Monday, March 09, 2009

Voice Change

As my anonymity erodes away -- fortunately at a relatively slow rate so far -- I have been wondering whether it changes my blog-voice. When I am choosing topics and writing my posts, I am aware of the people who know that FSP is me, and sometimes it changes what and how I write.

In some cases that is good: it makes me consider topics from the various possible points of view of the people who know who FSP is. Some of these colleagues also provide me with blog fodder from their academic lives and are willing to let me bounce ideas off them; I enjoy that very much.

Another benefit of being semi-anonymous is that people who know that FSP is me are aware that I am a real person and therefore don't expect me to be a perfect super-mentor person who only gives flawless advice, never complains, never lacks confidence, and who single-handedly enlightens even the most entrenched sexist jerks. This concept seems to elude some of my readers for whom I am just FSP. Furthermore, since these readers know me well, they are able to distinguish musing from whining in my writing (I aim for the former, but occasionally slip into the latter), and therefore typically have a kinder response than that of some commenters. It's nice to have that support, though of course there are other positive comments as well.

In other cases my selective lack of anonymity makes me more cautious, and that may or may not be good depending on the topic and circumstance. And a few times the occasion has arisen in which someone figures out who I am and then I have to think back to whether/what I might have written about them. So far, this has not been a problem.

To date, the benefits of being semi-anonymous have outweighed the negative aspects, but at some point (maybe now), a threshold may be reached when being semi-anonymous to an ever increasing group of people makes writing more complicated.

I don't know.. I'm figuring this out as I go along.


Anonymous said...


I dunno who you are. I hope you dunno who I am.

When it gets to be too much, here's an idea. Open a new blog under a new name. Even include the new blog on FSP's blogroll! Ramp that one up... ramp this one down... and start a new blog life. Kind of a witness protection program for women academics.

John Vidale said...

I don't see the point of anonymity. Most scientists can deal with a little veiled criticism, they are probably more concerned not to be publicly reprimanded. Unfavorable reviews and grades are the grounds for far more serious grudges than chiding posts on a blog.

Many bloggers aggrandize so much that I highly doubt the accuracy of their tales of triumph and woe. I expect they are more like Don Quixote than Sir Galahad.

So revealing your identity would lend credence to your knowledge and views. Your good sense is evidence enough for me, but those who most need your advice are those least able to recognize how accurate are your insights.

You should carry on as you have - I remain amazed at your willingness to invest so much time to write thoughtful, accessible, varying entries and moderate us ill-mannered commentators.

cookingwithsolvents said...

I've been enjoying your blog for quite a while now for all sorts of reasons. I'm sure that the loss of some anonymity will change what you write but I hope things won't change TOO much around here. You've always been pretty respectful, in my view, even of those that you have significant differences with.

I guess consider this a vote of confidence in the continuing frank and open discourse in your blog!

Anonymous said...

I originally thought like John when I started to read FSP, but the more I read, the more I see the value in anonymity. W

When FSP blog posts mention real face-to-face committee meetings where everyone got on her nerves, or excerpt from emails from real students, it seems like anonymity (or at least the perception of anonymity) is basically required.

If FSP describes her encounters with friends-of-FSP who in FSP's mind long ago deserved promotion but for some reason were waiting to tell their small-liberal-arts-college department chair, it'd be nice to have anonymity.

Without anonymity, FSP would probably have to seek the personal permission of the key parties involved in each anecdote before posting. Which probably means such anecdotes would disappear from the blog.

Many of the topics FSP writes about would still be fair game without anonymity, but the nature of the discussion would become more more impersonal, detached, and academic, I think.

Anonymous said...

Dear FSP: I have no idea who you are and I do think you are a super mentor, not because you are perfect but because you can tackle so many subjects (including touchy ones) in your posts. I hope your semi-anonymity does not change the scope of your blog too much.

By the way, I was at a women-in-science event recently and saw someone with long, long hair. Stripper hair. My first thought: could it be FSP?!!?

Anonymous said...

Evidently, I have been reading this blog too long: I had a dream the other night, in which FSP accidentally signed a comment to her own post with her name: "David Seyfert".

FSP, I hope you can continue to walk the fine line. I love your blog for what it is, and I've never felt the need to know your name. It's much better, taken as "EveryWomanProfessor".

Anonymous said...


