Biochembelle and my secret identity

I have been blogging as biochembelle for approximately 1.3 years now. It has been a fascinating thing. Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking considerably about where this part of my life has come from, where it has taken me, and where I want to go with it.

I started off blogging pseudonymously, and for many months, Paramed was the only one who knew my “true identity”. Even today, most of my friends, colleagues, and family don’t know about my blogs. This came up on Twitter recently, and someone asked, in essence, why? Why would I keep my real life and my blog life separate, so to speak?

I think initially I didn’t know where blogging would go, how long I would stick with it, what I would have to say… I chose pseudonymity because I wanted to be free of worrying what people I know thought of me and this blogging thing. I felt that I could and would be more honest under a pseudonym than under my real name. And I think, in the beginning, that turned out to be true.

But now, I feel like I’ve found my voice–and it’s very much like the one that I use with my “real-life” friends. Even though I have a bit of a temper, I often take a moment before speaking, so I can moderate my tone and words. There are still times when I get riled enough to fire off a heated or snarky response, but for the most part, I show at least a little restraint.

Coming from the blogging side, I initially kept pretty tight control over things that might tip someone off to my real-life identity, partly for the same reason I didn’t tip real-life friends off to my blogging identity.  There was also a little fear about how my blogging would be received, and as I mentioned, I wasn’t entirely sure what voice and personality I was going to cultivate online.

Over the past few months, I have become less protective of my pseudonymity. There is a strong feeling of community in parts of the blogosphere and Twitter-verse that engenders a sense of trust. There are now a few bloggers with whom I communicate via email, who know at least some of the details of who I am, which I don’t discuss publicly. Most of these know my other/real-life identity. Even though these are people I feel like I could trust, I know fully that there’s the risk of it getting out.

I also find that there a places where my blogging and real-life identities are beginning to intersect, and it’s a little odd sometimes to have conversations with someone who doesn’t know about both. I’m thinking about how these two worlds can and should come together. Even though my blogs have mostly been about the culture, politics, and life of a scientist, I think there are other avenues I’d like to try out that might necessitate (or at least, be smoother) if my other identity is known.

And this is where I turn to the blogging community for help.

If you’re a pseud blogger–Who knows both your identities? Why did you choose to tell those people (if it was a choice)? What have their reactions been? What keeps you from merging identities publicly?

If you were once a pseud blogger but revealed your other identity along the way–Why did you do decide to reveal your other identity to the world at large? What was the impact of doing it? What have been the advantages and disadvantages? Overall, was it a positive or negative experience for you?

If you blog, and have always blogged, under your real name–Did you consider using a pseud, and if so, what prompted you to write under your real name? What has been the overall reaction to and impact of blogging under your real name?

I hope you’ll leave a comment or, if you prefer, write (or direct me to) a post about your choice and experience. Accept my advance gratitude for talking about this 🙂

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33 Responses to Biochembelle and my secret identity

  1. Zen Faulkes says:

    I’ve always blogged under my real name, since nobody believes it’s a real name anyway. 😉

    “Did you consider using a pseud, and if so, what prompted you to write under your real name?”

    I never considered anything else. It never even crossed my mind, as far as I can remember. It would have completely foiled what, for me, was the entire point: to be a public intellectual. Plus, when I started, there weren’t many science bloggers, pseudonymous or otherwise, so I wasn’t all that aware anyone blogging under a pseudonym and why.

    “What has been the overall reaction to and impact of blogging under your real name?”

    Indifference.

    But I don’t expect my experience to be a general one. It seems to me that one reason people use pseudonyms is that because they worried about being marginalized: taking flak from bosses, jerks on the internet. I’m a middle aged white guy with tenure (though I didn’t when I started), and I’m under no illusions that other people have different issues than me.

  2. Eugenie says:

    Wow. Great timely post (I revealed my bloggy status to someone last night and I’m kinda torn right now about the whole thing).

