Should Scientists Have Their Own Websites?
You learn many skills in your career to become a scientist.
You learn how to communicate work via written assignments, practical demonstrations and skills such as critical thinking and analysis.
You even get taught how to apply for jobs, demonstrate your expertise and how to ace job interviews.
But what you don’t always get taught, is how to actively promote yourself in relation to all of the skills I’ve briefly mentioned above.
As part of your studies – or even as an extra curricular activity – you may have got involved in SciComm, the practice of communicating science to a non-scientific audience.
However, in this post, I want to demonstrate how and why scientists like you should consider creating a personal website, and how it can be beneficial to your career as a scientist.
Why Bother With A Website?
There are many reasons why I believe that scientists should strongly consider creating and maintaining their own website.
I will go into them in further detail in the points below, but another really great article to read is this one from Jennifer van Alstyne, who argues some similar ideas about the benefits or having a faculty or researcher website also.
I asked Jennifer for one piece of advice to share in this article, and she quoted:
“As scientists, you need to communicate with stakeholders. A website is the best way to do this long-term. More than that, it can open up your world to things like more media attention, collaborators, and potential industry partners.”
Therefore, let’s investigate some of the benefits a bit further.
Collate Your Work In One Place
As a scientist, it is unlikely you will work on the same area of research, or even within the same job for your whole career.
Having a website page that shows your work and allows you to host or link to all of the work you have ever worked on, so that visitors can find and investigate your work further.
In comparison to an institution or a company profile page, it is likely that you can only share the work you are working on in the present.
Use It As A Portfolio
Related to my above point about collating your work, if you have all of your work in one place, you can use your own online space as a living work portfolio.
This allows people that might be aware of one piece of work or publication, to potentially finding additional work and learning about you further.
But even if you are not using it to share your research, having an online portfolio can be a useful link for CVs or applications to funding opportunities or jobs.
Build A Personal Brand
Every time you publish something in your own name, whether you realise or not, you are building your own personal brand.
Publishing content in your own name, helps to consolidate your personal brand and how you are related to your field of science.
So, whenever anybody searches for your name on Google, you already have a showcase of work to tell everybody all about you, your work and other information you wish to communicate with people that do not know you so well.
Demonstrate Your Communication Skills
As scientists, we tend to focus our communication skills via reading, writing and speaking.
A skillset that is often under utilised – yet is in increasingly high demand – is digital communication.
Digital communication is all about communicating online – and demonstrating your skills with digital communication skills doesn’t get much better than creating your own personal website!
Get Approached For Jobs
Getting approached for jobs or freelance opportunities is not necessarily a direct benefit, but an accumulation of the above advantages I have just listed.
Publishing your work online, exhibiting your work via different online communication methods alongside your own personal brand is attractive to employers, as they can utilise your skills and networks.
Not only are you likely to find more opportunities, but you likely to command better renumeration than if you didn’t have the online presence to back up your abilities!
What Other Scientists Have To Say
For this article, it was only right that I contacted real scientists, to get quotes and experience of what they had to say about the benefits of having their own personal websites.
I spoke with four scientists to ask for their insights:
Dr Darren Reed
Darren is a Senior Lecturer in Social Science at the University of York, UK. Here’s what he said when I asked him why he has a personal site:
“So I decided to create a website quite recently because I found that my department site was not being updated as quickly or as easily as I like. I also wanted the opportunity to play with the format and add in blogging (potentially).
“I think as an academic it’s important to break away from the institutional identity sometimes. Having a site in which I can decide on imagery, layout and the like allows me to express my individuality.
“There’s also something quite individualistic about my work which means I don’t necessary fit the expectations of a single department and so a personal website is a place to be a more interdisciplinary character and more fully express my academic identity and biography.
“I haven’t had the page for very long and haven’t had contacts from students or other academics. But I do look forward to receiving them. One of the reasons for making the page was to attract postgraduate students who were interested in the same things as me.
“There’s also something about having a page outside a single institution. Who’s to know, maybe I’ll move on and work somewhere else. I won’t have to rewrite my site when I do.
“There’s also something about a static website. I teach about social media and the various ways that people present and perform themselves online, but for me the traditional website is important. It’s a ‘home’, a place people come to visit me, rather than a place I visit. I like that. I like the idea of welcoming someone into my home.
“Maybe I’m just getting old, but I like the sense of control over my identity that a personal website brings.“
You can visit Darren’s website at https://www.darrenreed.net/
Dr Soph Milbourne
Dr Soph Milbourne is a science communication expert that runs Soph Talks Science and has collaborated with brands such as Mattel, STEMettes, Merck & New Scientist Live, as well as having her work featured in Sunday Times, Forbes, How It Works magazine, Cell Press and more.
I asked Soph about her experiences of having a personal website, and some of the benefits it has opened up to her.
“Having a personal website of my own has been critical for my science career, especially as I moved from academia into science communication.
“Your name is one of the more stable things in life. Wherever you go, it goes too. Having a website you have control over regardless of how many times you move jobs or change research speciality means it is the best thing you can have.
“It has served me as a CV, a portfolio and also means that people have reached out to me for speaking events, media opportunities and so on. I’ve been able to position myself within my industry, build a reputation and share more about my values and not just my work.
