Research Blogging

Time to talk briefly about other uses of blogging. Some time ago I spoke about the idea of using blogging as a sharper tool for exchanging and even developing research ideas. The conversation about the suggestion degenerated into vapour, at some point, and having floated the idea and learned from the conversation, I left it alone. In public at least.

In private, I continued. The fact is that I have other blogs on the go. I’d like to tell you about one of them, since it might be a useful tool for you too. The way I use it is simple. I run my “lab” with it. It’s my virtual lab-space. I have about five students working with me, and a million and one projects, and not enough hours in the day. The students all are working on several projects with me, with each other, and alone…. but all under the umbrella of being part of my little “subgroup” of the larger high energy theory group here at USC. I want us all to have conversations, point at new papers, throw out ideas, show partial computations to each other (and definitely to me) for comment, share drafts of papers with each other, etc.

So far so standard. Normally, this is all done with emails back and forth, one on one conversations, etc. Sometimes those conversations can be supplemented by one or other person from the group (me, or anyone else) dropping in and setting the whole thing straight with a comment. Sure, you can do this with email in the “reply-to-all” mode, but….

A blog is the perfect tool for making this all work seamlessly. On the “cvjlab” blog (that’s not its name), which is well over a year old, there are cvjlab snapconversations going on all the time on a wide variety of projects. It does not matter where we all are on the planet, we can just log in and read what is going on… leave a question, pick up an answer… report on progress on a collaboration… share an idea. It is fully equipped with LaTeX for writing technical things, and it is trivial to upload figures and files for everyone in the collaboration to have access to. We are in a sense meeting all the time, but on our own schedules. And we can use it to coordinate real face-to-face meetings too. It is fully searchable, and so it is easy to refer to old conversations/ideas, and it is also a sort of diary of our progress on various projects too.

In short, I think that this can a most useful coordination tool for research collaborations, and for advising students, running short or long-term working groups, etc. I’m not claiming to have invented this. I’m jut not aware of anyone in physics (or any science field) doing this, and so I thought I’d tell you about it in case it might be of interest to you to implement for your group or subgroup.

Logistics? WordPress is what I like to use, just like for this blog. It takes a short time (less than an hour) to set up on a computer and tailor to your needs (minutes if you are using vanilla settings). I have it set up so that only a restricted set of users –those in my lab- can post, and nobody can modify each others posts (except me of course). Nobody can comment unless they are part of the group. An outsider -if they found it by accident- can see *some* of the content, but there is whole layer of protected posts that they cannot even see… that’s where we have the juiciest stuff we’re working on. It is also the place where everyone (including me) can say silly things and ask silly questions if we want to, without the whole world watching. That latter is a very important feature, in fact. I learned that from those earlier conversations I talked about.

Let me strongly urge you to consider using a setup like this to help with your own research group. You might be surprised how useful it can be.

-cvj

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