I have a similar issue in that some of my friends/colleagues read my semi-anonymous blog. This does not allow me to talk on the blog about some thorny issues that I might otherwise take on. I suppose this is fine- but it's often just those thorny issues that need an airing.

I am not sure what to do about this either. When you figure it out...

Anonymous said...

FSP, love you, love your blog. Don't care who you are IRL.

When women speak up, they are told to be polite and shut up. Of course, the men here don't see why anonymity is needed and of course, they say the women tales are tall. cluelesssss.

I can imagine the hate mail you get FSP. Isis has a shitstorm going now with a mail male psycho. You do what you need to do for your safety, emotional and physical.

John Vidale said...

My simplistic view - Blogs are basically captured forever on computers around the world, and one should not expect any post to remain anonymous.

In fact, it may be dicey to expect anonymous comments to remain anonymous.

Visible credentials allow one to assess whether descriptions in blogs that purport to be non-fiction really are. I guess that is just my scientific side, wanting the background for perspective.

Finally, despite some of our guesses, most posts in the tens of millions of blogs around the world are not carefully scrutinized to find the hidden people being described.

Anonymous said...

What would I do without the periodic updates on Professor Troll? Or the snarky remarks about committe meetings? Please don't change!

Anonymous said...


I have no idea who you are and I have no interest in finding out your real identity. I enjoy reading your blog because I love your perspective on academia. I hope your blog will be around for a long long time.

I used to have a blog where I post pretty much what I post on my current blog. I told all my friends and families about and overall, my blog was well received. In fact, some family members got so addicted to reading my blog that they started to nag me about writing (or rather, not writing frequently enough). For about 6 months, I was completely turned off blogging because everytime I sat in front of the computer, I felt pressured, like I was a bad student who waited until the night before the deadline to start my assignment. Blogging was no longer fun. When I started my new blog, I didn't tell anyone for the longest time. I've made some online contacts whose identity is a misery to me. I've also told a few very close friends about my blog but that's about it. I have a much smaller audience but I prefer it this way. I blog because I love to write, not because I have to fill someone else's boring free time.

My point is, anonymity gives you the freedom to write whatever you want, whenever you want. There are no expectations and you can explore any topics that tickles your mind.

Anonymous said...

Curt F has raised an interesting point about the difference between real anonymity, and semi-anonymous blogging. With semi-anonymous blogging, even though some people may know who you are, there are still mores that hold. For example, when you say "Professor Troll is a twit" rather than "my colleague Professor John Jones, who works at X University with me, is a twit" there is a big difference. Sure, some people will infer correctly who you are talking about, but it is much less offensive, in my view, even amongst this group (including the colleague!). Whereas publicly naming someone is another matter entirely. And surely the point of blogging (generally speaking) is to muse, consider, analyse, not to name and shame; rather to focus on the issue you are discussing.

John Vidale said...

I think it is fine for FSP to continue as she(?) has, we are fortunate to have her writings.

But I have to scratch my head at the claims of some avid followers to have no interest in her actual situation.

Anonymous said...

Pseudo-anonymity is pretty much the point of blogging, in my mind. It doesn't really matter to me if FSP is really who she says she is. If she is a fake, than that would be massively impressive. I think if would be really hard to fake FSP. But it wouldn't really matter. The role the FSP plays in my life would be the same if she were fictional or real.

Please keep us posted about the progress of your pseudo-anonymity. This is uncharted waters and I, for one, am very interested in seeing how it evolves.

Anonymous said...

When I first started reading the blog (while a post-doc at a RPU) I seriously wanted to know who FSP was. And even tried to speculate who at RPU she might be (some of us in the lab had a hunch.. proven wrong by another FSP who told us that FSP had 2 kids and no cats.. certainly not this FSP).

And then, starting as an assistant prof I have wanted to muse/whine, etc about my world.. and NOT HAVE IT BE KNOWN WHO I WAS. So, now I seriously do not want to know who FSP is. She could be someone down the hall and I don't want to take this away from her. It's too hard when you are isolated in the ivory tower of men. And worse, if she stopped blogging, where would I go for my daily chuckle and realization that it's not just me?? Until I get tenure that is and then watch out..

EliRabett said...

You are heir to an old and honored tradition of anonymous pamphleteering. Think of yourself as a Sam Adams of the academic set

Anonymous said...

that's why I don't have a blog, or at least not one about my professional life. And I'm not even protected by tenure either.