    I started blogging pseudoanonymously nearly 2.5 years ago because I wanted to be very open about the crap I was going through in my research internship (and life in general). I wanted to be brutally honest without naming names. When it came down to applications, I wanted to make sure that blog wouldn’t be associated with me in a google search.

    There are some people who do know I blog (a very select few- 2 people from high school). I also have friends who are involved in this blog network (which in the past have provided a lot of great support). No one in my family knows I blog, however I probably should let them in; maybe they’ll understand what science I do a little better :-).

    I wouldn’t take back these 2.5 years either. I feel like I’ve developed and matured though this process by reading yours and other blogs.

  3. Dr Becca says:

    I feel like I’m only partially pseud, since I’m using my first name and have revealed information about where I live, what area of biomed science I’m in, etc. When I started the blog, I literally didn’t know about the science blogging community at all (how this is possible is something at which I still marvel from time to time), and so the issue of being truly pseudonymous didn’t really occur to me. I told a lot of my family and friends about it because I was excited to be starting something new, and even posted links to my latest posts on facebook. The people I knew who read it only had lots of positive things to say.

    As I became more involved in “the scene,” it occurred to me that maybe I’d have been better off being fully pseud, but it was too late–I had my identity. I don’t really think it would be a major crisis if I somehow became fully outed, but being on the job market…you have to be careful. I understand your struggle, though, because I imagine that like me, you’re proud of your blog and your writing, and want to be able to use it to promote yourself in a real-life kind of way. But at the same time, the risks of outing yourself may not be worth it.

    Most of the people who blog under their real names (that come to mind) are research bloggers, not personal life bloggers like you and me, so I think that makes a big difference.

  4. My experiences exactly mimic Dr. Becca’s. I recently failed to celebrate my 5-year blogging anniversary. When I started blogging, it was because a few friends wanted to keep tabs on what I was doing. I blogged with my real name, openly discussed the name of the university I am at, etc. And then I stumbled upon ScienceWoman and was amazed that there was a whole community of science bloggers! So I rapidly went back, deleted any prior post which provided details on my personal life, and made many science-blogging friends.

    Also like Dr. Becca, I blog with my first name and willingly admit that I live in DC. After I got married, I even decided to post a few pictures! of! myself! online. I think I’ve realized that if anyone I didn’t want to read my blog (cough cough PI cough) were to stumble upon it, he would immediately know it was me… and other people in other places aren’t going to know who I am by just posting a picture.

    I am more likely to come out about my real self to my blogging friends (typically because I forget to delete my signature in email exchanges, which outs my name, university, etc) than I am to tell real life people about my blog. To my knowledge, only four people I know in real life read about my blog… my two best friends, another friend from high school, and her mother. My husband chooses not to read; I have not shared with any family that I openly blog. There is something about people who I know in real life reading my blog that would make me triple and quadruple thing what I am writing, and that makes me uncomfortable. I know more than one person who had typed something that a friend somehow took as offensive, and that’s not a situation in which I want to be.

  5. biochembelle says:

    Thanks for the feedback so far.

    Zen, you’re right–it took a little searching for me to believe that was you’re real name 😛

    Becca, Eugenie, and Julie–Sounds like we all had at least some similar considerations that prompted blogging under pseuds. Many of the blogs I was reading before I started before I started posting are written under pseuds. I also wasn’t sure what direction my blog would take.

    So far it has been pretty focused on personal life stuff, but some of the interactions I’ve had, as well as some prompting by Paramed, have made me consider how I could use blogging in my professional life and to increase my visibility in that regard. The question then becomes, do I keep the pseud and professional lives separate? Do ‘decloak’ but keep my real name off this blog? Do I merge the aspects somehow? I feel like any people that I might have pissed off or offended with my blog, I’ve pissed off or offended in real life too.

  6. Zen Faulkes says:

    “I feel like any people that I might have pissed off or offended with my blog, I’ve pissed off or offended in real life too.”

