Talking Shop: Creating Online Presence for Early Career Researchers
Hardcopy letterhead and dossiers sent out by your department are fast becoming historical artifacts of the job search process. I am a historian on the academic job market, and for the first time, all my applications are to be submitted online. Applications aren’t the only reason you need to think digitally. Being visible online is fast becoming as expected of early career scholars as attending your field’s annual conference. Creating online presence is not only about building up your professional profile, but also monitoring how others are sharing information about you. We will all have different goals for our online profiles. Below are a range of strategies and tools to help personalize your approach.
What’s out there?
Before building anything new, find out what is already floating around in the cloud. You never know who may be looking you up. While it’s highly debatable whether search committees should be scanning search results for job candidates, it is better to be safe than sorry. Being proactive and using the Internet to your benefit can pay off.
- Search for your name in Google (accounting for any nicknames or pre-wedding names) and take note of what information you can edit and what pages are out of your control. Google has a useful page on managing personal content that you may want to remove. Don’t forget to check images as well as webpages.
- If you have a Facebook account and you haven’t yet considered what posts and photos are visible to which publics, now is the time to go in and take care of this. Check your “privacy,” “security,” and “timeline and tagging” settings.
- Interested in keeping tabs on who is talking about your research topic? This is where Google alerts can come in handy.
Using time and resources wisely
A standalone website is not for everyone, but you never know when one might come in handy. If you have stable affiliation, using your institutional profile page well could be the simplest solution to establishing a digital home base. If you will be graduating soon or are moving around in short-term positions, maintaining a site using a service like WordPress (.org or .com) or Wix or Weebly could be a better solution. If you plan to incorporate a blog or any kind of media on your side, opt for one of these extra-institutional platforms. (More on blogging below.) In general, having some kind of primary landing page can orient people who are looking to verify your Twitter or other online identity.
- Reserve/buy your preferred domain name. Use any domain name registrar to do this. (I use iwantmyname because of its simplicity.) Adopting a personal domain name is easy with a WordPress.org setup. Even if you don’t set up a site now, you may want to down the road. Is your name’s domain name taken? What other professional names could you use? Is there something unique about your research subject or methods that will stand the test of time? A memorable URL can be more elegant than the http://yourname.wordpress.com address (or equivalent) you would normally be assigned.
- Designing your personal site is a topic unto its own, but here are some tips from academics. Do you have some tech chops? Here’s an example of building an academic site from scratch. If you want to showcase some kind of collection/archival materials, consider Omeka, which was developed at George Mason’s Center for History and New Media. Finally, in addition to typical content like details about your publications, examples of syllabi, or written blog posts, keep in mind that audio and video are the scholar’s friends. Can you record a lecture or conference presentation? Think about posting the audio on your site using a Soundcloud plugin. Can you record a short video in which you pitch your research to a general audience? (Maybe you could even convince this outfit to tape you.)
- Use institutional infrastructure if you have it. For the most part, this will mean your department/program profile page. However, some schools have other ways for scholars to set up personal pages. (For example, OpenScholar is a new, open-source, Drupal-based software specifically designed for academics. Harvard, Princeton, and Berkeley have already adopted this software.) Make use of all the categories available to you. Include a good headshot, list your publications, courses taught, and work in progress. If possible, include a link to a downloadable c.v.
- Update materials as needed. Set up a time for quarterly or annual review—depending on the kind of traffic you think your site or page will have. Out of date information—from your affiliation to your research interests—can undermine the purpose of having a digital presence. One way to avoid this is to design your presence so that materials appear fresh for as long as possible. Having a link to a .pdf copy of your most recent c.v. is easier to refresh than multiple pages on a site that each have some part of your c.v. pasted into the text box.
Blogging is an informal way to meet other scholars. Are you new to the field? Are you isolated from major research centers? Can’t make it to the annual conference this year in your field? Blogging could be treated like the digital version of conferencing. If you’re not planning to publish, posting your conference presentation—or a summary—on a blog can be an invitation to converse with others about your work. Blog posts are fresh opportunities to write about developing research interests, current debates in your field, intersections between academia and politics or other current affairs, or experimental teaching practices.
Of course, a blog is more like a personal journal unless it has readers. There is an art to finding readers. Have you publicized your posts on Twitter or an email listserv? Do colleagues in your home department know about it? Do you mention your blog in professional settings like workshops? Is the address on your business card? The blogosphere rewards those who post regularly.
You should personalize the format and amount of time you spend posting to match your goals. If writing blog posts regularly isn’t your cup of tea, but you have other material to share, you might consider using tumblr to post photos, quotes, audio, or video. It’s easy to link tumblr posts to your Twitter or Facebook page so that content is immediately pushed out to your followers. Another fun way to use tumblr or Twitter on a small scale is through regular posts documenting archival trips with text or visuals. Some of the most amusing history-related Twitter feeds are imaginative “impersonations” of historical persons or texts (from Chaucer to John Quincy Adams). Is there a diary, newspaper, or other source you’d like to tweet? If taking photos, pay attention to permissions from your archives or library.