CurtF: Without anonymity, FSP would probably have to seek the personal permission of the key parties involved in each anecdote before posting. Which probably means such anecdotes would disappear from the blog.

Actually I don't think FSP would have to seek the permission of those she writes about because this should be protected under freedom of speech. Lots of people post negative things about one another online (with true identities) all the time. an example is students writing nasty things about their teachers or about each other on their Facebook or MySpace pages. It happens so much that no one takes it seriously (for the most part, unfortunately there are some isolated cases that have tragic consequences)

It's only if FSP were to write things that would fit the legal definition of slander or libel then there would be a legal problem. There may, of course, still be repercussions in other ways if her colleagues found out and didn't like what she was writing about them publicly, like probably making her work life hell or ostracizing her.

Anonymous said...

It's also a good idea to remain anonymous because of online stalkers. The internet attracts and empowers a lot of psychos. If they become obsessed with you and figure out your identity, is there also a lot of information on the web that would "help" them locate you in real life??

Professors especially at big well-known universities are easily traceable in real life if you know their real names, because their workplaces (down to the location of their publicly-accessible offices) as well as their schedules are regularly updated on the web. Contrast this to the majority of people who are not named on their employers' websites or whose workplaces are not publicly accessible.

My friend's small business was compromised when an online stalker found her blog (where she had aired controversial political views) and became obsessed with her and figured out her identity. it didn't help that her real name was also on the website of her business, which was a retail store so anyone could just walk in off the street and that's what he did. she had to relocate her business for safety and she no longer blogs.

sorry if I sound paranoid, but there are psychos out there on the internet who will try to cross over into real life. Being a professor at well-known university makes you very traceable if your real name is known. Of course this means that any professor can also be the target of a stalker, but being a blogger as well opens you up to whole new level of danger. Without blogging, your real name on the internet is impersonal. But once you blog you can become an object of fascination to some random online stalker. Please be careful.

Unknown said...

I think Americans watch too many movies about serial murdering stalkers. Yes, outrageous and strident views can provoke, but this blog is sensible and mild-mannered.

I'd argue stalking is largely populated by old flames, co-workers, and people who live in the same neighborhood. Former students and frustrated grad students are another sometimes dangerous set of relations.

Personally, there's a crowd of Berkleyites who accuse me of reviewing every paper they get rejected, and another crowd of flimflam earthquake predictors that torment me whenever I venture on their forums, although only rarely does either group physically threaten.

Clearly, a consensus here holds that FSP has a good level of anonymity, and I'm coming around to that point of view, but I don't think personal safety is much at stake in a blog on matters of academe.

Drugmonkey said...

I don't know.. I'm figuring this out as I go along.

as are we all.

take it wherever it leads you, say I. If your voice moves, so be it. your prof voice, your parent voice, your spouse voice...they all change. the only thing special about blogging is that, perhaps, the speed of change is fast enough to actually notice it yourself..

Heather said...

I support the general consensus opinion that you may as well leave your semi-anonymity where it is.

I vigorously agree with the phrase, "With semi-anonymous blogging, even though some people may know who you are, there are still mores that hold."

I'm a rung or two down the ladder, and had a semi-anonymous blog for a few years, flirted with "coming out", and finally did it by linking to a new blog under my real name. Although I post a lot of what I would have put under the old one, and have certainly improved readership by changing platforms, I do have twinges from time to time about not being able to post anecdotes like the ones you do, which illustrate your FSP life so tellingly. My more philosophical posts don't attract so much interest as that. And it's the exchange/back-and-forth part of blogging that is gratifying for me. If it is for you, too, I'd advise you resist the siren call of what appears to be simplifying things by just assuming your blogger identity, because things are equally delicate and complicated afterward. Some people may know who you are, but most don't, I'd presume.

Also, I had suggested at one point that the same blogging platform invite you to open a blog on their site (where one assumes ones name and responsibility for comments). Were you to transfer entirely over there, I'd regret it now. And keeping _two_ separate blogs up and running and fed? Hard to envisage. Great for your readers, difficult for you. Thanks for what you give us as it is.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous @ 11:42 PM:

Of course FSP is under no legal requirement to ask anyone for their permission before blogging about them.

