In the Spring of 2011, three Politics PhD candidates from the University of Exeter (UK) developed an idea for setting up a Blog in International Affairs. Inspiration came while attending an International Studies Association conference in Montreal. They had been impressed by the blogging efforts of other attendees, and the achievements of politics Blogs such as The Duck of Minerva and E-IR. They hoped to develop a similar platform where they could blog current affairs topics with their colleagues, while becoming familiar with the mechanisms for publishing online through a blogging platform. They hoped in the process to escape from the ‘Ivory Tower’ and the technocratic jargon which can make research like their own inaccessible to the general public.
These three post-graduate researchers (PGRs) approached their colleagues and formed what became our initial team of nine volunteers staffing an editorial committee running the Blog.
As a group, we ran the project for two-and-a-half years before concluding it in September 2013. Over that time, the Blog was visited 38,000 times, where visitors read any of the 141 original posts written by dozens of authors from multiple disciplines and different degree levels. By September, 2013, there were more than 2,000 subscribers signed up to the website for updates, a ThinkIR Facebook group with 1,000+ followers and a Twitter account with a more than 150 followers.
We were pleased with the generally high level of analysis and originality of ideas in the blog posts. The Facebook page was a lively corner where ThinkIR subscribers frequently posted articles, engaged in debates and shared ideas. ThinkIR was particularly strong in contributions on Middle East and European studies, due to the specialisation of the authors who contributed. The final website design combined both aesthetics and a reader-friendly layout.
The general consensus is that ThinkIR was a fantastic learning and skills-building project for the PGRs who maintained it. It offered our volunteer editors the chance to learn new skills or strengthen existing ones, in: website management, peer review, soliciting external content, research, writing and editing. All of these experiences contributed to our development into fuller PGRs and provided skills which may be applied professionally to academic and non-academic work. This is important because all publishing is moving online, meaning that it is crucial to become familiar with these mechanisms during this period of transition. Further, ThinkIR was a very useful platform for our members to blog research related ideas. In some cases, they used those blog posts to get noticed and published on other websites and journals. Finally, the project provided an opportunity to see how PGRs work as a group, while offering the chance to make new friends.
Over the duration of the project, several editors joined and left the editorial team, while different members were able to make different time commitments depending on their availability as busy PhD researchers. This turnover was good because it brought additional diversity to ThinkIR.
Thanks to everyone who read what we posted, and congratulations to everyone who ran ThinkIR!