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I am hitting the academic job market this fall and was advised to have a professional website, but I am completely lost in putting this advice into action. I now am sitting here thinking about making a professional website in preparation of the job market. I am uncomfortable with this kind of self-promotion but, on the other hand, I do not want to ignore a low hanging piece of fruit because I don't like its shape.

My questions are:

  1. Do professional websites enhance the application for potentials?
  2. How much does the professional website matter at this stage in my career?
  3. Is it worth time writing up my own webpage or is sticking to prefabs like weebly good enough?

Background: My field is in the social sciences, though my area of research is computational within it. My publication record upon finishing my postdoc will be strong. I am exceptionally uncomfortable with the idea of self-promotion or even engaging in social media conversations.

Any advice would be appreciated. My hope is that my research productivity will stand on its own and I will not have to create a professional website, but I hope you can advise me on how important it is.

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    A professional website is just making it easy for people who already want information about you, to find it. It's the least ostentatious form of self-promotion there is. – user37208 Jul 9 '18 at 14:25
  • A complete ORCID profile could matter more than a website. – FuzzyLeapfrog Jul 9 '18 at 15:47
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    As a social scientist I find it really irritating when people don’t have up to date websites. I don’t like relying on ResearchGate and similar... – Dawn Jul 9 '18 at 15:51
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    For the record, I think social media presence and website presence are separate issues and should be separate questions. I see most of the answers are ignoring the social media side of your question. – Dawn Jul 9 '18 at 19:20
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    Seconding @Dawn's comment, a professional web-site is an entirely different thing than social media stuff. Two wildly different images/facades, at least in this year... – paul garrett Jul 9 '18 at 21:58
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I look for and use the websites of job candidates all the time, and I know many of my colleagues do as well. The reason is that we can find things there that are not on your CV, for example:

  • Links to the PDF versions of your papers, if you put them there.
  • Links to pages that provide teaching materials for your students.
  • Numerous other things that belong on a website but can't be obtained through the CV itself.

So yes, do create a website. As @aeismail writes, take a look at the websites of your colleagues in the field, pick the ones you like best, then imitate that style.

What system you use -- handwritten HTML or a content management system -- is secondary to the content you put online.

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    I am a social scientist with a website and I definitely got hits ahead of interviews and especially ahead of campus visits. I also used it to keep copies of working paper and as a repository for replication data and code materials etc. – Dawn Jul 9 '18 at 15:45
  • If you are somewhat technical, you can generate static HTML from Markdown. I do. – Oleg Lobachev Jul 9 '18 at 21:48
  • If the website is hosted on a university site (in the US), there may be constraints on the design as a result of the ADA. I know my university doesn't let arbitrary sites be posted without the use of their CMS. – aeismail Jul 10 '18 at 0:22
  • @aeismail Which is a shame, because it presupposes that we as professors are incapable of generating §508/ADA-compliant websites, when it's actually not that hard (in fact, old-school webpages are more likely to be compliant than anything new-fangled). I can do custom HTML at my university, but I have to jump through a lot of hoops and it still loves to still add a little link to jump into the CMS (which I combat with a little JS to kill that div haha) – user0721090601 Jul 10 '18 at 10:29
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    +1 This answer matches how I use the web when I need information about someone, whether for hiring or (for example) to prove to the higher administration that the person is a genuine expert whose letters of recommendation should be trusted. I prefer simple web sites where it's easy to find information. Make sure your site isn't a sloppy mess, and make sure it doesn't have so many fancy "features" that people can't find things. – Andreas Blass Jul 10 '18 at 19:19
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The improvement in your chances is marginal but nonzero.

The reason for this is that the first thing people will do is read through your application package. If they can’t find a reason to advance your application further, they’re not going to bother checking out your website.

But if they do find something and want to learn more, having something available will be of some benefit.

It’s not hard to create a simple, functional website these days. Something that looks sufficiently “professional” for your discipline certainly cannot hurt your chances of getting further in the process. However, there should definitely be “meat” on the bones of the website—enough details to find your CV, your publications and other documents of interest in whatever discipline you’re working in.

But the standards are quite discipline-dependent. I’ve seen many math websites that are very simple text-driven pages, while others in the STEM disciplines might be more elaborate. What is needed in art may vary from history. So you should take your cue for the level of aesthetic needed from other recent successful applicants in your discipline.

