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It has been pointed out to me that several business-oriented websites advise to add a few “interesting facts about yourself" in the “about me” section on your professional webpage.

It seems that the aim of this practice is to avoid being “stiff and boring” and to share some unexpected or humorous details that paint a picture of your personal side (quirks and all).

I wonder if this practice is widespread in academic setting as well (and thus if I should take the advice).

  • In principle, I don't object to publicly sharing little (not too weird) bits of personal information about myself (such as the music I like, the books I've read recently, what the name of my pet is);

  • I do know some (quite successful) colleagues and a few professors that include such personal trivia on their webpages;

  • I think that this might actually have a positive impact on personal relationships with colleagues, senior researchers, and can surely show younger (undergrad) students that we're humans after all!

However, I'm afraid that this practice may be seen as jokey or unprofessional by senior researchers (especially since I'm young, a graduate student). Hence the question.

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    Such stuff is usually "calculated" for the effect it might achieve. Posing. Think carefully about whatever you include, and the impression it will create, for any kind of professional pages. – paul garrett Oct 17 '15 at 22:38
  • "Stiff and boring" is what you're going for, not an impression you want to avoid. To put it in a less joking way: you want people reading your page to get excited about your work, not how cool a dude/dudette you are. – user37208 Oct 27 '15 at 15:59
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You're probably familiar with the saying "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder". In my opinion, similarly, the perception and reaction that people will get from including interesting / amusing / fascinating personal details will largely depend on the readers' subjective attributes. I am in a situation relatively similar to yours (that is, a beginner researcher), and I think that it would be smart to include somewhat less of such details, rather than too much (which, again, is all relative :-).

From many personal websites of scholars that I have visited, I got a sense that more fancy details are included by either very experienced academics (and it's understandable, as they have/had more time spent on various activities), or by any academics that are "extravagant" in their interests.

Update: In his comment above, @paulgarrett makes an excellent and important point about considering the desired effect of potentially including such information. I would just expand the point and formulate it as "considering the desired effect on the target audience".

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So far, none of the other answers have mentioned Security.

Personal information, such as What is the name of your first pet, is used by many online account recovery mechanisms.

Many accounts have been hacked using such personal information:

The following profile elements can be used to steal or misappropriate your identity:

  • Full name (particularly your middle name)
  • Date of birth (often required)
  • Home town
  • Relationship status
  • School locations and graduation dates
  • Pet names
  • Other affiliations, interests and hobbies

...

Best Practices

  • Assuming you plan to be active in social media, minimize the use of personal information on your profiles that may be used for password verification or phishing attacks.

  • Avoid listing the following information publicly: date of birth, hometown, home address, year of high school or college graduation, primary e-mail address.

Secrets, Lies, and Account Recovery: Lessons from the Use of Personal Knowledge Questions at Google:

Publicly available answers.

Rabkin found that 16% of questions had answers routinely listed publicly in online social-networking profiles.

Even if users keep data private on social networks, inference attacks enable approximating sensitive information from a user’s friends.

So think very carefully before publically exposing personal information.

  • Thanks for making me aware of the security risks. I'll think carefully before setting up a password/secret question and even more carefully before sharing certain kinds of personal information online. – user42770 Oct 18 '15 at 11:15
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I wonder... if I should take the advice.

It's a very individual decision. Each person has his own level of privacy or publicness that he is comfortable with. Your post gives me the impression you might be rather on the private end of the spectrum. There's nothing wrong with that.

Also note, displaying personal information about yourself on the internet is a bit like salting the soup. One can always add more salt individually at the table -- but you can't go back once you've oversalted at the stove. Similarly, once you've let people know certain personal tidbits, it can be impossible to unshare them. So, if in doubt, perhaps it's better to err on the side of being a bit on the private side. People will get to know the whole you on personal acquaintance!

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Frame your plan in terms of what you want to demonstrate to several groups: your students, colleagues, and mentors, potential collaborators and employers (thanks Aleksandr Blekh for this addition).

You only get one message to send out to all of them: if there is any overlap between what you'd like those groups to know about you personally, then this is, ipso facto, what you should write up.

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