Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pseudonymity and Paranoia

I am terrified of blogging too much sometimes. Because of this, I end up having to hold back a lot of information. Because honestly, in my field, it just might be that there is only one of me. I don't really know.

I was freaked out when I read this post over at Sciencewomen about getting "discovered" when blogging about the job search. I have a lot of stuff to kind of say, but I'm really not sure if I should say it, not because it would be bad about any institution necessarily, but because if I blog about the industrial labs I am considering, then my field my become obvious (or maybe I'm just paranoid), and then all my posts would be open to scrutiny.

I even wonder whether my icon/photo is too obvious - I look at it and it's clearly me (to me), but I realize that someone who knows my face less might not know it was me just from looking at it. After all, the logical side of my brain tells me it's really not that obvious.

Am I being too careful? Or does it not even matter? It's just that, with the Internetz, it's often one of those places where you really can't do "backsies" in any way....


Ambivalent Academic said...

there's no way i could pick you out in a crowd from your profile pic if that's any comfort.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

These are hard questions to answer.

I don't know what I think. I planned the creation of my blog months before I actually launched it, and I decided that there was no way I could discuss anything I cared about while remaining truly pseudonymous. I'm too much of an anomaly. And good writing is about specifics.

Eventually, I may just start blogging under my real name. I have yet to write anything that feels like something an employer would judge me badly for. Why would they care, after all, unless their candidate was using his blog to broadcast thoughtless, immature teardowns of everyone he knew, or his drug use, or his lazy work ethic, or something otherwise germane to job performance?

But what do I know? I'm just one of those people who believe in "transparency". I believe that if you strive to be transparent in your work and your interactions with people, then you will never provide a detractor with ammunition. What the fuck are they gonna do with information everyone already knows? It's also a good way to keep oneself from doing things one might be ashamed of later.

This is a belief wrought from my last graduate school experience. Who knows if it's the best way to go?

An academic I respect very much blogs under their real name, blogs candidly about their work and colleagues, and includes their blog address in their contact information. Honestly? I have no idea whether this helps or hurts. Do prospective employers give them credit for their hard work ethic, intelligence, passion and maturity? Do prospective employers give them credit for writing a substantive, creative blog largely about their research? Do the employers discredit them just for refusing to write a completely impersonal blog, or for swearing now and then? Do you really want to work with employers who would do the latter?

I've never job searched at your level, though, and I'm not so naive as to think scientists can just prance into today's market and hold out for Perfection. So definitely do not take this as a delusional me somehow trying to give you advice. I'm just rambling here. All I can offer you is my conviction that your identity is totally not obvious. I hypothesize that all of us could be outed with varying degrees of effort by the (nosy, annoying) "outer". But how much time are busy employers and their overtaxed minions willing to spend doing this for a whole crop of candidates?

I can't tell what you look like from a modified photo of your shadowed eye, either. No way. :)

JLK said...

I think your pic is awesome, and I intend to copy the concept for my profile pic if that's cool with you.

Here's how I look it. You have two possible priorities when blogging: 1) Being truly you as much as you can or 2) Being able to bitch about anything or anyone without that person or anyone else ever finding out.

Sometimes I think that once I get grad school decisions I will "out" my undergrad MRU. It's a big enough school that no one is going to figure out who I am and I haven't said anything on my blog that's so bad that it will come back to bite me. But then I think "what's the point?" It's not like any of the bloggers on here are from my locale, resulting in an offline friendship once they find out where I went to school.

In a similar token, I debate posting where I end up for grad school because if any of my blogger pals are there or close by, that's something I would really like to know.

I don't think anyone is going to go to great lengths to discover who you are in real life unless you make a big deal out of it. Dr. Isis' identity, for example, is something highly sought after mostly because of admiration. I'm sure a lot of people would love to know who she is so they can try to work with her and no doubt she has some male admirers who would send her dirty emails (of course they probably already do).

But you can't include names of companies or labs you want to work in because a google search will bring it up and they can figure you out easily. In that sense, I think it's more important to protect the idenitities of people you blog about rather than your own.

