
  • Standing out in a stale academic world. For the most part, my field traditionally featured old white men with impressive mustaches. The field has become more colorful and rich in X chromosomes, but it can still feel rigid and stuffy. Postdoc positions frequently extend as long as seemingly endless Ph.D. programs, and many people on the job market have the common currency of publications and grants. Being a leader, activist, story-teller, or all of these things may provide an edge in the academic job market. Maybe even as much as a sweet ‘stache.

Cons:

  • Poor quality work: with no one to edit your work, you may be producing quantity but not quality. Not all experience is good experience, and you have to be very self-reflective and determined to make it so. Or better, solicit feedback from writing peers.
  • Not making money. It’s not that you can’t make money writing a science blog—you just probably won’t. Most blogs don’t make anything. So if writing for free feels like waste of time, blogging is wrong for you.
  • Professional reputation damage: Many blogs have a professional tone, but I prefer to keep mine casual because blogging is my “play time.” Motherhood can be a nasty business, involving physical and emotional details that professional academics could find distasteful. Will this hurt my professional career? I don’t know, but I do worry about it.

Cons aside, I have no immediate plans to quit blogging as a side gig because I just love it. But meeting so many paid science writers has given me a lot to consider! Have you written for blogs, either your own or others? Do you think it’s a good (paid/unpaid) side gig, and why? Let us know in the comments below!

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