Finally, two other options may appeal to those who want to ease into the role of a blogger. Writing guest posts and contributing to a group blog are manageable ways to join scholarly conversations online. Many blogs on the The Chronicle of Higher Education (like ProfHacker) have several contributors. No one author bears the burden of daily or weekly posts, and readers benefit from the variety of different perspectives. The Junto is a successful group blog for early Americanists as are the US Intellectual History blog and Frog in a Well (East Asian history).
Using social media professionally
Scholarly ideas are not only expressed in journal articles or monographs. Social media offer you a new kind of communication environment, where form and style depart from the norms established in the academic publishing world. On Twitter in particular, scholars are finding new ways to write collaboratively, discuss teaching, and answer queries. The #Graftonline group is collectively committed to a daily writing practice, while #twitterstorians share calls for papers, grant announcements, and weird photos from the archives. Joining and contributing to discussions on Twitter or elsewhere is an unparalleled chance to maintain relationships with international colleagues and meet newcomers. Live tweeting at conferences creates a record of panel papers and discussions that is rarely preserved by other means.
Keep in mind that decent academic manners are not to be forgotten in the digital world. Courtesy should not be checked at the door. Ryan Cordell has posted some good guidelines for conference tweeting. We owe it to each other to act as if we are always speaking face-to-face. Rather than simply using social media as a tool for criticism, how can we use it creatively and productively?
Professional communities online
Establishing a landing page and joining other scholars in conversation using the tools above are great first steps in crafting your digital presence. I want to wrap up with one further set of online platforms that will extend your professional networks beyond known colleagues.
HASTAC (the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) is a prime example of an online community for grad students and recent PhDs that helps scholars forge connections with new colleagues in a purely digital environment. If you’re still finishing up and are interested in the connections between the humanities and technology, check out the HASTAC Scholars program. Major professional associations are establishing their own online communities as part of a longer trend in offering new digital services to members. The American Historical Association’s Communities and the Modern Language Association Commons are young, but they are good places for young scholars to learn about the association, its leaders and initiatives.
By now you’ve tamed your Facebook profile, and it is fit for professional consumption. But is Facebook enough? Newer social networking sites are bargaining on the belief that it is not. Academia.edu came out with a bang a few years ago, and while it is a great place to be able to connect with colleagues and make available research/teaching documents, this service doesn’t have bandwidth beyond the scholarly world. Whether that is important to you or not may change over time, so read on to learn more about the biggest service for professional networking online.
LinkedIn is the most popular professional networking tool, but it’s still not something most academics use. If you’re active online but on the fence about the investment of building a personal website, you may want to consider creating a profile here. The LinkedIn profile page can act as your professional face online and has plenty of academic-friendly features like the ability to describe research projects, teaching experience, fellowships and grants, and institutional affiliations. You can even describe publications. Most of the larger scholarly professional organizations have groups on LinkedIn, so that might be a way you’d like to connect with them.
LinkedIn is also quickly becoming the go-to resource for higher education institutions seeking out alumni. Should you want to stay in touch with any of your alma maters, this is the place they will find you and where you can find them. Finally, if you have professional contacts beyond the strict world of university faculty, you’re likely to find them on LinkedIn. Using LinkedIn may foster the growth of a professional community that could help you connect your research, teaching, or other engagements to people beyond your discipline or outside of academia. In my own context, being on LinkedIn reminds me that I’m connected to people who do history outside academia, whether in museums, preservation and architectural history firms, cultural resource consultancies, or archives.
Go meet real people
Our digital life is a support for, and not a replacement of, live conversations. Sharing your ideas at inter-institutional workshops, asking colleagues questions at conferences, or going for a walk with a visiting speaker are interactions that the online world cannot replace. Digital connections sustain these conversations, make possible further introductions, and sometimes reveal new opportunities, but they are really a bridge that will hopefully lead to another face-to-face experience.
On the other hand, for the more isolated or unaffiliated among us, a professional and creative digital presence can be the ticket to better integration in scholarly networks. HASTAC connects PhD students at smaller institutions with conversations about the humanities happening around the world. Blog posts can host comments from international colleagues who were not able to attend the last conference in your field.
Create a digital presence that is manageable given your current skills, time availability, and needs. There is no pressure to create a website on your own, or to have the most LinkedIn connections. Most of all, protect your personal and professional information. You work hard to establish a reputation in your field as a respected scholar. Since the Internet can be a (sometimes unexpectedly distorted) reflection of our actions, don’t be a stranger to what it has to say about you.
Image: “Network (in glorious Helvetica)” by Alexander Baxevanis (Flickr)