I don't think there's really any info I wouldn't reveal if another blogger emailed me asking me for it, assuming it was a blogger I was very familiar with and have been "conversing" with for some time.

So I don't know. For me I guess it's not really a big deal because there are very few bloggers in my field. Everyone knows what my intended grad program is, that I live in New England, and that if I go to Ivy #1 I don't have to move. There's a 1 in 3 shot of guessing what state I live in, and if you guess that you can guess what MRU I went to. If someone wants to go through all that trouble they must really want to know who I am. They can find out a lot more shit about me by googling my real name if they have it.

PhizzleDizzle said...

JLK - it's cool with me (to copy concept of my photo).

It's good to know that you guys would never know who I am from my pic. I hope that someone who actually knows me, if they stumble across this, would feel the same way and never figure out that it was me.

I think my intent for doing this blog anonymously was so that I could truly say what I thought without it necessarily getting back to me, under any circumstance. However, I am finding that avoiding the "getting back to me" means that I inherently cannot say everything I want. So I am re-evaluating because for the most part, I don't think I say anything bad about anyone anyway. So....I cannot figure it out. But I'm not sure.

I think, though, that JLK you are right about protecting those that I am blogging about. I will probably post my thoughts on my recent foray into the job market very vaguely in terms of specifics. Not because I will say anything unkind, but just because. I want to remain as pseudonymous as possible.

PhizzleDizzle said...

So I was just thinking, I want to be clear that I dont' think someone is going to spend all their time trying to figure out who I am. For example, I would love to know who FSP is but I am not going to spend any time figuring it out.

What I want to avoid is someone who happens to know me stumbling upon this blog, and then, by virtue of reading it, figuring out that I am the one writing it. I feel like those are two different ways of looking at it that make a big difference in how to blog.

ScientistMother said...

Perhaps you can alter some details so that it not a true fit to you? throw in some red herrings?

That said, I don't want to be "discovered" either. Though I know some readers have figured out who I am based on my IP, and information I have put out there. However, they are not likely to out me...

Eppendork said...

I went to one blog the other day and on it there was a list of where the people who read the blog came from. It had a flag and city name - wasn't too keen on that to be honest, which is sad cause it was an interesting blog.


Gail said...

Guess I don't have a lot to say on this one, since I do blog under my real name. I do know, however, that this restricts my material a lot. But that's ok with me, since I intended the blog to be professional rather than personal (you could choose either whether anonymous or not, but personal and known is definitely riskiest).

But I can say that I couldn't even tell that your profile pic WAS an eye until another commenter said that. So you are definitely not revealing yourself with it ;)

JLK said...

PD, what you said about people stumbling on your blog - I think that's the real issue.

The question to consider is "how" they would stumble upon your blog. I don't know many people who read and search blogs who aren't bloggers themselves. So what types of google searches might bring someone who knows you to your blog is where you should focus, and keep those types of terms out of your blog for the most part.

Hermitage said...

I think it can be a serious thing. I remember casually reading this really good science blog, and just thru seeing a few pictures I came realize we were at the same uni. And then I started to recognize exactly where her office was which lead to my being able to hazard a guess as to who her PI was and it was all too squicky so I stopped reading it. It's something I worry about myself because I'll be outed as my true Insane Pyscho Self to the world. So I say do whatever makes you feel safe as long as it doesn't involve lighting anyone on fire^^

Juniper Shoemaker said...

I'm beginning to think that JLK is being nasty to me on purpose.

I do not think you have to necessarily choose between "being truly you" and not protecting those you blog about.

JLK said...

Juniper, I'm not sure what you mean. I agree with everything you said and my responses were to PD's comments.

I didn't mean to suggest that you need to choose between the two, just that one had to be a priority over the other. If you want to be able to bitch about things and people with a good amount of detail (but not giving away who they are), then your anonymity is crucial. But if you would rather be more personal about yourself on the internet you have to restrain yourself when it comes to things you want to say about other people.

I feel like balancing those two things is crucial. I don't include my MRU on my blog because someone could figure out who the notorious Dr. X is or the grad student who I've been working with on research both by process of elimination and the fact that I am presenting a paper at a major conference with said grad student and Rock Star Professor.