Personal academic website to maximize your professional presence
As a PhD, having a personal academic website can be an extremely valuable tool for showcasing your research, building your professional network, and advancing your career.
Your online presence as a PhD scholar is comprised of two things- 1.) the quality and frequency of your publications, and 2.) your personal brand encompassing various facets of your social presence.
A caveat however is that there is always an alternative opinion- PhD students don’t really need a website as long as they have some form of online presence.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the key elements of an effective personal academic website, why you as a PhD candidate need to have one and provide tips and tools for creating your own website.
Why do PhDs need a personal academic website?
First, let’s talk about the benefits of having a personal academic website. Your website can serve as a centralized hub for your professional identity and help you:
Share your research: A personal website allows you to showcase your research to a broader audience, including potential collaborators, funding agencies, and the general public. You can provide details about your research projects, publications, and presentations.
Build your network: Your website can help you connect with other scholars in your field, either by featuring links to your social media accounts or by providing a contact form for interested parties to reach out to you. You can also use your website to highlight your collaborations with other researchers.
Establish your expertise: By sharing your research interests and experience, you can establish yourself as an expert in your field. This can lead to invitations to speak at conferences, participation in expert panels or media interviews.
Improve your job prospects: Many employers now expect job applicants to have a website that showcases their work and accomplishments. You can also use your website to apply for grants and fellowships. You can always use this to complement your curriculum vitae (CV) as a website gives you a lot more flexibility to showcase your expertise.
It is at this time you may be wondering that you are just in the initial stages of your PhD, say the 1st year of PhD and don’t have much to share about research. So, does that mean you don’t need a website, not yet anyways?
Here is the thing- you may not have peer reviewed publications yet, but you may have work in progress. Talk about those and if you don’t even have a preprint yet, talk about the papers you are readings and summarize your analysis.
Your website is your portal and you have full control over how you wish to use it to showcase your strengths. If you do not have direct tangible evidence to prove your expertise, get creative. Sometimes, people share memes, fails, struggles etc., and how they addressed these situations and even that can serve as inspiration for others and showcase your problem solving skills too.
So, even if it appears like you have nothing to say or show for, you almost always have something to talk about as a PhD scholar.
Key elements of an academic website
So what should you include on your website? Here are some key elements to consider:
This section should provide a brief summary of your academic background and research interests. You can also include a professional headshot and contact information.
This section should be the centerpiece of your website. Here, you should showcase your research projects, publications, and presentations. Provide abstracts, summaries and links to the full texts if available. Organize the information by topic or focus area for clarity.
Include information about your teaching experience, courses taught, and any student feedback you have received.
Service and outreach
Include any service or outreach you have undertaken in your academic capacity (for example, organizing student conferences, presenting to K-12 schools).
A blog can be a great way to engage with a broader audience and provide a more personal touch to your website. You can use it to share your thoughts on current events or new research, for example.
There are however no “official” requirements for an academic website so feel free to add as many more sections as you see relevant to highlight your profile and skills.
Tips for creating your website
Here are some tips to keep in mind as you create your website:
Keep your website clean and easy to navigate. Visitors to your site should be able to quickly find the information they are looking for.
Your website is a reflection of your professionalism and attention to detail. Keep it clean and simple but don’t make it shabby. First impression counts.
Link to your social media accounts to expand your digital presence and promote your website to a wider audience.
Update your website regularly. This is important to keep it current and show activity in your field. Don’t write stuff once and forget about it. Your website should grow as your skills grow.
Don’t consider your website as a recycling platform for simply re-sharing your content from other social channels. Your website should add complementary or rather fresh value which is otherwise not possible through the other social channels.
Tools for creating your academic website
If you’re ready to create your own personal academic website, here are some tools to get started:
Google Sites: A site builder offered by Google itself that allows you to make a basic drag-and-drop website with your collaterals like pictures etc., hosted on Google Drive.
WordPress: A popular website builder that offers a range of customizable templates and plugins. WordPress is user-friendly and doesn’t require any coding skills.
N.B. WordPress has two variants- WordPress DOT COM and WordPress DOT ORG. The latter is often known as self-hosted because you own your site and hence have to find hosting provider. This is what I currently use for this site.
Wix: Another popular website builder that’s known for its drag-and-drop interface. Wix offers a variety of templates and features, although some users have noted that it can be slower than other builders.
Squarespace: A premium website builder that offers sleek and stylish templates, as well as integrated e-commerce features. Squarespace is pricier than other builders but can be a good option if you want to create a professional-looking website.
Weebly: Weebly is a user-friendly website builder that offers customizable templates for academic websites. It has drag-and-drop features which makes designing your website easier. It also has a free version and affordable pricing options for upgrading.
Hashnode: A platform that specifically caters to developers and tech enthusiasts, Hashnode allows you to create a personal blog that also showcases your coding skills and projects.
Carrd: A minimalist website builder that’s great for creating simple, one-page websites. Carrd is easy to use and offers a range of templates and design options.
GitHub Pages: A free web hosting service that allows you to create a personal academic website using your GitHub account. This is a good option if you’re familiar with coding and want more control over the design and functionality of your website.
Most of these website builders would allow you to buy and link a custom domain name. If you can afford to, this is highly beneficial for you and helps with personal branding.
As for the graphics, you can use free tools like Canva, Figma, Photopea, etc. to create your own copyright free graphics for a better user experience on your website.
When I first started out, I made a basic Google Sites website just to get the hang of it and to put my thoughts together. Then, I moved on to Github Pages and learnt a bit of HTML/CSS to stylize the website according to my needs. Though this is not mandatory for you as there are numerous themes and templates readily available which should be relatively easy to modify. Only in the recent years I started using WordPress self-hosted with a custom domain.
As a PhD, having a personal academic website is an important tool for showcasing your research, building your network, and advancing your career. When creating your website, make sure to include information about your research, teaching, and service. Keep your website clean and easy to navigate, and update it regularly to keep it current. Finally, consider using a website builder like WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, or GitHub Pages to create your website.