Behind the Scenes: How to We Run Our Blog Team

  • September 13, 2016

By: Maria Qadri

In honor of our recent two-year anniversary, we’re going to get a little meta today and talk about what goes on backstage here at the iJOBS blog. If you’ve ever asked, “how do they find the time to write?” read on!

Word cloud of iJOBS blogging key words

Like any good process or experiment, the iJOBS blog team has evolved from a small group of nine inexperienced bloggers to a well functioning team of seventeen writers and editors. We started out with only one senior editor managing everything from editing to posting, an ad hoc social media plan, and a set of bloggers who felt oddly disconnected from each other.  While we’re still learning and always growing, today I’m breaking down the proverbial fourth wall and letting you in on our secrets.

In refining and rebooting our management system, we started by honing down on our mission and audience. Whether you are an aspiring, a current, or a recently finished graduate student, we write for you. If you are just starting your post-doc or a well-seasoned early-career researcher, we write for you too. We also hope that our insights and perspectives will be useful to anyone who is transitioning from one field of academic science to another less traditional avenue for scientific expertise. Our stories, perspectives, and interviews center on how to efficiently find a non-academic science job across many fields and areas: intellectual property management, science policy, clinical and regulatory testing, business management, and the pharmaceutical industry just to name a few.

One problem that we encountered across the last two years was spreading the time, effort, and experience burden in a way that didn’t hinder our already demanding graduate student lives as we acquired more and more writers and guest bloggers. Even though the blog was spearheaded by one highly motivated graduate student who slowly trained and transitioned the leadership to another highly motivated graduate student, the workload of editing and checking in with writers was easily overrunning their lives. So at the beginning of this summer, as a team, we decided to share the editorial and management duties across the group.

Now, there are four senior editors (Chris, Maria, Myka, and Samantha) who rotate responsibilities on a monthly basis; for that month, we offer the final review of all articles, check in with our writers and junior editors, and ensure that the overall process runs smoothly. Not only are we sharing the wealth of experience (and resume/CV glory) that being a senior editor offers, but also we’re practicing our communication and leadership skills more broadly. In exchange for taking on these roles, we’ve also cut back the minimum writing expectation for senior editors to one post a semester (but maybe we’ll surprise you with more).

Three example tweets about the senior editor, social media manager, and from the vault We’ve also found that having one person serve as our social media manager per month keeps social media burnout away and also lets us implement a more tailored strategy. To start, since June, the four senior editors have been the main members for this rotation when they’re not serving as senior editors, and in the coming months, some of our new writers will also try the position on for size. If you’re not following us on Twitter or Facebook (as you should), you can get updates on who’s up for the social media manager and senior editing positions as well as receive regular reminders about our posts. As we transitioned, we went from sporadic tweets and pointed bursts of retweets to posting daily and more strategic retweeting of our NIH BEST peers. One new highlight (thanks for the idea, Chris!) is #fromthevault posts to bring back relevant topics and remind our readers of useful recommendations hiding in our older pieces.

Learning and borrowing inspiration from each other has made the whole iJOBS blog team stronger. On top of their writing expectations (two posts a semester minimum and a sky high maximum), all of the writers are also rotating through weekly junior editing stints to serve as the first set of eyes on any blog posts uploaded for review. Their review covers the nitty-gritty grammar and structural issues to save the senior editor time. This approach also exposes all of our writers to some necessary editing skills and alternative styles of writing (and of course adds these skills to their repertoire).

Among all of our changes, overwhelmingly the team as a whole would point to our transition from Dropbox to Basecamp as the most meaningful driver of our improved management. In brief, Dropbox was a great tool for storing our drafts but not very helpful for communicating. While there are numerous different team management tools (Asana, Slack, Trello, etc) as well as learning management systems that allow for projects (Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, etc), we opted to give Basecamp a chance, and it’s been a breath of fresh air that revitalized the team. We communicate more regularly around our Campfire (without exchanging a dozen emails) and have created several “how to” guides to bring new writers up to speed and refresh experienced bloggers on writing, editing, social media, and more on our Message Board. These guides are also important in maintaining our know-how, tips, and tricks for future editors and writers (leadership succession planning ftw!). The To-do lists and automated reminders have made impending deadlines less painful for both the editors and writers. Even though no single management tool is perfect, the resulting growth and productivity of our team have me sold on Basecamp’s functionality.

Overall, while our strategies and management styles have changed, I hope the quality of our blog keeps improving. The transitions in between the weeks and months are getting smoother with our added group communication. We’ve also returned to new posts twice a week since the iJOBS sessions have also returned from the summer break. If all goes well, we can keep our positive momentum from the summer moving in the right direction as the demands of a new academic year pile onto our individual workloads. Our next big goal is to get the iJOBS blog team together for a social outing so we can get to know each other better and practice what we preach. Let us know how we’re doing in the comments, if you have suggestions for other team management strategies, if you’re interested in getting involved, and if there are any burning questions about our trainee experiences and/or job hunting that you want answered.