Anonymity

When I started this blog, I decided to blog under a pseudonym so I could be free to talk about whatever I wanted.  I soon learned that this was not really true.  If I really want to stay anonymous, if I really don’t want people to figure out who I am, then I can’t talk about anything that will identify me.  That includes specifics about my research (since we’re one of the few labs working on this question in this system).  So, from the start, anonymity wasn’t nearly as freeing as I thought it would be.

This past weekend, I went to a certain event (which I’m actually not going to blog about here because I am trying to stay secret) where I met a lot of people that I had only known online under my pseudonym.  Prior to leaving, I decided that I would go to this event under my real name in case anyone took a picture of me and posted it.  This made things somewhat awkward.  What usually happened was that I would come up to people who had never seen me before while wearing a name tag with a name they didn’t recognize and motion for them to come very close so I could whisper my secret identity.  Fortunately, people were pretty good natured and only looked at me slightly strangely when I crooked my finger at them.  But, mostly, it worked out okay because everyone just called me by my real name (except for one time, but I think maybe nobody understood what she had said).

And then, on top of that, I recently heard from someone who wanted to write an article about imposter syndrome and asked if I would talk to him.  So, then I had to decide:  if I am quoted do I want my real name in print or should it be a pseudonym or should I just ask to not be directly quoted, or what?  And, after much contemplation and discussion with a friend from lab (who knows about the blog) and Zuska, I realized that the only benefit to having my real identity in the article was seeing my name in print, while there was a whole host of disadvantages to having my real name in the article (including having Advisor find the blog).  So, I decided to remain anonymous.

So, this anonymity thing is a lot more complicated than I thought it would be.  Or rather, I’m getting myself into situations that make it more complicated.  At any rate, I’ve been thinking about being anonymous and whether it’s really worth it, considering I don’t say anything particularly controversial.  The fact is, I remain anonymous because:

1.  I need a place to vent about lab and I don’t want the reputation of my lab to suffer for it.  There are many, many good things about my lab and my advisor which don’t get mentioned here much because I don’t feel like I need to tell someone those things to keep me from exploding.  The thing about venting is, you don’t need to “vent” about good things.

2.  Jobs.  I still don’t know what it is I’m going to be doing when I leave school but when I figure it out, I don’t want my future employer to google my name and get this blog and conclude that I’m a whiner or something.

And, until one or both of those things change, I’ll probably stay anonymous, even if it is complicated.  There are days, though (and during this past weekend, I had several of them), that I get pretty sick of it and wish that things didn’t have to be this way.  That science really was a meritocracy and I would still get a job regardless of what I wrote on my blog.  Or that Advisor wouldn’t freak out if he saw what I’ve written.  Or that people would judge the quality of our lab strictly on our merits and publication record, and the science we do and not by the rantings of a senior graduate student.  But that’s like wishing that everyone in the world could have a Wii (or even just that I could have a Wii).

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16 thoughts on “Anonymity

  1. Exactly!

    I’m a new reader, also a senior grad student hoping to get a PhD in science. I have no blog because of many of these concerns… there is always plenty to complain about though.

    good luck.

  2. I don’t care if my readers know my real identity, in fact I’d like to get to know many of them. It’s the other way around — I don’t want my real life people to know about the blog, because like you, I want to be able to vent. Still, I try to write in a such a way that if a coworker or friend found it, it wouldn’t cause a scandal. But that means that I can’t blog about research stuff because I’m anonymous and I can’t do the venting I really want to do, because I’m not quite anonymous enough, i.e. if someone who knows me read my blog, it would be crystal clear who I am.

    Also, I certainly don’t want my blog to google with my name.

  3. I don’t want my blog to google with my name either, and it doesn’t. That is the bit about having a pseudonym – you create an identity and share it but it is neither total anonymity nor your real life identiy. True anonymity is very hard to maintain, and blogging under your real name takes a great deal of effort and understanding from employers/coworkers.

    Ah, this comment could get rather long. I’ll take it up on my own blog!

