Research Blogs: Sharing results as they happen

by Kelle on March 19, 2012

I’ve started something new in my research group (which is co-led by Emily Rice): we are blogging our science results as they happen. Individual plots and incremental progress and insights. A curated, collaborative lab notebook. I haven’t posted anything yet, but the students have: BDNYC Research Blog.

This idea was inspired by Hogg’s Research, where he posts about his research everyday, and JohnJohn’s student’s research blog.

The primary audience for our new blog is current and future group members and serves as a repository for information that would otherwise be lost as students leave the group. Anytime a student figures out something that will be generally useful, I tell them to post it. Not only does blogging it preserve the information, it also gets the student to write it up! And for most people, the stress associated with writing a blog post is much lower than writing up nearly anything else, save maybe a status update. The idea is that this kind of casual writing will not only provide fodder for future papers, but will also help the students develop a healthy relationship with writing.

I also think our group research blog will prove useful to my collaborators and other researchers and students who are interested in our work and/or doing something similar. Students learning spectroscopy and Python might learn some tips. Once I do post a micro-result (is that a new word?), I will then circulate the post to my colleagues as a pre-publication “soft-lauch” so that we can discuss it while I’m still thinking about it, rather than after I have grown to hate the paper and am not inclined to do more analysis regardless of how good of suggestions I might get.

To answer your first question: I’m not worried about scoop threat. What I’m doing is interesting, but not super-competitive and I don’t think that anyone else has the datasets to do the types of analysis we’re doing.

I’m also super interested to find out who else might already be doing this! Let me know in the comments and I’ll update the Blogs by Astronomers wiki page and maybe add some categories.

So, what do you think? Would blogging your results help you write more? Do you think it would be useful for your students? Could you imagine putting your results out there fresh off the press?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John Johnson March 19, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Great post! I’m glad blogging is working out for you.

I have all of my undergrads maintain blogs. Another useful feature comes up when it’s time to write their letters of recommendation. I can just reread their entries and remind myself of how much they learned, problems they overcame, etc. Hell, I even drop the URL right into the letter so the reader can see, too. Here’s another blog by one of my outstanding Freshman summer students from two years ago:

http://exolab-christina.blogspot.com/

I also keep a private research blog (not all ideas are for sharing!).

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2 David W. Hogg (@davidwhogg) March 20, 2012 at 12:10 am

@astrobetter asks Why blog daily? http://t.co/V7IAT12A 1. It incentivizes incremental progress. #openscience

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3 Richard Scalzo March 20, 2012 at 8:30 pm

It’s an interesting idea and I had intended to do something like this with various stages of work on SkyMapper, but I’m finding that doing actual work on SkyMapper rather than blogging about it currently takes precedence. As for non-SkyMapper things, almost all of my activity on the critical path towards publishing new results is being done within a collaboration which is *extremely* worried about scoop threat (and within the competitive supernova/transient world, it’s at least partially justified, though not completely). The SkyMapper culture is much more open, but we’re still in the commissioning stages here in Oz.

Then again, a quick peek at David Hogg’s example blog shows him talking more about decisions in how to execute the science of a paper, as well as his usual stream of strong opinions about how science should be done (the likes of which we’ve all heard in his talks), but little about what he’s actually finding; this kind of blog could be useful to others in picking interesting and profitable directions, but still not reveal the actual results until they’re ready for prime time.

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4 Brooke March 22, 2012 at 11:54 pm

I keep most of my research notes in a (backed-up) blog, but it’s not public. I haven’t tried a public science blog of my own yet!

However, some of the posts on the Galaxy Zoo blog are updates for the citizen science on the work that’s being done by the science team. Team members have been known to post screenshots from the readout image at the telescope, and initial raw Hubble and Chandra data that has just been downloaded, along with updates on a particular project’s progress. (Other Zooniverse blogs do this, too.) And, of course, there are always updates when a paper is submitted/accepted. It seems to work very well, though of course the GZ blog is a multipurpose blog and it doesn’t necessarily track every step of every project.

I think a team Research Blog is a great idea, and especially like the idea that slightly more casual writing could facilitate future paper writing.

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5 iPlant Collaborative (@iPlantCollab) March 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm

@nmatasci @mattdotvaughn @alenards @sudochik @stack0verflow We should TOTALLY do this on our blog. What do you think? http://t.co/ZgMcSV7Y

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6 Patrick M. Len April 5, 2012 at 10:25 pm

My astronomy/physics education research blog has mostly compiled exam questions with student response distributions, discrimination indices (point biserial statistics), and samples of student work (exemplars and otherwise). The posted exam questions are released/retired, so feel free to adapt/re-use for your own use. Also posted are results of standardized assessment tools (FCI, MPEX, etc.) as well as other assessment tools currently in development (Astronomy Laboratory Learning Survey, etc.).

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7 Jessica Lu July 18, 2012 at 3:30 pm

For those of you with individual or group blogs who have now been doing this for awhile, I am wondering whether your posting frequency is as you had originally hoped?

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