It astounds me every time I hear about a scientist who is reluctant to place her or his track record on the internet. Now, I may be a little over-the-top when it comes to my own web-presence (some have labelled me a ‘media tart’, but I don’t mind), but I am convinced that without a strong, regularly updated web presence, you’re doing yourself a horrible disservice.
Let’s go through the regularly raised objections that some academics make for avoiding the investment in a strong web presence:
- My employer will get angry
- My track record isn’t good enough (i.e., I’m embarrassed)
- What I do is no one else’s business
- I couldn’t be bothered; it’s too much work
- No one reads it anyway
While there might be some truth to items 1 & 2 (although the justification is weak or often plainly untrue), the last three are pure bullshit.
Let’s start by analysing the bullshit (rolls up sleeves, starts digging…).
It’s no one else’s business
How wrong can this perspective be? First, almost all science (especially in Australia) is publicly funded. Forget the modest contribution of real scientific advances made by industry (I’m focussing on published, peer-reviewed outputs here) – most research is funded by the taxpayer. So you not only have a responsibility to let people know what you do, you have a duty to do so. Second, if you’re that arrogant to think that science is only a personal endeavour, you are possibly contributing to the increase in science illiteracy and denial among the general public – shame on you.
Too much work
Again, I beg to differ. Most people at least have some semblance of a list of their publication record tucked away somewhere on their personal computer. If you’re an academic, you are in fact obliged these days to report your scientific output to your university, to your funding agencies and to your research partners. It’s really little effort to update a webpage with this basic information. I’m not saying that blogging or tweeting is everyone’s cup of tea (nor is it strictly necessary), but at the very least, a quick overview of your projects and publications (with linking URLs) is a bare minimum.
No one reads it
Unless you are a scientist who (a) never publishes, (b) never gets grants, (c) isn’t looking for work and/or (d) doesn’t do much at all, then this contention is utterly false. Pretty much every time I review a manuscript or a grant application, I google the researchers involved (at least the lead investigators). When I can’t find their history, I get frustrated, generally become grumpy, and am probably less likely to give a positive review. And let’s not even go there if you’re looking for a job. Even with your CV and publications list in-hand, as a selection committee member, I will ALWAYS google you. When I find that you haven’t even bothered to put yourself on the web, chances are you won’t even make the interview list.
Of course, there are also the other obvious advantages of having an online profile. When a journalist requires some expert opinion, she generally searches online (just like everyone else these days). When a policy wonk needs some advice, he does the same thing. In fact, your web presence is THE PRINCIPAL means by which people get to ‘know’ you – the internet has replaced all other search methods in this regard.
Now some comments on the first two points:
My employer will get angry
Yes, some employers (e.g., CSIRO, almost all government departments) are particularly nervous about their employees talking about what they’re paid to do (go figure), but none that I am aware of prevents their employees from bigging themselves online. After all, it’s the reputation of the institution that’s at stake, so it should welcome positive stories. At least a statement of what you do and a list of your achievements should not piss off even the most paranoid employer.
My track record isn’t good enough
This might be true, but it should never, ever stop you. In fact, your track record and your internet presence are intimately tied together (e.g., in the ways described above about manuscript and grant reviewing), so a downward spiral develops if you hide yourself away; in other words, your track record isn’t likely to improve if you’re internet-shy. If you’re an early-career researcher, then this perspective is ridiculous. Of course you probably don’t have a stellar track record yet - it takes time to develop. When I google an ECR online I will always take age and experience into account, so don’t worry about it.
A few other pointers on building your web presence:
- While your institution’s web pages might be cumbersome, out-of-date, and nearly impossible to update, there are many alternatives. I am flabbergasted that so many scientists haven’t yet discovered Google Scholar; for the sake of your career, spend 10 minutes and get yourself a Google Scholar profile! There are other web services for this sort of thing, like Researcher ID (a bit cumbersome and incomplete), ORCID, Research Gate, Academia.edu, Linkedin, etc., so you have plenty of free services from which to choose.
- Free blog sites (e.g., WordPress, Blogger) are common and can easily be used as personal or professional websites. You don’t necessarily have to blog with them.
- Facebook can act as a professional website.
- I’m also of the opinion that a strong media presence is a necessary component of a successful academic career. I won’t blather too much about that here, but see this previous post about expanding your media profile.
- Finally, avoid putting up semi-naked photos of yourself on Facebook, or going on some ill-advised rant on someone else’s blog or news site. If most people knew just how easy it was for others to cyber-stalk them, they wouldn’t document all their foolishness online. Remember, we’re watching you.