I had an e-mail conversation with a new enrollee in our doctoral program last week. Along with answers to her questions about courses and exams, I offered this bit of advice about writing and blogging. It certainly applies to my experience here at DSU; I think it may generalize to all graduate programs where students have to crank out lots of scholarly prose.

If you are a good writer, you will find much of the work in the program that much easier. There’s a lot of cognitive heavy lifting that goes on in designing experiments, reviewing articles, interpreting stats, etc. It really helps if you can do all that hard thinking and then just let it flow in words on paper or on the keyboard.

If you struggle with writing, I recommend blogging. That writing [here and on my non-academic blog] — searching for sources, incorporating quotations into my own language, citing sources, writing quick summaries and arguments — helps me do a lot of my academic work faster. A lot of the assignments we have, such as writing summaries of journal articles and engaging in required class discussions on online fora, feel a lot like blogging. That familiarity makes some assignments go a lot faster.

I don’t know if this advice will work for you, but I think you can support your academic work a great deal not just by reading journal articles and web reports about developments in health IT (you must do that reading… and there is so much on health IT to read!) but also by blogging about it. Get into that habit of reading, analyzing, synthesizing, and writing.

University of Bergen professor Jill Walker isn’t sure blogging has helped her as a professor, but she appears to agree that grad students can benefit from blogging:

I know that my blogging helped me gain a foothold among researchers in my field, that the regular writing and discussions with readers and other bloggers helped me become a confident writer, and that I had more opportunities to give talks and write in other genres than most of my non-blogging peers. So, quite probably, blogging helped me succeed in earning a Ph.D. and getting my first academic job [Walker, Jill. “Blogging from Inside the Ivory Tower.” Uses of Blogs. Ed. Axel Bruns & Joanne Jacobs. New York: Peter Lang, 2006]. 

Blogging makes you a better writer by testing your communication skills in a public arena. It also connects you with other scholars and the general public who can help you learn more and who just might learn something from you.