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Project blogging Q & A with Kara Peterman



Kara Peterman

About Kara
Kara Peterman, PhD candidate
Civil engineering, with a focus on cold-formed steel and earthquake engineering
Johns Hopkins University




Q: How did the CFS-NEES blog come about?

A: One of our industry partners suggested that I blog to disseminate information about the project and publicize it. So I gave it a try. I was a little averse initially because I knew it would take time.

Q: What was your prior experience blogging or writing?

A: I don’t have any blogging or writing experience. So I didn’t know what to expect.

Q: How much time per week does blogging take? And do you have a set schedule? Or do you post ad hoc?

A: It depends on the post. Overall, I spend about an hour per week on the blog. Fortunately, no one specified how often I had to post. So, I post when I feel like it--when there is something interesting to share. Sometimes I write a lot; sometimes I just write a quick update.

Q: What sort of feedback have you had on this project blog?

A: The people who read it really like it. My advisor loves it, and so do other professors. A professor friend of mine forwards entries to his students. The PR professionals like it. Reporters like it, as it provides a foundation for interviews and articles.

The PR people send it out to a list of interested people. Industry leaders read it and watch the tests. We have had more than 500 people watching each of our tests. I know because we’ve maxed out our live feed, which has a limit of 500 viewers.

We’ve had about 20,000 page views, but from what I can tell, very few from students. I don’t believe most of my peers read it at all.

Q: For graduate students, what are some tangible benefits of blogging?

Several benefits. Soon I’ll be writing my dissertation and I think the details included in the blog will help me go back to the moment.

Also, the blog helps a lot with basic project reporting. We’ve used the blog data in our formal reports to the NSF.

Having a blog is a good way to maintain a timeline, a sequence of events. Faculty advisors always advise, “keep a research log,” but hardly anyone does. But having a blog makes sense because it is casual and easily maintained.

Q: What advice do you have for faculty and grad students considering a project blog?

A: It is a very positive experience if you have people who follow it. Knowing I have an audience is a big motivator. For a few weeks it seemed like it was just me and my mom and Dr. Schafer and his mom. But we built a pretty good following from there.

It’s great to know that people in the industry are republishing and tweeting my posts. It helps to have an email chain like we do for the CFS-NEES blog.

Write when you feel like it -- the fewer constraints, the better.

For large-scale tests, a blog is a great way to document the sequence of events. I can take a photo, and go straight from my phone to the blog. I can have a video on YouTube in a minute and link to the video. People really respond to multimedia.

The blog also is useful for when I have interviews with reporters. I can have them look ay the blog and the pictures first. It gives them good background information.

But the biggest thing is this: have somebody who can share the posts. The steel industry (American Iron and Steel Institute, AISI) has been very supportive; they’ve provided great PR for the CSF-NEES blog. That way practicing engineers and people who write standards and codes can see it along with all the CFS nerds too!