But professors, in my experience, tend to value collegiality. If FSP's colleagues started seeing juicy tidbits of their daily workday conversations showing up online, without even the appearance of anonymity, it would put FSP's colleagues on guard in their interactions with her.

Anonymous said...

But I have to scratch my head at the claims of some avid followers to have no interest in her actual situation.


If I, Generic Reader, knew that FSP was actually Dr. Smith of Western University, I would much more easily 'write off' her experiences as particular to her situation - sexist colleagues, clueless students, Professor Troll, and all.

If I don't know who she is, then I, Generic Reader, have no choice but to consider that her experiences could be - and probably even are! - happening in various degrees all around me.

In another way: when you know the individual people involved, you interpolate. When you don't, you extrapolate.

I read FSP's blog not because I am interested in FSP personally, but because I am interested in the process of becoming, and the life of, a woman in academic research. I have absolutely no interest in her personal stake whatsoever. And I am likewise befuddled as to why you don't understand that.

John Vidale said...

anonymous poster at 8:09am, I guess we'll have just have to disagree.

Again, I'm scratching my head to read that if you know less of the setting of the action, you are MORE convinced "her experiences could be - and probably even are! - happening in various degrees all around me". Less knowledge = more certainty.

It seems like I'm seeking the facts to decide for myself (although my views end up nearly perfectly aligned with those of FSP), you're looking for a cut-and-dried view that cannot be challenged, in which you are not tempted to "write off her experiences as particular to her situation".

By the way, earthquake above was me, I hadn't noticed my wife had logged in over me.

Anonymous said...

I have an opinion, which is that anonymity does allow you freedom to talk about things you might otherwise be unable to talk about. But, as you become semi-anonymous, this freedom decreases anyway, to the point where being known might actually accrue more benefits.

I think this tipping point depends on who you really are, but if you are secure enough, the loss of topics might be worth discussing about field specific issues in a less veiled way, being a real (as opposed to theoretical) role model, and being a spokesprofessor (kind of like a spokesmodel), an opportunity that will be more viable if you are real.

It means something to me when Nancy Hopkins walked out on Larry Summers or when Ben Barres talks publicly, because part of the problem, of being a minority is the feeling of powerlessness. When people who have some power try to wield it on behalf of the group of which I am a part, a little bit of it leaks to me, and makes me feel a little bit less powerless.

I do not know if you have enough power to be able to do that, but if you decide you do, that's another benefit of not being anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, stay anonymous for as long as possible. I'm just afraid that you'll stop writing or will write differently if the anonymity erodes, and I would be very disappointed as I've invested so much time in this blog from its very inception.

Not having valuable feedback and lessons on academia that was absent in real life during the time I was in grad school would be horrible. I also learned a lot about issues that women face in academia; things I would have been ignorant of otherwise. I refuse to let you become non-anonymous, no matter what this 'John' character says. I'm very cross and feel downtrodden and, and, and I demand restitution! Me.

Also, I'm leaving the country pretty soon, so I was wondering who won 'faux SOP' contest and if it was me, I was going to forward you my foreign address with the very expensive shipping charges so that I could get my prize. I suppose if you Fed Ex my prize in the next week, I might still get it in the States.

What's that you say? I might not win? I'm the greatest 'Faux SOP' writer of all time, unlike all those pretenders! I demand my first place prize!

Female Science Professor said...

The SOP winner was the first entry published.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that first entry was a really good one actually. I expected it to win (and not me), but the anticipation was killing me.

That's alright. I will be way more ready next time.

Ms.PhD said...

I continue to worry about the issue of anonymity. Some of my friends know vaguely that I have a blog, but I have never advertised where it is or what it's called. If they've found it and know that it's me, they've had the decency to never say so in real life.

Every once in a while (twice recently) I get a nasty comment on my blog from someone who claims to know who I am, but usually the accusation has some factual errors in it that make me think they actually don't know what they're talking about.

It makes me wonder if I should stop blogging altogether, actually, because while I sometimes don't care if I get outed, lately I do and it scares me. I hope you never get to this point. It's not a fun place to be. But since you have more job security, I somehow doubt it's a real concern for you.

So, keep up the good work.

re: the real you, I often wonder what you're like in real life and if I could/would ever actually meet you, what you would say to me. Sort of like a fairy god-mentor, I don't really believe that FSP exists, but it's helpful sometimes to imagine that you do!