7 tips to supercharge your academic LinkedIn profile

Like 1.9 million other academics, you’ve got a LinkedIn profile. Along with the rest of us, you set it up to improve your visibility and to network with other researchers.

Well, we’ve got some bad news for you: your LinkedIn profile probably isn’t doing either of those things right now. Or at least, not very well.

The problem is that LinkedIn is built for businesspeople, not scientists; it’s tough to translate the traditional scholarly CV into the business-friendly format imposed by LinkedIn. So most scientists’ profiles are dull and lack focus on their most important accomplishments, and their networking attempts are limited to “friending” co-workers.

We’re going to fix that by giving you seven easy hacks to turn LinkedIn into a powerful tool for scholarly visibility and networking.  Today, we’ll help you supercharge your profile; then in our next post, we’ll show you how to leverage that profile to built a powerful professional network.

1: Bust down barriers to finding your profile


What good is a killer LinkedIn profile if no one can find it, or if your profile is so locked down they can only see your name?

 Your first job is to check your “public profile” settings (go to Privacy & Settings > Edit your public profile) to make sure people can see what you want them to.

What might others want to see? Your past experience, summary, and education, for starters; also include your best awards, patents, and publications. But don’t worry if you haven’t got the right content in place yet; we’ll fix that soon.

Next, double-check your settings by signing out of LinkedIn completely and searching for yourself on both LinkedIn and Google.

Are you findable now? Great, let’s move on.

2: Make your Headline into an ‘elevator pitch’

LinkedIn includes a short text blurb next to each person’s name in search results. They call this your “Headline,” and just like a newspaper headline, it’s meant to stimulate enough interest to make the reader want more.

Here are some keys to writing a great LinkedIn headline:

  1. Describe yourself with the right words: Brainstorm a few keywords that are relevant to the field you’re targeting. Spend a few minutes searching for others in your field, and borrowing from keywords found in their profiles and Headlines. For instance, check out Arianna C’s Headline: “Conceptual Modelling, Facilitation, Research Management, Research Networking and Matching”. Right away, the viewer knows what Arianna is an expert at. Your headline should do the same.

  2. Be succinct: Never use two words when one will do. (Hard for academics, I know. 🙂 ) Barbara K., who works in biotech, has a great Headline that follows this rule: “Microbiologist with R & D experience.”

  3. Show your expert status: What makes you the chemical engineer/genomics researcher/neuroscientist? Do you put in the most hours, score the biggest grants, or get the best instructor evaluations from students? This is your value proposition–what makes you great. Those with less experience like recent graduates can supplement this section by showing their passion for a topic. (I.e., “Computer scientist with a passion for undergraduate education.”)

  4. Use a tried and true formula to writing your headline: 3 keywords + 1 value proposition = Headline success, according to career coach Diana YK Chan. So what does that look like? Taking the keywords from (1) and value proposition from (3) above, we can create a Headline that reads, “Computer scientist with a passion for undergraduate education and experience in conceptual modelling and research management.” Cool, huh?

Well-written headlines are also key to making you more findable online–important for those of us who need to disambiguation from similarly-named researchers beyond ORCID.

3: Make yourself approachable with a photo

The next step to making yourself memorable to get a good photo on your profile. Here are three tips to remember:


4: Hook ‘em with your Summary section

Now it’s time to encourage viewers of your profile to learn about you in more detail. That’s where the Summary section comes in.

Your Summary is an opportunity to provide a 50,000 foot view into your career and studies to date. Don’t just use this section to repeat information found elsewhere on your profile. Instead, write a short narrative of your professional life and career aspirations, using some of the keywords left over from writing your Headline. Here are three tips to help:

Be specific

Don’t use technical jargon, but do provide concrete details about your research and why it matters. Make yourself a person, not just another name in a discipline. Anthropologist Jason Baird Jackson does a great job of this:

“I have collaborated with Native American communities in Oklahoma since 1993, when I began a lifelong personal and research relationship with the Euchee/Yuchi people.”

Be up-front about what you want

Don’t beat around the bush when it comes to your professional goals. If you’ve done your job right, future employers, reviewers, students, and collaborators are probably reading your profile. Great. Now, what do you want to do with them? Let them know what you’re after, like scientist CW Hooker does in his Summary:

“I am always interested in discussing collaborations and future opportunities.”

Prove your value

Finally, use your Summary section to describe what you’ve done and why it matters. Elizabeth Iorns, breast cancer researcher and entrepreneur, explains to profile viewers that,

“Based on her own experiences as a young investigator seeking expert collaborations, Dr. Iorns co-founded Science Exchange. In 2012, after recognizing the need to create a positive incentive system that rewards independent validation of results, Dr. Iorns created the Reproducibility Initiative.”

 Right there is proof that she gets stuff done: she’s created solutions in response to service gaps for scientists. Impressive!

5: Give the scoop on your best work

If you’re a recent graduate or junior academic, it can be tempting to put all of your work experience on your LinkedIn profile.

Don’t do it!

Putting all of your positions on your profile can trivialize the more important work that you’ve done and make you look scattered.

Remember, your LinkedIn profile fills different role than your CV–it’s more of a trailer than a feature film. So include only the jobs that are relevant to your career goals. Mention a few specifics about your most important responsibilities and what you learned at those jobs, and save the gory details about your day-to-day work for your full CV.

A good rule for more senior researchers to talk mostly about your last 10-15 years of experience. Listing all of your past institutions will make for a monster profile that will turn readers off with too much detail.

After all, why would someone care if you were a lab assistant for Dr. Obscure at Wichita State University in 1985, when the more compelling story is that you’ve had your own lab since 2006?

6: Brag about your best awards and publications

Keeping it short and sweet also extends to discussing awards and publications on your LinkedIn profile. Highlight your best publications (especially those where you’re a lead author) and most prestigious awards (i.e., skip the $500 undergraduate scholarship from your local Elks club).

If you’re seeking an industry job, keep in mind that publications and awards don’t mean nearly as much outside of academia. In fact, you might want to leave those sections off of your LinkedIn profile altogether, replacing them with patents you’ve filed or projects you’ve led.

7. Add some eye-catching content


If LinkedIn were designed for scientists, it’d be much easier to import information from our CVs. Too bad it’s not. Nonetheless, with a little ingenuity you can make the site great for showcasing what scientists have a lot of: posters, slide decks, and figures for manuscripts.

If you’ve ever given a talk at a conference, or submitted a figure with a manuscript for publication, you can upload it here, giving viewers a better taste of your work. Add links, photos, slideshows, and videos directly to your profile using the Upload icon on your profile’s Summary and Experience sections. Consider also adding a link to your Impactstory profile, so you can show readers your larger body of work and its popular and scholarly impact.

Want some inspiration? Neuroscientist Bradley Voytek has added a Wow Factor to his profile with a link to a TEDx talk he gave on his research. Pharmacology professor Ramy Aziz showcases his best conference talks using links to Slideshare slide decks. And Github repositories make an appearance alongside slide decks on PhD student Cristhian Parra’s profile (pictured above).

You too can upload links to your best–and most visually stimulating–work for a slick-looking profile that sets you apart from others.

If you’ve followed our steps to hacking LinkedIn’s limitations for scientists, that drab old profile is spiffed up and ready to share. Now you’re poised to make lasting connections with your colleagues via LinkedIn, and hook potential collaborators.

But! You haven’t even scratched the surface of LinkedIn’s value until you use it to network. We’ll show you how to do that in the second part of our series. Stay tuned!

Do you have tips for crafting great LinkedIn profiles, or what you–as an employer–look for in a LinkedIn profile? Leave them in the comments below!