    Is this a fair summary of your worry? You want to take advantage of the recognition you can gain by good blogging, but worried that what you write publicly could backfire and hurt you professionally later.

    The following might apply a little here (the original was about sex, but I think the sentiment is a general one):

    “In pursuing your desire, you will have some bad experiences. Yes indeed, there are some crazy motherfuckers out there. But you’re asking me how to go about satisfying your sexual proclivity without having to confront or deal with any snags. Who the hell gets that? No matter what you want, you just have to get out there and put your ass on the line.” – Sasha, Montreal Mirror, 19(1), 19-25 June 2003

    • biochembelle says:

      Is this a fair summary of your worry? You want to take advantage of the recognition you can gain by good blogging, but worried that what you write publicly could backfire and hurt you professionally later.

      That is a fair summary, at least for me, I think. Who’d have thunk that a quote about sex would be so apropos to a discussion about blogging? 😉

      I think this worry is lessening a bit, because I’ve reached a point in my career where I haven’t gotten along great with everyone, that there are people who don’t like me or don’t respect me. And I’ve realized that’s OK. I don’t plan to go through life mindlessly making enemies, but I also am learning that it really doesn’t matter what some people think.

  7. Lab Rat says:

    I’m in a similar situation to you I think, started totally pseudononymous but it’s sort of faded a bit as I’ve got to know more people online. I started it because my parents both had the attitude that giving your real name online was a sure-fire way to lead to people finding you and trying to murder you. I was worried about something I labelled under ‘safety concerns’

    But my blog is on my CV now, and getting quite well known. I’m not going to give my first name out but more and more details are slipping :p

  8. tideliar says:

    Funnily enough I just emailed someone about this.

    I started blogging under a pseud in 2004 because I was nervous and didn’t what I was getting into. As my following spread I decided it was best to stay pseud because some of the stories I wrote were lewd or a bit too close to the edge. Unfortunately I was outed in another format, but I thought I could get away with it because it seemed there was enough overlap in identies. Then I discovered Google…

    I basically locked my old blog and reinvented Tideliar under the assumption that it was a weak pseud. Now I maintain it out of habit and familiarity 🙂 He’s a very naughty boy.

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  10. Nobody in my non-blog life knows that I blog under this pseudonym. I now have several trusted bloggy friends that I met through the blogosphere who know my identity – in several cases it is a mutual trust between pseudonymous bloggers. I have no plans to blog under my real name in the foreseeable future as I think I can be more honest if there is no possibility that anyone could google my name and unearth my ranting rants. That being said, though, I have definitely become more cautious about not being too specific with the rants and more comfortable with the reality that someone might find my blog one day and recognize me.

  11. jo(e) says:

    I began blogging under a pseudonym almost six years ago. I still use the pseudonym, although I’ve outed myself to many friends and colleagues. I think originally I used a pseudonym simply because it was the convention amongst academic bloggers. I still like the idea that students can’t find my blog by googling my real name.

  12. namnezia says:

    I blog pseudonymously mainly so people won’t Google my name and find my blog. I’d rather they find my lab website or papers. I’m somehow not comfortable with my students and colleagues randomly coming across my blog, where a lot of the material is somewhat personal or ranty in nature. My wife is the only one who knows about my blog. That being said, my identity is pretty thinly veiled and it wouldn’t take too much for someone to figure out my real identity if they really wanted to. I know some people have, since they’ve written to tell me about it. I write with the assumption that anything I write can easily be linked with my real identity so I am careful never to attack anyone personally.

  13. GMP says:

    What Namnezia said.

    I write stuff that’s too personal — experiences, opinions, feelings, many of which I would never disclose in real life to almost anyone. I do not want my colleagues knowing about my personal life (beyond small-talk level) or what really goes on in my head. Academia as I know it (maybe because I am in a male dominated field) does not allow for displays of self-doubt or weaknesses, and I certainly am not going to volunteer mine to my colleagues and/or competitors.

