One thing I really like about student life is the conferences, and the way ideas cross-pollinate when a conference is set up right. That is, when there are spaces at a conference to ignore the conference and just shoot the breeze with some other student you’ve never met, from wherever, doing whatever. It’s best not when you find someone doing a whatever that’s similar to yours, but one that’s totally different but using the same framework, or language, or technology for understanding. What can we do to promote this kind of productive collision between ideas?
My secret plan, which I’ve been cooking up for some time, is to set up a collaborative blog, primarily for postgraduate research students, but inviting others along for the ride too, so that people can share their ideas whether thought through or not, and get that oh-so-important “web presence”. Even if it’s just to copy out a couple of sections from a paper they’ve already published, even only to point to a seminar group to check out the blog. Sounds good so far, right? And everyone says: yes! A lovely idea. Yes! I’ll write for you and that sounds just terrific and yes, yes, yes…
You’ll guess what’s coming next.
There needs to be a way to turn these good intentions into a working community, and not fall into the more common “I’m too busy” trap. It seems to me this is partly a question of inertia. Exeter Uni’s I Think Therefore IR needed, from what their editor told me, a concerted effort by a small group to write constantly and well in order to get the thing going. Not surprising: who wants to write eight hundred words that only Ask Jeeves will ever read? There’s a need for good content.
There also needs to be some community feel to it, I think. Not a geeky cliquey feel, but maybe the sensation the blog isn’t really there, that posting to it is an afterthought. At the best conferences, after all, you don’t meet during seminars but accidentally, while pouring out drinks, in between them. This has sent me to the department’s student think-tank IREP who need a new chair. They invite speakers from inside the University and from outside – academics, politicians, and so on – to talk ideas in afternoon rooms here and there on campus. A blog could be a useful place to bump into each other after these talks, maybe: you’d say YES! to the talk and accidentally meet the speaker on the blog. I did incidentally think these talks could be transferred well, once every couple of months or so, downtown, to send some students into a pub forum along the lines of Café Scientifique.
We’ll see. Is it even possible to run a collaborative blog, really? And an interesting one at that? If you’re reading this and have your own ideas about this, you’ll send them to me, I’m sure!