|The creator of the Research Digest blog is moving on …|
We had a habit, my wife and I, of walking on Saturday afternoons along the pretty narrowboat canal between Slaithwaite and Marsden, in West Yorkshire. We’d buy The Guardian when we got there, find a cosy cafe, and I’d flick through the jobs section with tea and a scone. Nearing the end of my PhD, I was in a quandary over what I’d do next. I knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my life studying eye movements, discovering more and more about less and less.
But can you really earn a living out of a fascination with psychology and a love for writing, as I hoped to do? I’d managed to find a few freelance opportunities, but not enough to form the foundation of a career. The weekends rolled by and I was beginning to think my dream job didn’t really exist.
Then one day in 2003, around the time that millions marched on London against the Iraq war, I saw it. The British Psychological Society were seeking a part-time Editor/Writer for their new “e” Research Digest (the ad put the quaint “e” in inverted commas just like that, in reference to the Digest being an email newsletter). I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“The role involves researching journal papers in psychology, and editing and re-writing these into a brief accurate and user-friendly format …” it said.
Well, here we are, eleven years on. I’ve written and edited 259 Research Digest fortnightly emails in that time, not missing a single issue. This means I’ve digested well over 1,500 journal articles! The fact is, my dream job quickly became a passion. The distinction between work and pleasure was blurred. The email subscriber counts took off, heart-warming feedback began to filter through, from teachers, journalists, lecturers, clinicians and students.
With this reception, I felt it wasn’t enough to restrict the Digest to a fortnightly email. In 2005, I created the Research Digest blog, allowing the freedom for images, more interaction with readers, and the chance to reach new audiences. The blog started to break the US and the rest of world – Digest posts were getting picked up by The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Freakonomics, and many, many more. In 2010, the Digest won Best Psychology Blog in the inaugural Research Blogging Awards.
My aim throughout has been to strike a delicate balance – to showcase the science of psychology, to share my enthusiasm for the subject, but to also include a healthy dose of scepticism. I’ve strived to cover every corner of the discipline, from sighing rats to crying therapists, from hiding toddlers to neuroscience power failures.
I’ve added more features: Extras posts to list all those eye-catching studies I didn’t have time to report on; Special Issue Spotter posts to keep readers up to speed; annual retrospectives; advertisements, so that by last year the Digest was virtually self-financing; I helped launch the Occupational Digest; and in more recent years, introduced Feast posts summarising the best psychology resources and articles from the previous week. And I’ve invited others to the party. For example, in 2009, I had great fun asking psychologists to reveal “one nagging thing they still don’t understand about themselves” (see all the guest features). The evolution continues. I’m pleased to say that a new, colourful html version of the Digest email is just around the corner.
Back in 2003 I could never have imagined how the Digest would take off (over 8.5 million blog page views since 2007, including 364,000 during the last month. We now have over 32,000 subscribers to the email, and over 38,000 followers on Twitter), nor where it would take me. Among other invites, I’ve given a talk in a pub basement in Manchester on “lessons for life from the Research Digest”, and twice chatted on Radio 4 about items from the Digest.
But all good things must come to an end. While it’s time for me to move on to new challenges, I’m delighted to announce that the British Psychological Society have agreed to replace my half-time editor position with a new full-time editor, maximising the chance to build on the Digest success so far. Adverts for the job are on the BPS website. Maybe today you will be walking along your equivalent of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, wondering what next to do with your career. If so, and if this opportunity is for you – good luck! (By the way, I’m also leaving my other half-time role as journalist on The Psychologist – adverts for this position, also being expanded to full-time, are here).
I want to thank sincerely all you Digest readers, everyone who has contributed to or commented on the blog, everyone who has supported the Digest, my manager and colleague Jon Sutton, and all those of you who have sent me such generous feedback. It really has been a pleasure. Please do stay in touch. I’m on Twitter @Psych_Writer, and other ways to reach me are on my website.
Goodbye, and thanks for the ride!