    The only person who knows that I write a blog is my husband, and he thinks it’s a waste of time & energy (especially considering all the irritation that blog wars can bring about) . He only reads occasionally and we rarely discuss my blogging. He doesn’t have a very high opinion of the blogosphere in general, but to each their own.

    I try to keep my writing such that it wouldn’t ruin me even if it were revealed who I was IRL. I have exchanged emails with a few bloggers, but I don’t see myself “de-pseudonymyzing” any time soon, to fellow bloggers or anyone else.

  14. biochembelle says:

    It seems most of us who blog pseudonymously either assumed from the start or learned along the way that using a nym does not provide complete protection, that someone will eventually figure out who you are.

    Thinking about my own feelings and the comments here and on Twitter, I am fleshing out an approach that might best fit my blog and personality. I don’t think I’ll ever give up the nym because it’s where I started and I built an audience/readership with it. David Kroll (aka AbelPharmboy) has mentioned the difficulty in moving from his nym to his real name, especially at the same time as moving sites.

    I also agree that, at this stage of my career, I really want my professional sites and pubs coming up on the first pages of a Google search. Cath@VWXYNot has touched on this before, basically saying “I know you know who I am, but don’t use my surname on the blog”.

    What it comes down to is that I probably won’t ‘out myself’ on this blog, but I also won’t be proactive about protecting my nym/name–no worries if people connect the two– and will be more willing to reveal the connection where applicable.

  15. tideliar says:

    ” Cath@VWXYNot has touched on this before, basically saying “I know you know who I am, but don’t use my surname on the blog”.”

    DrugMonkey has a rolling quote on his blog about this. Something like, “If we’re at a conference and you recognize me, don’t use my blog name. Assume I’m anonymous for a reason”

    • biochembelle says:

      I think Cath’s thing was that many people knew her full name and knew about her blog. She just didn’t want the blog to be popping up in searches for her or the lab she worked with, mainly because she wanted Google search to come up with the professional research hits.

      Re: the conference thing, makes sense–and it’s a professional courtesy. I wouldn’t go around calling colleagues by nicknames in a professional setting such as that. And as you point out, people are anonymous/pseudonymous for a reason–not a conversation to have publicly.

      • Exactly!

        I started my blog using my initials, and linked to one of my own papers (identified as such) in my first ever post, so I’ve been “out” from the start. My now-defunct Nature Network blog was under my real name, because I only ever posted science-related stuff there (and I’ve used it on my CV!), but I keep my full name off my other blog precisely because I blog about a lot of personal stuff there and want other sites to pop up higher on Google, for professional reasons.

        I don’t care if any IRL friends or colleagues find my blog (many of them have), because I’m careful not to say anything that would offend people I care about (or get me fired). I also make sure that no-one I know IRL is ever going to find my blog if they Google themselves. My husband and many of my friends know that I blog (and a few of my colleagues, too), but most of them aren’t scientists and don’t read it much. My husband likes to know what I’m saying about him online, but I only blog the positives (about him and everyone else!), so he doesn’t mind, and even enjoys the notion of having a “fanclub”!

        There have been a few occasions where I think “it would be nice to be pseudonymous so I can bitch about this annoying work situation”, but overall those occasions have been rare, and using my real name has had benefits that (for me – everyone’s different!) outweigh the limitations. I can blog about things (like my own papers) that people who use pseudonyms can’t, and I can take credit for my blogging on my CV.

        There are limitations to both pseud and real-name blogging – they’re just different limitations!

        • biochembelle says:

          I was hoping you’d stop by to comment, Cath 🙂

          It’s interesting to hear all the different perspectives on blogging with a pseudonym, real-name, or psuedo-pseudonym.

  16. It’s hard to be “candid” when writing under one’s given name. Hard to write many opinions, hard to discuss difficult issues, and hard to celebrate when good things happen for fear of bragging. I make sure to write about topics that I wouldn’t mind my colleagues finding & reading- in fact, many of the things I write about I’ve discussed previously with colleagues.

