Why Grad Students Should Blog

I just read a nice piece in the New York Times entitled “If No One Sees It, Is It an Invention?“. The gist: then CMU PhD candidate Johnny Chung Lee drew over six million views to a five-minute video he posted on YouTube showing how to use a Wii remote to transform a normal video screen into a virtual reality display. Correlation isn’t causality, but I think it’s not entirely coincidental that Lee received “lots of offers from all the big places” and ultimately took one in the applied sciences group of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division.

Granted, producing YouTube videos isn’t exactly the same as blogging, but the moral of the story is summed up in these two paragraphs:

Contrast this with what might have followed from other options Mr. Lee considered for communicating his ideas. He might have published a paper that only a few dozen specialists would have read. A talk at a conference would have brought a slightly larger audience. In either case, it would have taken months for his ideas to reach others.

Small wonder, then, that he maintains that posting to YouTube has been an essential part of his success as an inventor. “Sharing an idea the right way is just as important as doing the work itself,” he says. “If you create something but nobody knows, it’s as if it never happened.”

Grad students–and other inventors–should learn from this story that communicating your ideas to a broad audience can be a huge success factor. Blogging and posting to YouTube aren’t the same as publishing in peer-reviewed venues, but they can be as or more important in advancing your professional career.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

3 replies on “Why Grad Students Should Blog”

Dan, Thanks much for the post. I have to agree, and also believe this model applies to many others in the field.I imagine it also applies to other social media, like Twitter.



Absolutely! I’m still stewing over a reaction from someone I respect deeply telling me that, until the tenure process takes blogging into account, it is dangerous for his students to blog, lest they get scooped. I understand where he’s coming from, but I think the benefits of broad exposure outweigh the risks of being scooped in the peer-reviewed venues.

I agree that this model applies broadly–both to other social media and outside academia. But I think academia is one of the strongest hold-outs against this use of social media, precisely because of the traditional role of peer-reviewed publication in defining a research career.


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