Last week, I took my PhD comprehensive exams. For my particular PhD program in mass communication, comprehensive (or qualifying) examinations take the form of 4-hour long essay tests - five of them, five days in a row. Sounds brutal, right?
Apart from being a bit emotionally taxing, however, the exams themselves were not bad at all. But as the week wore on, and I realized that I could consistently write 10-12 page essays within the allotted 4-hour time interval fairly easily, it hit me. I had entered these exams with, perhaps, a secret weapon. As each exam essay steadily grew in form from the first hour to the fourth hour, I noticed that each of these essays bore a striking resemblance to a well-thought out (although lacking in visuals, snarky remarks and hyperlinks) blog post!
Perhaps a better way to put it, consistently writing full-fledged blog posts, in typically a single sitting, does wonders for reducing the 10-page essay from Monster to pleasurable creative pastime.
If I could recommend one study tip for students out there, especially students in journalism and mass communication programs, and particularly graduate students, it would be this: blog. Blog on a weekly basis about your course readings, interesting applications from your classes, or even news items you see related to what you are learning. Start a blog in a topic or theme you are passionate about (for me, that is science and science communication), and relate and apply what you learn and what you read for school to this topic or theme in your blogging.
Such a blog will be far more than a great portfolio as you finish your education and search for jobs. It will be even more than a great tool for studying for your exams. But on that note, just think, a blog could take the place of some of those binders of notes you end up just throwing away (or burning in a dangerous celebration of being finally free from school - or so you thought, with an evil laugh). No, a blog is a place to make "all those useless facts" really matter. It's a place where you yourself can explore the applications of that "I'll never need to use this again" math class to social network analysis or to the growth of bacterial populations. It's a place where you can explore how your course in disaster management could help your friends prepare for a zombie apocalypse. And it's a place where I personally have explored what implications ideas like spreadable media and "popular" politics have for science and science communication.
In a study published by Marlieke Van Kesteren in 2014 (a great blog post about it here), scientific experiments show that students better remember information that is related to their primary field of study. To my understanding, this research suggests that students like me, studying journalism or mass communication, might better learn and remember material by relating it to an already established area of personal or professional expertise. If you are a graduate student, this could be your own area of research. If you are an undergraduate student, this could be an area of knowledge, activity or application you are particularly passionate about. Maintaining a blog about a particular topic or theme, like science communication, science policy or even animal behavior, allows students like me to apply what they are learning to the real world, but even more importantly, to areas and professional activities of personal interest.
"So when the students learn new information related to their primary field of study, that information will not be stored separately, but will be linked to information that was already remembered before. In turn this leads to better performance on the memory test." - Marlieke Van Kesteren
Blogging is also, plain and simple, an amazing way to practice writing in a vulnerable and self-correcting way. You might find after blogging for a year or so, looking back on your old blog posts makes you cringe. With practice, almost anything you do gets better. And well, there is nothing like blogging to help you practice responsible, transparent essay writing. If your arguments or your reasoning sucks, blog readers (or at least people on Twitter or Facebook) are likely to tell you so.
So if you are a student, especially a student of mass communication or a student studying at the intersection of two different fields, I highly encourage you to blog. Use your blog to make connections between concepts in vastly different fields of study, or that seemingly occupy different parts of your brain. Tie your art classes to science communication. Tie your biology classes to your information theory classes. Tie your knowledge of human cognition to environmental and scientific issues. Don't let anything you learn or read about go un-applied. You might thank me later.