  4. Good post. I think many of us with pseudonymous blogs find them more limiting than we imagined they’d be. Having attended a similar event over the weekend under my pseudonym, I too found the experience a bit awkward. I had to ask people not to take pictures of me and sort of whisper to people what -ology actually is. I think you may have made the wiser move.

  5. Great post but unlike all the insiteful comments I also wanted to lament about how difficult it is to get a Wii. My husband and I played over winter at a friends house and decided it would be a fun indoor hobby for us. Atlas, the weather is very dreary but there is nothing to do inside.

  6. I have found myself in similar situations and am loosening up a bit on my anonymity. I want to talk in broad terms about what I do, where I do field work and where i teach. I don’t mention places, universities, specific field sites with name because I don’t want the blog to show up in google, but I’m pretty sure anyone who is remotely familiar with me, my work place(s) or my research group would be able to figure out who I am. It is not important for me whether fellow bloggers find out who I am (actually I kinda like getting to know people a little better), I’m more concerned about random colleagues who disregard blogs finding it by chance.

  7. Great post! I too struggle with these things—especially since I worry about being outed at some point, and what the consequences to my job would be as a result. And you are so right, anonymity is not as freeing as one would think.

  8. I have quite a few people in my department that know my Geeka identity. However, these are people that I vent to on a regular basis, so I don’t feel that my venting outlet needs to be kept secret to them.

    I think that I would be crushed if my PI or lab/office mate found my blog (and the latter may have). Not so much because I have written anything untrue or mean, but because I care enough not to bitch about the things that annoy me to them constantly. I also can’t internalize things things for very long. So I blog about them.

  9. Sigh. I have avoided several interesting offers for conferences and other activities because I feared they would compromise my anonymity. ScienceBlogs even invited me to join, and I turned them down, partly for this reason and b/c they don’t allow anonymous comments, which I feared would put off most of my readers.

    But hey, I have some readers. In general, blogging has been good for me. And since I am always pissing people off in real life and in the blogosphere, it’s not really that much of a risk (???).

    It’s hard though. I would like to meet more bloggers in real life; I would like to get a little more ‘credit’ for my blogging. But science is small and I prefer being able to talk about really controversial things. For me there is little point in blogging safely about boring things.

  10. My family and close friends know about my blog, but I haven’t told anyone in my graduate program about it. (Honestly I’m afraid one day I’m going to slip up and start talking about it over beer or something). I was relatively secure with my anonymity in the blogosphere until I totally unintentionally discovered the true identity of another anonymous blogger. It makes me think I should go back and take some specifics about my research out of certain posts. On the other hand, I would like to share my research with people because (of course) I think it’s cool. I’m conflicted. I suppose the most important thing for me is that my blog not appear in Google searches for my institution/department/advisors/real name.

    Also, should you tell someone if you figure out their real identity? Under what circumstances?

  11. I also initially thought I’d remain anonymous but, you know what ? It’s just too restrictive, and not conducive to effective writing (in my opinion). In order to keep my identity secret I would have to avoid a number of topics about which I would like to write, which would largely defeat the purpose of having a blog in the first place. So, I do not advertise my blog to friends and colleagues, but do not try to conceal my identity either. I actually think that what one writes is taken more seriously if one is not afraid of disclosing one’s identity.
    Also, I have participated to online games in which players went by pseudonyms, and something about that just freaks me out; when the time comes (and it always does) of disclosing one’s identity to others, it is almost traumatic. But, hey, maybe it’s just me…

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  13. and I turned them down, partly for this reason and b/c they don’t allow anonymous comments, which I feared would put off most of my readers.

    I have people commenting with fake email addresses, from which I conclude that while you have to enter something, it is not actually obligatory that it is a functioning address. This is not to say that other SB-ers may not have other policies, just to point out that if one wants to comment at DrugMonkey anonymously, this is possible.

    As a reader of both SB and YFS over the past year and now a member of the borg, I will say it is a loss for SB that you felt you had to refuse the offer.

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