Impact Challenge Day 6: Create an academic website

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Over the past five days, you’ve set up profiles on a variety of professional social networking platforms. Today, we’re going to create the hub that will bring them all together: a professional website.

You might already have a university-issued webpage, perhaps linked to your departmental website. They’re all right for showcasing basic information about you, but they often do your research a disservice.

Because of their rigid formatting and style requirements, you  often can’t link out to your full text publications, showcase scholarship that’s not shaped like an article, or add the number of articles and other scholarly products that best explains your career. And the other important things you do–teaching, mentoring, service, and so on? You often can’t showcase them at all.

Today, we’re going to help you create a flexible website that will easily bring together all of your identities. You’ll learn how to embed and automate content so you don’t have to constantly update your website. And we’ll get you started with recommendations for both DIY and “plug and play” website hosts that offer solid search engine optimization to–you guessed it–increase your “googleability.”

Choosing a hosting solution

If you’re lucky, your institution offers a free hosting solution. For those who don’t have access to free hosting, let’s cover your options.

Now, there are basic hosting solutions like Hostgator, Dreamhost, etc, but you’ll need to sling html to make them work. Here, we’ll focus on some solutions that offer a little more scaffolding out of the box.

Let’s start with the hosts that are easiest for novices to use.

Squarespace is an out-of-the-box hosting solution. You can code your own site or use their slick-looking design templates to create and customize your website. They’ve also got a built-in blogging platform–which will be useful for tomorrow’s challenge–and reportedly better SEO than other drag-and-drop website builders. The lowest tier of the service costs $10/month or $96/year. Example: Samuel N. Crane sites are popular among academics. We’ll cover the platform in detail tomorrow, but it’s essentially a blogging platform that can be shoehorned into serving as a website. It offers good SEO, a simple-to-use interface, and out-of-the-box design “themes” that are as pretty (if not as easily customizable) as Squarespace’s. sites are free to create, but certain services like extra hosting space and domain name registration cost extra. Example: Joanna Dunlap

Github Pages is a popular hosting option for the tech-savvy researcher. If you’re already a user of the platform, Pages is a (relatively) simple solution. It allows for custom URLs and connects with a Markdown-enabled blogging platform called Jekyll (again, useful for tomorrow’s challenge). It’s free, which makes the 100 MB per file and 1 GB per repository space limits forgivable. Check out this guide to get started. Example: Ahmed Moustafa

Do some market research

Now that you’ve got a host for your website, your next job is to learn what makes an academic website great. Search for others in your discipline, academics in other fields, and even professionals who work outside of the Ivory Tower. The point is to find sites that you want to emulate for both design and content, make some mental notes about what makes them “work,” and maybe even bookmark them for later reference.

In addition to the examples we provided in the previous section, we recommend checking out these sites for some inspiration:

  • Christopher Madan: Chris is a postdoc at Boston College. This website is both visually appealing (great use of icons, photos, and formatting) and prominently includes important information about his career milestones (an “Intro to Matlab” book he wrote, links to publications and his CV, and a front-and-center bio that tells you what he’s all about).
  • Carly Strasser: Carly is a marine biologist turned Research Data Specialist with the California Digital Library. Her website works because it’s clean and simple, while making her expertise clear. She includes links to both papers and presentations, and also a prominent link to her blog–an important outreach tool.
  • Mike Brennan: Mike is an “alt-ac”–a researcher-turned-technologist and project lead at Second Muse. His website doesn’t have the slickest design, but it doesn’t matter. He nails his research career narrative by including front-and-center media coverage, links to publications and talks, and a list of awards. It’s easy to figure out how to contact him and links to personal photos and his record label give you a sense of his personality.

Got a sense of what a solid professional website looks like? Good, now let’s move on to what you should include in yours.

Essential components of a great professional website

As we’ve seen from Mike’s example, design is just aspect of your professional website. Let’s dig into the key types of content that you should include.

A short bio and recent photograph

Don’t use your bio to recount your entire career–that’s what your CV is for. Instead, be sure to state the most important thing about yourself first and foremost, and fill in the rest with broad strokes.

Who are you and what makes you tick as a researcher? What have your most important accomplishments been to date? Write a paragraph or two, then take a knife to it, cutting it down to bare essentials.

Want more advice on writing good bios? Guides to writing an effective bio can be found here and here.

And remember what we learned from yesterday’s challenge about good professional photos? Apply those guidelines to help you choose a good photograph for your website or, even better, just reuse the same photo from your LinkedIn profile.

Once you’ve got your bio and your photo ready to go, you’ll need to decide where to include it. I recommend keeping it simple by adding both to your homepage, but you can include them in a separate “About” or “Bio” page, instead.

