Does blogging count as NSF Broader Impacts?

There's an arms race happening in the world of NSF broader impacts these days. Where it was once okay to basically describe the parts of your job that contribute to training (grad and undergrad student mentoring, incorporation of current research into the classroom), the bar for what constitutes a successful broader impacts section of an NSF proposal continues to rise. Everyone is looking for new and creative ways to satisfy this requirement without committing huge amounts of time to the endeavor.

Potnia Theron has a post up about an NSF panel and the discussion there regarding blogging as an acceptable BI activity:

The blogging people who got good scores on this were ones who had blogged for a while and who could demonstrate significant traffic (by statistics). The PZ Myers of this world (whatever you think about his politics and his feminist credentials) do well, and the guy who is just starting a blog about the sadness of endangered species does not.

This reflects my experience as well. At the last panel I was on, reviewers had checked the blogs or websites being held up as BI contributions and found almost every one of them to be unremarkable in content. Many had only just been started, with a single or a few posts. That's not the kind of thing that gets any BI cred. The people who had something established and could give traffic numbers were taken more seriously. And no, posting a bunch of risotto recipes doesn't count.

For those of you considering taking this approach, it would be a good idea to decide what you want as an outcome of blogging and how you might measure success. Are page views a good yard stick? Unique viewers? Clicks to links of papers? What are you going to use to demonstrate that your writing is reaching your audience and not just racking up Google hits because you have the phrase "nude cats" in many of your post titles?

With the right approach, blogging is starting to become an acceptable form of outreach. But just like anything else in the BI section, it needs to be thought out and have measurable outcomes or else it's just another empty promise.

23 responses so far

  • It's great to know that blogging can be a useful component, and it's especially good to have advice on how to make the pitch as successful as possible. Your question about what constitutes outreach is a good one, and one I think about when it comes to my blog in general. I still don't have a good handle of *who* reaches my posts, often (comments aren't always a helpful metric of this).

    Now I kinda want to start a Tumblr of pictures of sad-looking endangered animals.

  • Terry says:

    You could ask readers to send you a quick email addressing the value and impact of the blog to you.

  • zy- says:

    That's great, but it takes a lot of time on the webs to get good traffic. I've had a blog for about 6 months now (jellybiologist.com), and am only just to an average of 10 views a day. SEO and all that, it just takes a long time. So if we're using visits as a metric, then I'm pretty sad 🙁

  • proflikesubstance says:

    You don't get traffic with a blog in a vacuum. You need to drive traffic by commenting on other blogs, getting active on twitter and putting out content that people get talking about. It takes time, but interesting posts get around.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Terry, I'm not sure what good those emails would do. Where would they fit in to the proposal? Maybe you could excerpt, but that's a lot of real estate for not a lot of impact.

  • @Terry - including fan letters is not a great idea - I think they would get discounted. As always, metrics, or someone around the table saying "hey, I read that blog" is more useful.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Nobody reads logs anymore...it's all about the Twitters

  • And no, posting a bunch of risotto recipes doesn't count.

    Just to piss you offe, I am going to apply for an NSF grant to study the physicochemical basis of risotto. And my superior grantsmanship skills are gonna get me the fucken grant.

  • I've had a blog for about 6 months now (jellybiologist.com), and am only just to an average of 10 views a day.

    Says the goofaloon who doesn't even link to their blogge when they comment on other blogges.

  • Terry says:

    In the proposal, you say that you'll report on the broader impact of the blog using quantitative and qualitative measures. Then, in your annual and final reports, you not only include your stats (though eyeballs or clicks doesn't mean impact, surely) and also other qualitative measures, for instances how it has been mentioned in particular contexts and, at least in my case, those emails.

    I totally am planning on including these "fan letters" in my final report to NSF as a broader impact. NSF is interested in recruiting people into the sciences (notwithstanding a decline in available faculty positions), as well as making sure that research is happening at primarily undergraduate institutions. I'm entirely new to this blogging thing, but since I've started I've received a bunch of unsolicited emails from grad students, postdocs, and junior faculty communicating that my blog has been useful in helping them understand options in their career paths, and also to help validate or rethink their attitude towards taking a job at a non-R1 campus.

    Don't you think that would be good evidence of a broader impact to NSF?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    CPP, I look forward to reviewing your proposal and discussing the value of "Mother Fukken EattEn Itte" as a Broader Impact.

  • Terry says:

    As a clarification, I would remove all identifying information from these emails. Anyway, my report just went in before I started the blog, so it'll be another year before I do this. I agree it's too much real estate to put stuff like that in a proposal.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I don't know that the POs need to be convinced that you have fans. It's clearing the review bar that matters in the sense of leaning on blogging as a valid activity.

  • Terry says:

    It's not that you have fans, is what people say. If they say, I like what you write, that's worthless. If they say, "you are changing my career trajectory" that is something else.

    In the review stage, there isn't as much of a place for it, other than saying that you have a blog. And, that only matters if it's well read at that point. There's no way I'd tout a blog above, or in the stead of, other broader impacts.

  • "Says the goofaloon who doesn't even link to their blogge when they comment on other blogges."

    PLS is one of the people that inspired me to blog in the first place. So the goofaloon is a hangover from my lurker days. Fixed.

  • Jellyfish, I just linked to your blogge. Other than linking to your blogge in comments at other blogges, the single most important thing to increase and sustain traffic is to post regularly, not sporadically.

  • WOW Comradde PhysioProffe, you must get like 1 billion views a day! Truth on the regular posting, but I've got a noob question. I've been trying to post longer pieces with lots o' content. But it takes a few weeks to pull them all together. Is there an optimal ratio between short, quick posts and long, more content-filled posts?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Find a way to post shorter posts more regularly and post the longer ones less regularly. The vast majority of my posts take less than 15 min.

  • Shane says:

    @ jellybiologist - As a relative newcomer to this whole blogging thing as well (< 1 year), I think it's a balance between the long and short. I have a backlog of topics that I would like to write about, but more often than not, something comes up that deserves attention so I'll usually address it with a quick post. On "slower" days, I can put more effort into my project posts.

  • Terry, as an NSF reviewer- there is no room for these letters in a proposal. Final reports are not read by reviewers. Taking up valuable room in a proposal with such things will hurt you in other things you could be saying. This is especially true if your directorate has gone to "pre-proposals" that are ~4 pages in length.

  • Terry says:

    Potnia, I agree. That's exactly what I said.

  • Isabel says:

    "But just like anything else in the BI section, it needs to be thought out and have measurable outcomes or else it's just another empty promise. "

    So NSF now actually follows through other BI components? I thought we could say anything as far as our future plans (and projected results of current projects) anyway.

    "Find a way to post shorter posts more regularly and post the longer ones less regularly. The vast majority of my posts take less than 15 min."

    So in your BI section you reveal that you are PLS? Nice to hear how the panelists are wasting their time, especially as they are just finding a lot of desperately thrown together efforts. What a nightmare.

    "Terry, as an NSF reviewer- there is no room for these letters in a proposal"

    It is a major, bizarre waste of everyone's time when people who are (usually) not trained in public science education and outreach propose and judge each others' efforts in this specialized area of study that has NOTHING to do with the proposed research, or any research, yet counts for 50% of the score (or so we've been told). I suspect it also has little to do with how dedicated to science outreach the individual grant writers are.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I don't use my blog for BI. It's not geared for that, because the purpose is not outreach.

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