First, I'm honestly blown away. I'm so damn happy to hear that any of this stuff I've been doing for the last few years means anything to anyone. The positive feedback in this blogging/writing world is rare and I'm humbled and reinvigorated as I'm reminded of why I'm doing this.
As an academic and a scientist putting yourself out into the public at all--especially when you use your real name--opens you up to a lot of criticism. Academic researchers think you're wasting your time when you could be doing "real work". The Internet snark machine is happy to jump on any error you make and let you know how stupid you are. And you can easily fall into the page-view trap of writing pieces just to drive traffic, moving you ever farther from useful, constructive scientific discourse.
People often ask why I do this. I've summed it up thusly over on Quora:
Social media is a way for me to continue sharpening my understanding of difficult concepts. The time investment isn't important to me--my job is to learn and discover, and this is another aspect of that. And if in the process I make something more clear and accessible to a possible future scientist, all the better. No scientist achieved their breakthroughs because they communicated less.This whole public communication thing helps me find holes and weaknesses in my thinking. Sure, it's also fun sometimes. And I like to know that people think the stuff I know is interesting. But deep down it's about continuing my training and making my thinking less lazy.
As for the letter, the why of that is summed up in my associated statement to the hiring committees that I'm including along with the letters themselves:
Much of my outreach and education efforts exist in an invisible space where metrics and assessments cannot easily reach. To try and give an index of my extracurricular outreach, education, and science communication efforts I reached out to my digital network of people who read my blog, watch my videos, and follow my writings on twitter and other social networks. I asked them to submit to me a statement of what—if anything—my blogging, public speaking, etc. has meant to them. Below is an unedited collection of the comments I received: some anonymous, some pseudonymous, and some signed.As I said above, many academics think this online social media stuff is, at best, a waste of time and at worst an exercise in the narcissistic pursuits of an egotistical sell-out.
What I'm trying to do is provide some metric that shows that any of this might be useful or helpful, and to show that it does have some positive impact that can be wrapped up nicely into a metric that can be easily referenced.
As of today I have about 20 letters from people ranging from a C*O of a huge tech company, Quora as a company, clinical workers, undergrads, PhD students, post-docs, and a tenured faculty member, a health care professional, and others.
Some are hundreds of words, some are tweets. This process has itself spawned a meta-article about the process.
But I've still got a few more days before I hand everything over the the search committees. And it will be many months before I know if they even give a shit. In the mean time I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing armed with the knowledge that maybe it matters to someone out there.