Why graduate students should have a professional website

Photo: Phil Manker (Flickr/Creative Commons).
Photo: Phil Manker (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Earlier today I did a mini-webinar on academic web presence with the American Studies Graduate Students Association at Purdue. It was great to talk to colleagues outside of my usual academic communities about why it is so important to be visible on the internet. Here are some of the main points from the discussion:

What comes up when I Google myself? Put your name in quotes, your department name (e.g. American Studies) and current academic institution (e.g. Purdue) into the Google search bar. What pops up on the first page? Your Facebook profile? Your soccer stats from college? A news story about someone with your same name who did something really bad or really embarrassing?

What should pop up, ideally, is something about you as a professional. Something that ties your name to your department and institution, and ideally also says something about your research interests and outputs. This could be a standalone professional website (like this one), a page on your department’s website, your Google Scholar page, or a profile on a network like Academia.edu or LinkedIn. Ideally, it would have a clear, recent photo of you, as well.

Why is this important? At the UCLA Undergraduate Research Center, I spend a lot of my time talking to students about how to find faculty members to guide them through individual research projects. I give them the same spiel every time:

Start with the department websites. Click on “faculty.” There you’ll find a list of all the faculty in the department. You’ll see their research interests and a list of recent publications. Looking through that information can help you figure out who would be a good intellectual fit for you.

The same applies to us as graduate students. There are many reasons why people would try to find out more about you:

  • If they want to hire you, they will Google you.
  • If they want to invite you to join a conference panel, they will Google you.
  • If they want to collaborate you on research, they will Google you.
  • If they want you as an expert voice in a news story, they will Google you.
  • If they want to go on a date with you, they will (probably) Google you.

It is in your best interest to give all of these interested audiences the information that they need as quickly as possible.

Why should I have a website? I am a big proponent of having a stand-alone professional website. This should be the main component of your presence online and should link to any other components that you might have (e.g. Academia.edu, Google Scholar, ORCID, Twitter, etc.). It should not be hosted on your university’s web services, because that will just make things complicated when you graduate and move on.

What should I put on there? Think about the academic website as a multimedia version of the CV. At minimum, it should include:

  1. A photo of you
  2. Your contact information
  3. Research interests
  4. List of scholarly publications
  5. Presentations
  6. Teaching experience
  7. A link to your CV as a PDF

Because a website is not a paper CV, it can also include other things:

  1. Links to other professional web presences (e.g. Academia.edu, Google Scholar, Twitter)
  2. Optional: blog about your research and other professional activities

How do I get started? If you’re planning to do this in your department or university web space, ask your IT people about how to get started. Otherwise, you could try a free blogging platform like WordPress.com, Blogger, or Tumblr or a professional homepage platform like About.Me or Strikingly. Consider getting a domain name for yourself, too. My domain name through WordPress.com costs $18 a year, which is quite reasonable.

What about those other professional web presences? A website is something that everyone should have. I would argue that other, more social ways to be a professional online are not necessary, but could be desirable.

  • Relatively static sites showing your research output (e.g. Google Scholar, ORCID) can help people find their way to your website after coming across your academic work.
  • Professional networking sites like Academia.edu are a great complement to the website and help you engage other scholars in a different way. LinkedIn is less common among US academics but is a great way to keep in touch with your non-academic professional contacts.
  • Twitter and Facebook are tricky, and will need a separate webinar/blog post entirely. There are great benefits to using these social networks for professional purposes, but also great pitfalls. Proceed with caution.
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