Research interests

Now you’re going to tell others about your research. Your Research Interests page should be a punchier version of your Research Statement. If you’ve applied for a job or a promotion in the past few years, you likely have one handy.

The purpose of this section is to get others interested in your research, and help them understand how you’ve contributed to your discipline. You’ll describe what you’ve accomplished to date and what problems you’re currently working on.

Keep in mind that the Research Interests page should be much shorter than a formal Research Statement–no more than 2-3 paragraphs. Any longer and you risk losing your readers. Some jargon is acceptable in this section, but don’t go overboard–write as though you’re explaining your work to another academic who’s not in your discipline.

You might also choose to summarize some projects that you’ve most recently worked on (or for which you’re particularly well known) on this page. A paragraph or two per project is all that’s needed. Alternatively, you can break these descriptions out into a standalone Projects page.

Teaching & pedagogical materials

If you’re currently teaching or have taught in the past and want to highlight that experience, a Teaching page is the place to do it. List the courses you’ve taught, when you taught them, and include syllabi and any class materials here.

Similarly, if you want to highlight your mentoring activities or service to your field in their own standalone pages, you can do that, too.

Contact information

If others are interested in your work, how can they best reach you? Include both your current university contact information on this page and–most importantly–an email address that won’t easily go out of date if you switch institutions (your personal email address will work, if you’re comfortable listing it).

And because this is the 21st century–and you’re quickly becoming a very connected scholar–this is a good place to list links to your other profiles from across the web.

Your CV

The only thing more annoying than keeping your CV up-to-date is remembering to upload it to your website after you’ve changed it.

I’m going to share with you a super-efficient hack that made updating my CV downright pleasurable: embedding your CV in your website using Dropbox, so any changes you make automatically appear online.

If you don’t already have a Dropbox account, you can sign up for one here for free.

In Dropbox, copy a Word version of your CV into the “Public” folder. Make sure your CV is up-to-date, and then save it as a PDF.

On your website, create a separate webpage for your CV. Then, insert this code where you want the embedded PDF to appear:

<iframe style=”width: 610px; height: 850px;” src=”[URLHASH]/[CV FILENAME].pdf” frameborder=”1″ width=”320″ height=”240″></iframe>

The URL you’ll use can be found by right-clicking on your CV while in Dropbox, selecting “Copy Public Link,” and pasting it into the code above.

When all is said and done, you’ll have an embedded CV in your website that looks like this:

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And the best part is, whenever you need to update your CV, you can just update the Word file that’s in your Public Dropbox folder, re-save it (using the same filename) as a PDF, and the updated version will automatically appear on your website! Awesome, huh?

Your scholarship

Now that others have a sense of all the scholarly products you’ve ever created thanks to your CV, it’s time to get others access to your most important works.

On this page, you’ll list your publications, talks, data, software, and any other  scholarly products that you want to highlight. The purpose of this page isn’t to replicate what’s on your CV; it’s so your website’s visitors can get a 50,000 foot view of your quality as a scholar.

There are two popular ways to create pages for your scholarship: put everything you’ve ever created onto a page; or highlight only your best or most recent work. We’re going to take the latter approach, because it’s easier to maintain over time.

Copy your best scholarly works from your CV to this page. Include the full citation and a link to the resource itself, like so:

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Make it easy on your website visitors by listing no more than 20 products total.

An alternative approach to creating a standalone page for your scholarship is to create an Impactstory profile, which can capture all of your outputs, links to full-text, and their metrics into a single profile that’s embeddable into your website. Holly’s linked to her Impactstory profile from her website, as we see above. But more on that in an upcoming challenge!


First of all, take a deep breath. You have a website and that’s no small feat! Way to go!

Now let’s add links to the profiles you’ve created so far (, ResearchGate, Google Scholar, Mendeley, and LinkedIn).

You might also add Google Analytics to your site, so you can tell you how often your site is visited and by what demographics.

Next, decide if you want to register for a domain name. There’s a lot of reasons why you might want to do so, but I’m personally of the opinion that as long as you’ve got a unique name and good SEO, you don’t need to. If you do decide to register your own domain name, know that Squarespace offers free registration and WordPress allows you to register through their site for a fee. I’ve heard good things about third-party registrar Namecheap, too.

Finally, take some time to experiment. The beauty of owning your own website is the freedom it offers. I’d recommend playing around with automating updates to your website. One way is to embed an RSS feed for your blog or Twitter stream (if you already have them–if not, we’ll cover both soon). You could also embed a calendar that easily lets others know when you’re available during work hours (hopefully freeing you of scheduling agony in the future). Google, Outlook, and third-party app UpTo calendars are good candidates for that.

Day 6: Success!

Now that you’ve got a website, we’re going to get you a blog to go with it. It’s an indispensable tool for building expertise and recognition in your field. See you tomorrow!

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