Monday open question: Do you have a personal website? Is it useful?

As I’ve mentioned, the past few weeks have seen potential new faculty members come and go from my institution. I decided to look them up online to see what I could find. Did they have a twitter account? A personal web page? Out of ten, one had a twitter account and none had a personal web page. I went back to the three (specialized) potential faculty members from the last round and while two had a lab web page, I couldn’t find the lab web page of the third (I know where they ended up)!

The advantage of a twitter account is: people are going to be talking about you, and you won’t know about it if you can’t see it. It seems straight-forward if a bit of work.

But a personal web page is different. It doesn’t take tons of work, particularly once you’ve set it up. All it needs to have is your name, a list of your interests, your CV, a list of your work, a way to represent you. It’s the modern business card, really. Once you are a faculty member and have a full lab web page I think it goes away but before then – why not?

Can anyone speak to whether they have one and whether it’s actually been useful?

Update: From Artem’s comment below, why web-presence is important for researchers

Update 2: From an anonymous twitter comment: “I find it very useful. When I give a talk somewhere, >50 people visit [their personal page] and download papers & ask better q’s at talk.”

5 thoughts on “Monday open question: Do you have a personal website? Is it useful?

  1. I think it has been. It gives people a landing place when they google me (they do). And I can put information that may be of interest to them, papers, CV, research statement. Also for for over-thinking purposes I can monitor who is looking at my site.

  2. I asked a related question on the importance of web presence at the Academia StackExchange. You might find some cool answers there. Also, you should really add StackExhange Q&As to your list of things researchers should participate in!

    Now, the following might just be my pro-theory bias, but I’ll share anyways. To me, it seems that the frequency of web-presence among junior researchers is closely correlated to amount of autonomy. In big science fields like medicine, neuoroscience, and biology, it seems to me that PhD programs (and even post docs) are not in the business of making independent researchers and thinkers, but in the business of making specialists craftsmen in certain techniques. In such a setting, the student is basically an employee (or maybe slave?) of their supervisor and thus there is very little incentive for a personal web presence. Why build websites and such if I don’t have autonomy over my project? What am I going to share anyways? To my naive eye, it also seems like hiring in these fields is based more on pedigree and where one comes from than the students individual contribution. This means that your personal website doesn’t actually give the committee more useful information than your supervisor’s. In theory-fields, however, having a well established supervisor working on trendy topics is a good foot in the door, but after that first step the decision is completely based on your independent results. In the big science fields, there seems to be little independent work on which to base such decisions.

    In terms of my personal web presence, I am involved in a bunch of things. I have a personal website, a relatively active blog and G+ profile, I used to be on twitter (and I promise to return once I achieve my self-imposed return-to-twitter goal!), and I am a moderator on one research-level-only stackexchange and active member on a number of others (although the other ones are not research-only). This has been incredibly rewarding. Above all else, my involvement has given me a sense of community that I do not have in my offline life. In terms of more ‘practical’ concerns, it has improved my writing and let me better keep track of my work. The feedback from others has helped me discover new resources and results that I would not have found on my own or through the people I work with offline. It has led to discussions and correspondences that have been enlightening. In one case it has led to a specific international collaboration and new sub-field for me to explore. The little view counter on my blog has also stroked my ego, which helps on the days when I feel down.

    For harm, I hear several arguments that I think are misguided. A lot of students are afraid of being wrong and seeming foolish, I know I was petrified of this when I first joined the cstheory StackExchange (I even used a pseudonym for the first several weeks). However, this is an irrational fear. Nobody is going to remember your occasional mistakes, and the few times you are wrong will be outweighed by the amount you will learn from your mistakes and the fact that people will be more familiar with you. If you are wrong most of the time then that is also a useful signal, it means that you should start asking yourself some serious questions about your academic future, and if you delay for the comfort of ignorance then you are just hurting yourself in the long run.

    Another common theme is: why waste time online when you could be doing research? This I think is also misguided, research is about exploring ideas and the online community is a great way to do so. Blogging for me, for instance, has made my ideas much clearer than the private notes I keep which resulted in direct research progress. It has also allowed me to gamify the act of writing up results, which is often the hardest part for me. My experience might be less useful in experiment-heavy fields since there researchers actually do things, instead of just sitting around and pondering.

    The only real ‘negative’ I noticed is that I get more academic spam: conference invitations to nonsense and people wanting to be my PhD students. But these are easy to filter and sometimes funny to read.

    Sorry for the long comment!

    • +10000 for an awesome comment.

      I definitely think that CS students have more autonomy and are more ‘their own’ project than a member of a lab. Maybe you’re right, that’s a big problem here.

      I have a hard time with SX for some reason. There’s really no neurobiology community there, do they even have an economics one, etc?

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