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    Yes, mimic the standards of recently successful job market candidates with similar fields as you. Don’t spend extra time making it stand out, and consider just using the standard template for your university if available. You can signal your computational chops by linking to your Git depositories or similar rather than by coding a website. The site should be a useful spot to have your info in one place. – Dawn Jul 9 '18 at 15:47
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I've been on hiring committees for both full time/tenure track and adjuncts as well as administrative/professional positions (CISO, server admins, etc) at a community (no longer legally, we offer a few 4 year degrees) college.

I've never looked at social media of any type regarding a candidate, I don't recall any of my coworkers on the committees mentioning it, etc. Only time I've even looked at websites has been when hiring a front end web developer, and that was more "samples of relevant work portfolio" than "what info can we find out about these candidates".

What "we" have looked at when hiring instructors is transcripts, "real world" work experience (for relevant fields like the health sciences and programming/networking/server admin AS degree tracks), teaching experience, experience with lesson planning and evaluation methods, etc. Most departments ask potentials to give a demo lesson on some subject to evaluate teaching style, etc. We have the usual questions vetted by HR about your greatest successes and failures, what type of cloth you would be covered in if you were a couch, etc. and for teaching staff there is always the one included about your teaching philosophy and what you do to promote learning, etc.

If you have time, work on related-to-teaching-in-general skills, like using a learning management system (I recommend Canvas) and other content creation/management tools. Would give you a slight boost on any committee I (or probably any support staff) would be on and will let you hit the ground if not running then at least knowing you are in a race if you get hired at the last minute for Fall (the college I work at is madly hiring right now for both full time and adjunct, classes start Aug 22)

  • This is all reasonable for a community college. (I teach at a community college and have been on a lot of hiring committees.) But the OP has just finished a postdoc and talks a lot about research. They don't seem to be talking about community college jobs. – Ben Crowell Jul 9 '18 at 23:22
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As others have stated more eloquently, a web presence will not make or break your application, but it can definitely help convey additional information, which could be an advantage, since people generally like what they (think they) know, and it helps anyone interested to know more about you. As most of today's search committees probably don't have a majority of millennials, a prominent presence on Twitter (and likely most other primarily social media) is unlikely to help you there, so I would stick to some form of web page. (On the other hand, if you are later thinking about attracting students/postdocs, popular social media can improve the visibility of your research.)

Consider also the longer view – a website can enhance your reputation among the wider community if you put useful content on it, which could come in handy when it come to promotion or the next search. You are in a computational field, so perhaps you have developed code that is worth sharing with others. You could put that on a web site dedicated to your research, or (for more complex code) on a specialized place like GitHub, GitLab, Bitbucket, etc. (and link there from your web site). Think about where you would look for information about your research, and consider if there are ways to contribute to those places.

My hope is that my research productivity will stand on its own and I will not have to engage in social media self-promotion.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are not promoting yourself, but your research! Show that you are excited about it, and share what you have found out – both through your published papers and via less formal means, which also allow you to showcase research in progress, preliminary results, and ideas you are pursuing. I would consider it in fact import to stick to your research, because too much focus on your good looks or personal rants will not help you to be taken seriously.

You may already be disseminating your working papers through sites such SSRN or arXiv.org (if not, consider it, if this is done at all in your field). A website gives you the opportunity to point to all those sources from one place.

How you create the web site (prefab or DIY) is secondary to the content - something very basic is preferable to nothing at all. Keep in mind that a site full of poor spelling and grammar that has not updated in 5+ years will do the opposite of what you want, so it is preferable to have something you can set up and maintain in minutes. For a few dollars you can get your own domain name, but if something smacks of vanity (JohnDoe.com), it may earn as much ridicule as admiration. Remember, if it is not important to the people you care about (how seriously would you take someone who judges people by the layout of their website or their domain name?), don't bother.

  • +1 for promoting your research. There is a ton of work out there, yours needs to be easy to find and appreciate – Dawn Jul 10 '18 at 1:13
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While the answer of aeismail is fine, let me add the following. If you are seeking a teaching position, and you have a web site that is especially useful to students of the subject, not just your own students, then it might be worth having. But if it is mostly just repetitious of what you have in your CV and supplied materials, then it will have little value at all.

Likewise if the positions are mostly research oriented then a web site that would be especially useful to budding researchers (future MS candidates, say) might also be useful to have.

And of course, once you are employed either or both of these are worth developing. I was once (no longer) the top google hit on my (not uncommon) family name, but this was in google's earlier days. I had an extensive and useful web site that was bookmarked by a lot of (mostly) teaching professors and students.

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