    There are ~10 bloggers who know my real identity, and there are ~6 people in my real life who know about the blog, only 2 of which (my husband & a TT friend) read it regularly. I’m not interested in telling my family, and I’m not interested in telling my colleagues.

    The only thing I wish for is that I could write about my science, which, in my opinion, is the #1 downside of blogging under a pseudonym.

  17. chall says:

    I’ve blogged psudo since I’ve started. My family and most of my irl friends don’t know about my blog. As with PiT, I’ve had some bloggers who commented a lot and whom I developed a conversation and even dare say friendship with who know my name now. Altohugh, I would hate to have my name googled and my blog come up.

    It’s been in my mind recently, due to a number of reasons, that maybe it would be nice to be able to put it on my “resume” as a “blogger since 4 years” but in the end, I see it mostly as a vent and I like the somewhat psuedo thing… it’s almost like going to the pub* and talking about things but not really knowing who you end up talking to but finding these amazing people who have lots of experience to give you.

    And I don’t think I’d be writing what I write if I thought my family and coworkers would read it. that said, I’ve changed since I’ve started and written more “in general” since in case I’m outed I don’t want to get to much repercussions. I might just be paranoid? 😉

    *pub = any random place where you can talk to people you don’t necc. know before you start talking. Conferences, coffee shops, church… you name it.

  18. Gerty-Z says:

    Oops, I checked out and missed this for a while. Anywho, FWIW I have pretty much the same view as PiT, Namnezia, et al. My wife knows I blog and is confused about the whole thing. I don’t want/need any of my colleagues to know about my blog, and I really don’t want it to show up on Google instead of my lab page or publications. Of course, my name is so generic that I can barely find me on the Google. I have been thinking about this lately, as I would like to write more about science (like CE) and I am starting to have more email interactions with other bloggers. I suspect that it isn’t too hard to connect Gerty with my IRL name. When I write my blog I always have this in mind…but still I would be uncomfortable being “outed” in this way. Hmm.

    • biochembelle says:

      Seriously, Gerty, on the web, a 36h delay in responding is just uncalled for 😛

      My spouse gets the blogging thing–he did it for a little while–but he doesn’t get the community interaction via Twitter and email. When I met up with a couple of bloggers IRL, that really freaked him out. After all, like Lab Rat, we were told that everyone you meet on the internet is an ax murderer. Luckily, that turned out not to be the case this time 😉

      It’s interesting that those who use pseudonyms do so with the expectation we’ll be found out, but we do it anyway because we want to be more open and honest and be able to show some ‘weakness’, as GMP says.

  19. biochembelle says:

    I received some response on Twitter, as well, including comments from SpaceGurlEvieEvie who blogs at LabSpaces. She blogs and tweets under her real name, and says:

    I actually did consider [a pseudonym], not for blogging, but when I was thinking about making youtube vids, I was worried about work mostly… career… but finally decided that my freedom of speech was far too important to give up just for that. I do understand why one would choose to not reveal their identity of course. For me, I felt if I didnt have my true self there then I just wasnt doing something right.”

  20. hapsci says:

    I started blogging under a pseudonym as I was a little apprehensive about blogging and how it would be received – especially by people at where I work. I shared my blog with a select couple of friends (ones away from my work) and they supported me – that boosted my confidence so in order to increase the number of people that know about and read my blog I shared it on my facebook.

    I still haven’t spoken about my blog to anyone at my work – I am not sure if they read it or not… but as a consequence of sharing my identity I was asked to blog for another website – so it has benefited me.

    If I ever felt the need to write a more controversial blog – I could always set up another under a different name and no one would be any wiser 🙂

  21. drugmonkey says:

    There are many IRL folks familiar with my blogging and the ‘nym. They include friends/family, a few co-workers, a few colleagues in the field..but really, anyone who knows me and runs across the blog will know. This is axiomatic. I don’t care how careful you think you are, it is *really* a bad bet to think that your voice, phrasing, a few stray details, etc will not identify you to someone who knows you well.

