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The value of a personal academic website

Some academics have personal websites. Others don’t. And opinions on whether personal academic websites are necessary or not differ widely. Therefore, many PhD students are unsure about whether they should create one or not. They may also doubt whether they have anything important to share. However, personal academic websites can be valuable, especially for early career scholars.

What is a personal academic website?

Personal academic websites are websites set up by academics to showcase their research and work experiences.

Some academic websites are essentially academic CVs with a repository of publications, conference presentations and so forth. Additionally, and in contrast to a ‘normal’ CV, personal academic websites often share recorded talks or presentations in the form of videos.

Other personal academic websites provide more information on ongoing research projects and share insights into the academic’s field of expertise. They can contain research updates and diverse forms of knowledge sharing, for instance in the form of blog posts.

Advantages of a personal academic website

Many academics have an online ‘profile page’ with their current host institution, where they can write a short research summary and list their publications. This university page is often one of the first results that show up when you google an academic’s name.

In light of online profiles on universities’ websites, what are then the benefits of a personal academic website?

  • Not all PhD students have access to a university profile page. And even if they do, early career researchers tend to change their host institutions in the course of their careers. A personal academic website is a consistent resource of information.

  • The academic job market is extremely competitive. Many PhD students experience a period of unemployment after graduation. During that time, a university profile page is not available, while a good online presence is particularly important during a job hunt.

  • The structure of university profile pages tends to be uniform, and information that can be included is very restricted. A personal academic website provides much more freedom in terms of creating a creative and personalised online presence.

What a personal academic website should include

There is no rulebook on what to include and what not to include on a personal academic website. However:

A personal academic website only makes sense when it contains information that is not already covered on other platforms.

For instance, if you make a website that repeats what can be found in your LinkedIn profile, then it is not worth the effort.

The key to a good personal academic website is to make it, well, personal. Thus the content always depends on your research field, your character and your career objectives.

PhD students who target careers outside of academia

If a PhD student targets careers outside academia in the future, it is important that to present research in a way that a wide audience can understand. Don’t throw around complex academic concepts that no one (except experts in a specific discipline) understands!

Furthermore, think about transferrable skills that can come in handy in a non-academic job. Do you have a recording of one of your presentations? It could be a good way to showcase your public speaking skills. Did you lead a seminar? It could be a good way to showcase your leadership skills. Think creatively about what to showcase and how.

PhD students who target careers within academia

If a PhD student targets careers within academia, the personal academic website could emphasise publications and ongoing research projects. It might also be useful to showcase teaching experiences. Maybe have a section with your teaching philosophy, or some blog posts reflecting on your teaching style.

That said, even within academia, outreach and science communication are increasingly valued. Did you collaborate with a community organisation during your data collection? It could be interesting to showcase this experience on your academic website. Or did you maybe write policy recommendations based on your research? Share them on your website as well.

Pitfalls of personal academic websites

  • Outdated information. A personal academic website is your way to showcase who you are to the world. IT SHOULD NOT BE OUTDATED! So if you decide to make a personal academic website, commit to updating it regularly.

  • Sharing original ideas that can be copied. It can be dangerous to share all your ideas on your website before they are published. Whatever you publish online can be read by thousands of people. Don’t tell the world about your latest discovery and your fabulous new research methodology if you did not ‘claim’ it first with a recognized academic publication.

  • Self-plagiarism. If you decide to write blog posts on your website, make sure that they differ enough from your actual academic writing (for your papers or thesis/dissertation). When you submit your thesis/dissertation or submit a manuscript to an academic journal, your website will come up if it contains large chunks of text that are similar to your submission.

Do I need a personal academic website as a PhD student?

You may enjoy visiting others’ personal academic websites and admiring people’s work. But who are you, as an early career researcher..?

PhD students may feel uncomfortable with the idea of a personal academic website. They may think it is arrogant to put yourself ‘out there’ with having nothing to show for it.

The opposite is true! PhD students DO have valuable knowledge to share.

Especially if early career researchers do not have many publications to their name yet, a personal website might be a good outlet to showcase their work.

Additionally, with a more creative personal academic website (one that is not just a traditional CV in website form), early career researchers can stand out. This is true for both PhD students who target an academic career, and those who want to transition out of academia after they graduate.

How to promote your personal academic website

Once you did the hard work and created your website, it is time to promote it! There are different ways to do this. These are some of the most common ones:

  • Provide a link to your personal academic website on your university profile, if you have one.

  • Include the link to your website in your email signature.

  • Include the link to your website on your LinkedIn profile.

  • Include the link to your website on your Twitter profile, if you use it for professional purposes.

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