Why grad schools should require students to blog

Maria Konnikova:

Approximately one month ago, I fell into a rabbit hole – the rabbit hole better known as Writing My Dissertation. I’d been working toward that point for five years and counting, through seminars and conferences, experiments and literature reviews, conversations and late-night therapy sessions with an open statistics textbook and eyes full of tears over yet another beta or epsilon that I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend. But here it was: the home stretch. The final product of years of loving–and sometimes not-so-loving–labor. And partway through another all-nighter (I was working under some tight deadlines), I had an epiphany: thank god I’ve spent the last few years blogging, writing a book, and doing freelance journalism. Otherwise, I’d be lost. Truly.
Alas, not what I looked like as I worked on my dissertation.
This may strike you as a strange realization to have in the middle of the most academic of academic pursuits, the doctoral dissertation. After all, the dissertation is Serious Writing about Serious Experiments and Serious Methods. It comes with its own language, its own conventions, its own academe-speak. On the surface, it has little in common with a blog post or magazine piece that’s meant for popular consumption. And yet–it wasn’t long into my introductory literature review (which I’d saved for last) that I realized just how lucky I am to have the popular writing background that I do.
My dissertation sits on the boundary of several disciplines. On the one hand, it’s social and cognitive psychology, on the other, behavioral economics or behavioral finance. To set the background as thoroughly as possible, I would have to combine studies from well-established psych journals (Psychological Science, JPSP, PNAS, and the like) with experiments reported in journals that many psychologists don’t even realize exist, or if they realize it, don’t often consult: The Journal of Portfolio Management, The Journal of Behavioral Finance, American Economic Review, to name a few. What’s more, because I was trying to build a case for the applied validity of my study designs, I would have to supplement those academic sources with commentaries on stock markets, analyses by actual investors, discussions of the causes of crashes and bubbles, market efficiencies and inefficiencies, financial climates and investment strategies–in short, by the types of analyses that are done by journalists and financial industry professionals.