Managing Your Online Profile

Managing Your Online Profile

Whether you like it or not, as a scientist you have an online profile. Not only is it trivial to find – simply do a Google search for your name – but it’s also probably the first impression formed by a potential employer, collaborator, supervisor or reviewer. Early-career researchers, many of whom are trying to establish themselves in the scientific world, are particularly vulnerable to a poor or disorganized web presence. Here we will explore what parts of your online profile are beyond your control, what parts aren’t, and what you should do about it.

What You Can’t Control Online

As explained in this excellent Nature article (V. Gewin, Nature 471, pp. 667–669, 2011), many aspects of your online profile cannot be controlled:

  • Any scientist that is actively publishing will have auto-generated profiles created by third-party citation databases, which are often cryptic and poorly organized (ChemFeeds is an example of this).
  • Your publications each have their own individual pages at the official journal’s website. Such results will often come up in a web search for your name. Scientific conferences you have attended may also publish your abstracts online, and photographs taken of you at these conferences may be floating online. (That photo will probably be online for decades – were you wearing something nice?)
  • There may be a Wikipedia entry for you, or at least a university or institute profile page, likely containing your photo, contract details, research topic, and so forth.
  • Most aspects of your FaceBook presence can be controlled, but your friends may post content in which you’re present – often harmless, but there are enough examples of ribald antics making it onto FaceBook and torpedoing career prospects.
  • If you have participated in TV or radio interviews, presentation competitions, promotional materials or certain conferences, then video footage of you may exist on websites such as YouTube.
  • If you have won awards, scholarships or competitions, there may be listings of your name and details at various websites.
  • Websites such as Google Images will likely have a number of your photos online, from the various sources outlined above.
  • If you have your own blog, particularly if it is off-topic and separate from your professional work, be aware that it will come up in the same set of search results as your research activities. This will lead people to link these two areas of your life, with your personal thoughts or opinions becoming tied to your perceived professional competency.

How Seriously Should You Take This?

There are two main points to appreciate here. First, while much of this content is beyond your control, it is not likely to be malicious or damaging by itself. However, having said that, these random collections of information may present a disorganized first impression. Without editing or curation this unwanted portrait can cloud your scientific work, mar professional relationships and cost you professional opportunities, as noted previously. Thus, it is better to corral all this information into one central webpage that you control. Ideally, the first search result when someone Googles your name will not be a random website, but rather a page that you control the content of. The advantages are obvious: you can keep it neatly organized, up to date, and shape the first impression you give online.

How To Create and Control Your Online Profile

There are a number of options available, all straightforward. As usual, the best option involves more work. In order of effectiveness:

  1. Your Own Domain Name. If you have a reasonably unique name (or are quick enough), your own “.com” should be available for rent, in the form of www.yourname.com (e.g., www.janechin.comwww.chriswilmer.com, www.abhijitsarkar.com and so on). If that’s not available or is too long, you can shorten it by using initials (e.g., www.ejcorey.com), narrow it down to a country-specific domain (e.g., “.dk” in www.besenbacher.dk), or come up with a “domain hack” (e.g., www.ma.tt). The costs are trivial, and it is by far the most effective way to come up first in search results. You also have complete freedom over what layout you use and what content you publish.
  2. Your University/Institute/Company’s Webpage. If your career level is at the postdoctoral fellow stage or above, your current employment (e.g., university) will have probably setup a website for you. This will not be a “.com”, but rather a lengthy subdomain.  In its most basic form, this is a brief profile, likely containing your photo, contact details, some publications and a short research blurb (e.g., www.physics.harvard.edu/people/facpages/cohen.html). If you can edit or influence this content, do so! As your career progresses towards independent research, you should gain full control over such content, making a group website and keeping it regularly updated (e.g., web.mit.edu/langerlab).
  3. A Google Profile and Research ID (or Similar). There are a number of services such as Google Profile, LinkedIn and Naymz that offer a reasonably professional-looking online presence that is easy to setup (e.g., profiles.google.com/adrianmcintyre). Additionally, there are academia-specific services like ResearcherIDResearchGate and Mendeley that offer features such as listing and tracking your scientific publications. Given the sheer number of options available, one should focus on the leading services (e.g., Google Profile and Researcher ID) rather than struggling to keep countless online profiles up to date.

What To Choose?

If you have a bit of time and can make a website that is reasonably professional-looking, then your own “.com” is by far the best option. Failing that, make sure you keep your university-hosted personal profile up to date and detailed. Finally, if neither a “.com” nor an editable university-hosted profile are options, then setup a LinkedIn or Google Profile.

Regardless of what option you choose, realize that an online presence is not as simple as copy-and-pasting a resume or CV. In addition to the standard sections (education, work experience, etc.), the added space and multimedia options of the web allow you to put in a variety of content:

  • Make sure that your publications are not only listed, but also linked to the publisher’s specific webpage for your article. Ideally one or two clicks is all it should take for someone to start reading your paper.
  • List awards, grants, conferences, speaking engagements (past and upcoming), etc. Make use of the potentially unlimited space available online, but also remember to keep it organized and readable.
  • Consider putting a photo online. This makes it easier for people to find you at a scientific conference, for example.
  • Describe your current research interests, at a level that’s appropriate for a broad audience. Keep it updated!
  • Are you looking for a new career opportunity? If yes, describe it.
  • Link to your other professional online presences (e.g., LinkedIn) and any institutions or research groups that you are affiliated with, but perhaps not to your personal blog if it’s unrelated.
  • That said, if you have the time and aptitude, consider setting up a public-outreach professional blog (e.g., www.scienceblogs.com). This may not help your research, but can improve your teaching and outreach efforts.
  • You can upload scientific posters, presentations and so forth, if you are comfortable with having these online and think they will present you in a good light.
  • Make available for download a simple, clean resume and/or CV (curriculum vitae). This should really be in PDF format, although Microsoft Word DOC formats are acceptable.

Finally, note that all this work is not without risks. Increasing your online profile will attract both more opportunities and more scrutiny, so always be judicious in evaluating how much you want to disclose, and keep in mind your online presence’s ultimate purpose: a positive impact on your career.

Further reading:

 

Written by Cosmin Laslau; originally published on April 1st, 2011.

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