A personal academic website can also serve as your digital portfolio, offering potential employers easy access to your professional profile. In this article, I’ll walk you through the basics of getting your academic website up and running and looking professional.
The three basic steps are as follows:
Choose and register a domain name (optional)
Choose and sign up for your website platform
Select your template
Having your own domain name is optional but will enable you to have a site address that features you rather than the platform hosting your site. Domain names are not free, and whether it is worth purchasing one depends on how professional and long-term you want your site to be.
Choosing a platform to host your academic website is your next step. Unless you happen to be a coding genius, signing up for a site such as Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, or Owlstown is your best bet for creating a professional-looking site with minimum hassle.
Most website platforms offer both free and paid site options – again, whether it is worth paying for a site depends on the level of professionalism you need and how long-term you expect your site to be.
Think about the websites you find most attractive or effective. Most have an “about” page (providing an overview of the organization), plenty of visual content (such as images and videos), links to relevant outside sources, opportunities for interaction, reviews, and testimonials, and lists of products, services, events, and so on. Build your personal academic website in the same style.
What should you include? In the US, your academic profile will focus on three key content areas:
Your community service
In any academic field or community, your research is critical. Both employers and colleagues want to know what you are working on and who you are working with.
Be sure to include an engaging “about” page that explains who you are and what you do. Feature key publications on your site, but always be mindful about the copyright limitations pertaining to your books and articles.
If you don’t have copyright permission to share full-text versions, link to the abstracts for your work in databases or on journal websites and to Amazon or WorldCat listings. You can also showcase your research presentations by linking to conference websites and social media posts.
When highlighting your teaching on your page, you want to demonstrate both SME and pedagogy. Consider posting syllabi for current classes or sharing pedagogical tips and insights in a blog. Testimonials from students and classroom observations are also a great way to emphasize your teaching ability. You want to show that you are not only an amazing researcher but also someone that others value working alongside.
Finally, community service will include your work both within your institution and within your local and wider community. A gallery page is a great way to document your involvement in volunteer projects, community outreach, committee work, and so on.
A great example of academic website content is Dr Alex Burchmore’s site, where the homepage uses informative images and clear sections to highlight his contributions to both research and community.
When designing your site, you want to avoid being overly wordy: a great website – academic or otherwise – should be eye-catching and skim-readable. Remember that the most engaging online content is visual.
You can break up a wordy site by focusing on three areas:
Images, videos, and other visual media
Page construction elements
Books and journal covers make great visual content. You can also include images from conference programs or ask colleagues to capture photographs and/or videos during your conference presentations (always, of course, with the permission of the organizers and any other individuals in the shot).
Make use of built-in elements such as heading settings, spacers, section breaks, and so on, to facilitate skim reading. A change of font can make all the difference to the readability of a page, and a strong contrast between font and background will help make your site easy on the eyes.
Color is also really important: it can set the tone and personality of your site at first glance. For example, check out how Justin Brummer uses a bright color scheme of primary colors to add vibrancy to his site.
You may also want to consider including a blog as part of your portfolio. This informal venue offers you the opportunity to present your work in a less formal format, more appealing to colleagues and partners outside of academia. It can demonstrate your ability to communicate to the non-specialist public and can generate interest in your work. It can also be a good venue for exploring and developing ideas for later, formal publication. A great example is Laura McCaslin’s enormously engaging site, on which she blogs about life as a researcher as well as her primary fields of chemistry and research.
Finally, include opportunities for interaction. Whether this takes the form of links to social media profiles, comments on blog posts, a contact form, or even a forum page, supporting interaction will help you leverage your website’s ability to engage you with your professional community.
Like it or not, digital looks like being the future of academia. Embracing digitality will provide you with the opportunity to present yourself as a researcher comfortable with online content, engaged with digital communities, and “linked in” to the cutting edge of your industry.