“I could go on. It also doesn’t hurt to have those website skills in your back pocket either.”
Simon Spichak, MSc
Simon is a Neuroscientist with expertise in gut microbiome. He is an award-winning science-communicator, a freelance science & tech writer, as well as being Co-Founder at Resolvve Inc.
He took time out of his busy schedule to give us the following quote on why he has his own personal website as a scientist:
“A personal website helps me document my journey across scientific communication. It’s a space where I can share links to my talks and podcast appearances, as well as my writing.
“Most people will not be reading my scientific papers, but they might watch my talks or read my online writing. My website allows them to find everything I’ve done, organized in a nice and neat format.
“Sometimes when my writing really resonates with someone, people contact me through the website. It also makes me feel more legitimate, a calling card signifying that I am in this space. To me, it repeats that I am not an impostor. To potential employers and clients, it’s a living CV or resume.
“These personal sites are tools that let people learn more about me and the science that I love. I also let people sign up for a newsletter, The Neurotech Singularity, where I link to the 5+ articles I write and publish every week about science news.
“As I am working on my own mental-health related business, it makes it easier for me to network with other professional. My website, newsletter and Medium page provided a space to share this venture with the people that follow my writing and science-communication.“
You can check out Simon’s website at https://www.simonspichak.com/, read his articles on Medium, find links to other publications where he has written here, and finally check out his business – Resolvve Inc.
Lucy is a qualified biomedical scientist and personal science translator, helping her reader’s make sense of science.
Lucy works full-time as scientific content producer for an international journal, but is also the founder, host and producer of ‘The Science Podcast’ and science communicator at researcherlucy.co.uk. Here’s what Lucy had to say to me:
“Your new secret weapon really could be creating a personal site.
“I’m a big believer, and living proof, that having a personal site opens more doors than you could imagine. I landed my dream job through it! Much like a standout CV a personal website gives you that extra edge over other candidates when applying for jobs, and not only that but a personal website is great for building your online ‘brand’.
“Your website sets the tone for how others perceive you online, making you look committed professional, and knowledgeable in your chosen field.
“My blog posts reach people all over the globe, opening up so many incredible conversations and opportunities, which isn’t something I’d ever previously anticipated!”
Creating A Website
Now that I’ve told you the benefits of having a personal site, and you’ve read some quotes from other scientists about the benefits of having a site, all you need to do is get started right?!
Creating a website is definitely a task that takes time and effort. Not only to set it up, but also to determine what you wish to feature on your site.
If you haven’t created a website before, I would recommend picking a website building tool that makes it as easy as possible to learn and manage.
You may have heard of website builders, such as WordPress, Wix or Squarespace, all have their advantages and disadvantages. However, I would recommend doing some research about different designs and functionality that you wish to feature.
However, I recently came across a website builder called Owlstown, a website builder “Designed for PhDs (by a PhD)”.
To learn more about Owlstown, I reached out to Ian Li, PhD, the founder of Owlstown and why scientists (or academics) should consider using it as their website builder of choice.
“When I was in grad school, I had an academic website. But common to many academic websites, I encountered 3 problems:
- Maintaining a website took a lot of time.
- Uncertainty about what information to share.
- Spreading my work online was hard.
“What could I do? Academic life is already busy with conducting research, writing papers, and presenting talks. The last thing on my todo list was to work on my academic website.
“The sad thing is that a bad academic website is a missed opportunity. You miss connecting with potential collaborators, sharing your research with the world, and inspiring the next generation of scientists.
“But academic websites don’t have to be this way. I believe that with the right tool, a tool specifically designed for the sharing needs of scientists, academic websites can be maintained with little time, contain the necessary academic content, and can be easy to share. That’s why I created Owlstown. Here are some of the features of Owlstown:
“Owlstown websites are easy to make and maintain. You can edit your Owlstown website wherever you have a browser. You can even edit on your mobile phone. Owlstown has several themes to choose from and switching is just a click. You don’t have to maintain a server or write any code. This means you can focus on sharing your academic content, which saves you time for more research, and more networking!
“Owlstown takes the guesswork out of what content to share. Owlstown provides templates for all types of academic content. In addition to a list of publications, your website can have project summaries, courses taught and taken, presentation videos and slide decks, your CV, a research and teaching statement, etc. You can provide a more complete picture of your academic work.
“Owlstown makes it easy to share your academic content. Owlstown has a Community section where your academic content is shared. This makes it easy for others to find your website, and for you to connect with other academics. When you share your webpages on Facebook or Twitter, your links appear with a nice preview. Owlstown also has features that help your website appear on search engines.“
Some Final Thoughts
By writing this article, I hope that scientists will be persuaded to consider creating a website for themselves.
It can be daunting to think that you have your own website and ‘putting yourself out there’ and also to even consider learning how to set up and maintain a site!
However, I believe that the benefits outweigh the negatives and a personal site has the ability to influence your career positively.
If you are reading this and you don’t know where to start, I would advise you read through the external links I’ve provided, reach out to Ian at Owlstown, or get in touch with me for some free advice on what you need to do and how you need to do it!
If you read this and create a site off the back of it, I would love to hear from you and check out your site!