I am sharing this guest post of mine that was published in Cell’s Crosstalk: Biology in 3D Blog. Yes, the journal Cell!
When someone says that they have a blog, the stereotypical response would be, “About your travels?” or “Hmmm … Recipes … Must be a delicious blog!” And when one confesses that said blog is about scientific research, the jaw drops. I presume it has to do with the notion that blogging science is not that much fun!
Two things inspired me to become a blogger: (1) an amazing community of scientific bloggers at Research Blogging, who inspired me with their wonderful posts; and (2) my view that structural biology and structural bioinformatics are not getting the exposure they deserve. Thus inspired and motivated, I begun blogging about four years ago, and was able to channel some of my thoughts and energy into my blog, called Getting to Know Structural Bioinformatics.
Guest author and blogger
Why do I blog? Blogging is fun! For me, blogging is about sharing with the world recent research and tidbits on structural biology and bioinformatics. Most importantly, it is about sharing the excitement that I feel after reading a paper. In some sense, blogging about research is similar to a journal club, where I am able to share the latest research with my peers. However, unlike a journal club, the audience for my blog is the entire world.
Blogging is also dynamic and interactive, because it allows me to engage in conversation with others (specifically students) when they weigh in with their comments. Below I highlight some of the best practices that I’ve developed over the years that help me with balancing my research, teaching, and personal responsibilities with my blogging.
Selecting the paper
The main way I find articles that I want to blog about is by scouring through the table of contents of the journals I am interested in. Sometimes I also hear about exciting protein structures via friends and other blogs that I follow. I try to have a balanced approach and highlight structural work on systems that are “hot topics” as well as papers that just captured my interest and fancy.
In the early days of my blogging, I was trying to collate and compile tools and techniques that would come in handy for students working with protein structures. I wanted my blog to be a handy place for myself and others to find tips and tricks. Over time, the range of topics and papers I cover has broadened, and although I still cover a lot of method development work, I cover other topics as well. In general, once I make up my mind about the paper I want to blog about, I start reading it, give myself some time to soak in the method and outcome of the paper, and try to think critically as to what possible gaps or methods that the authors could have done to make the paper better. Alternatively, I also analyze the paper’s novelty with respect to structural bioinformatics.
Composing the blog post
I should confess that the monthly posts in Protein Spotlight by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen are my inspiration while composing posts. I love her writing style and also the manner in which artwork is included in every post, to make it fun to read. Like Protein Spotlight, blogs have the advantage of including other multimedia items, for example using animated gifs and YouTube videos that make the post much easier for the reader. So, I start finding an appropriate image from an art database that best fits the topic (of course, giving credit where it is due). When it is about a tool/software, I figure the best approach is to use said tool/software and include a “first-hand” experience of how I perceived it. Also, I try to include an additional tidbit or information that the authors mention in passing.
With an active teaching and research schedule, finding time to blog does become a challenge. I try to make it a fun process, so that it does not feel cumbersome. If one looks at the frequency of my posts, I try to maintain at least one post per month. Looking at others’ blogs at Research Blogging, I realize that one post a month is a low turnout, and I try to post as frequently as possible. Sometimes, the problem is sheer lack of time or not finding exciting enough material to blog about. However, this does not mean that exciting research is not out there. The key is to find a balance between blogging and other duties. I have had discussions with other bloggers who blog on other nonscience topics, and we observed that the main turnoff in blogging is when one delves deeper and over time a particular post becomes “work.” Maneuvering that roadblock is key to maintaining a successful blog.
In the end, as at the beginning, it all comes down to having fun and sharing with the world my excitement about the type of scientific research I enjoy. I think this is probably the feeling others who blog share as well, and I can see it in some of the blogs I follow, such as the following:
Raghu Yennamalli completed his PhD in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics in 2008 from Jawaharlal Nehru University. He conducted postdoctoral research at Iowa State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Rice University. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor at Jaypee University of Information Technology. He can be contacted at ragothaman AT gmail DOT com.