Every academic needs to create a personal academic website. A profile page at your university or an account on Academia.edu isn’t enough. If you don’t have your own personal website, preferably with your name in the domain name, then you do not own your online presence.
If you do not take charge of your online presence, then Google will create it for you through the chaos of their algorithm. Communications instructor Kelli Marshal notes that a Google search for academics without their own website will return one of two results: the name of their institution or department; second, their webpage on Rate My Professor. The latter rarely has anything positive to say.
Has a student ever gone on a nasty rant about your class? That could be the top entry on a Google search for your name. Or it could be a disgruntled undergraduate who considers you unfair, ignorant, or unprofessional – exactly what happened to Marshall. A student was angry with her because she had begun incorporating Twitter into the classroom. Many students in her introductory film course embraced the Twitter assignments, but a handful revolted. One particular student took to the Internet to argue that social media has no place in the classroom. In the diatribe he mentioned Marshall’s name, school affiliation, and the classes she taught.
A Google search headlined “Professor _________ Totally Sucks!!!!!!” or “I No Longer Fear Hell, I Took a Course With Aruna Mitra,” is hardly the first impression that you want to give to scholar in your field checking out your background. Worse yet, imagine a search committee member browsing such a page.
But what about putting my CV and peer-reviewed articles on a platform like Academia.edu? I control that platform, right? Not exactly. Those of us who are looking for non-academic or alternative academic jobs must cater our online presence to Google searches. Besides, if you make your digital presence completely dependent on another company, then you are building on somebody else’s land. It’s a recipe for disaster. Your personal academic website belongs to those sites, and we are enriching Academia.edu or Facebook by doing so. It’s what some Web 2.0 analysts call digital sharecropping.
Instead of seeing social media links or nasty diatribes at the top of a Google search for your name, the first thing that should appear is your personal academic website, followed by social media profiles, followed by direct links to your publications. But how do you do this? Setting up a website, getting a domain name, and web site design seems complicated.
There are free options out there like WordPress.com, Tumblr, or Blogger. They are good options for some, but I don’t recommend them for your personal academic website. I don’t believe they convey enough professionalism. Having www.scottrank.blogspot.com doesn’t look nearly as good as www.scottrank.com. Your domain name will always be an extension to the service provider’s domain name. If I made this website on wordpress.com, the website would be http://thescholarpreneur.wordpress.com instead of http://thescholarpreneur.com. You also have fewer options for customization, design, and functionality.
Bluehost: The Provider I Recommend for a Personal Academic Website
I recommend going with a self-hosted website. You have control, it looks better, and it is your own digital property. This is how you create a www.yourname.com website. For hosting, I recommend the company Bluehost. I use them for all my websites. They have great customer support, reliability, and make it easy to create a personal academic website.
But how do I set up a site, you might ask? It’s easy. I have created a video to show you exactly how to do so. It will only take you 10 minutes to create a personal academic website. I have included as many free tools as possible. All that is required of you is to have on hand a CV, a profile picture, and a basic description of your research.
Disclaimer: I earn commission if you decide to go with Bluehost, although it comes at no cost to you. There are other hosting options available like HostGator or Network Solutions, but I have never used them and cannot vouch for their quality or reliability. If you purchase a subscription with Bluehost through the affiliate link, I appreciate your support.
Your page doesn’t need much. The cover needs a profile pictures. Sections such About Me, CV, and Contact will suffice. The personal academic website should include basic biographical information, and research interests. Make sure to put these on the About Me page, since these are the highest clicked. Featuring current or past courses is also useful for students or search committees.
If you want to include more information, there are some simple personal academic website examples from which you can copy. Doris Bremm uses a clean WordPress theme called “Columnist” to display her current and upcoming events. Anne Pollock has a nice custom designed site with one center column and tabs fanning off to each side. Zach Whalen’s site is even simpler, with a banner up top, his picture, and a bio below.
The personal academic website is above all an online hub for your accomplishments. Roger Whitson from the Digital Scholarship Commons at Emory University recommends a more extended portfolio: A copy of your CV using a paper-sharing application called Scribd, a brief account of research and digital scholarship, a teaching portfolio with a teaching philosophy, student evaluations of work, sample syllabi, links to student projects, and even videos presenting teaching and research. Check out Roger’s page to see what all this looks like. Kathryn Crowther also does a good job of displaying multiple items in a simple format.
If you want to create even more of a scholarly presence online, you can start a blog. Many academics have done great things by writing about trends in their field. Some, such as Scholarpreneur Podcast guest Rebecca Schuman, have even gone on to professional writing careers thanks to the early online exposure that came from their blog.
Anything else that you think a personal academic website needs? Please post in the comments below.