    I also have many blog peeps who know who I am. Some through meetups, some through online interactions.

    the reactions? vague curiosity but mostly TheMeh.

    People find out because either 1) they are not the reason I maintain a pseud or 2), see #1.

    There is only one scenario so far where I have de-pseudified explicitly and that was to leverage whatever authoritah! I have in this area. There are also other scenarios where it might have helped, in theory, but I have not de-pseudified. In the first case there was a *slight* risk of blowback because I had to tell NIH program staff- but I thought it a risk worth taking.

    as far as what keeps me from merging? well the reasons for being pseud have varied in type and strength over the years but they are still present.

  22. My blog is my safe place. Its were my inner thoughts are laid out, where I can openly be who I am without “blowback”. Which isn’t to say that no one knows who I am. One reader figured me out within 2 posts. Which was a huge eye-opener.
    I never write anything that I can’t stand behind, but I may not openly say certain things IRL. But I go by the rule that if people found out, make sure I’m not ashamed of what is written. Which I’m not. Hubby knows, but doesn’t read. One friend, knows and reads. I’m fine with that.

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  24. Rift says:

    I used a psuedonym, but most of my friends and family know it’s me, and I’m open about it.
    I began using it for two reasons. The first was ‘Who the hell am I to be telling people about stuff’ – my normal name, unadorned (no PhD, no honours, no nothing) had no weight, no authority. And so, through my blog, I’ve been trying to build a sense of authority under a psuedonym which cannot be as easily undone if I was outed.
    Second, I see it as branding. Perhaps that’s a dirty word in the science world, but I have bigger plans for what I’m currently doing, and I think my psuedonym is more memorable than an everyday name.

    • biochembelle says:

      Rift, re: branding, I think that’s pretty reasonable. As you say, the nym sets you apart. This is one reason that I am leaning more toward not protecting my nym over switching to blogging under my real name. My blogging ‘brand’ is biochembelle. Some might cringe at the word ‘branding’, but everyone in science does it, at least if they want to go anywhere.

  25. tideliar says:

    @Rift: Second, I see it as branding. Perhaps that’s a dirty word in the science world, but I have bigger plans for what I’m currently doing, and I think my psuedonym is more memorable than an everyday name.

    Yeah, that’s kind of one of my reasons too. My IRL name is the me in the suit & tie and that’s why on my NN i tried to be ‘grown-up’. Tideliar is me in jeans and T-shirt, pint in one hand, ciggie in the other enjoying life and science and likely swearing too fucking much and giving advice whether you want it or not… 😀

  26. DrDoyenne says:

    I set up my blog with a pseudonym mainly because of my job as a government scientist and the fact that my employing agency requires us to get official approval for anything we author–and this includes publishing on the Web and on topics just peripherally related to our jobs (those of you in academia, count your blessings).

    I suspect that this blog would not be viewed favorably by my superiors, if they knew that one of their scientists was the blogger. Not that I’ve written anything I would be ashamed of or would hesitate to sign my real name to under other circumstances.

    Unfortunately, my agency has quite a “Big Brother” attitude, so it’s very possible that I would be called on the carpet for starting a blog–even one with a positive message–without first getting approval. If I had tried to get official permission to host this blog and use my own name (with or without my affiliation identified), however, there would have been many restrictions placed on me and what I could post. It just wasn’t worth the hassle.

    I’m not totally anonymous, however. Many colleagues and co-workers know that I host this blog, which was started initially to support a section of a professional society focused on women in science issues. Several female co-workers follow the blog and often tell me that they enjoyed a particular post or suggest subjects for me to talk about. Also, I’ve not been very diligent about avoiding clues as to my identity. It wouldn’t be too difficult to track me down.

    So for the moment, I’ll remain semi-anonymous. After I retire from Federal service, I will then have the option to blog under my own name. Something I’ll have to decide at that time….

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