I catch myself too often thinking about how to become more visible and present online instead of doing Great Research™.

But how important is it to be very visible online for academics and researcher anyway?

Here are my assumptions, numbered only for easy referencing.

The bad:

  1. Tenure committees and such don't care for twitter follower
  2. Public bodies that provide funding don't care how many people have you in your circle
  3. Colleagues might look down on you, because your blog posts are not scientific enough

The good:

  1. Writing a blog can be a good exercise in writing about your topic
  2. If you are looking for a job or position, it can be helpful iff your potential boss is also an 'onliner'
  3. It makes it easier to network and getting in contact with other people who work on the same problems
  4. It might help you to get work, invited to talks and book contracts in the normal world.
  5. (For CS) Uploading and advertising your code will make your research results more used

Are my assumptions correct? What did I miss? How do handle your online reputation?

  • 1
    I might go against this topic and say: I really do not care how you are doing online. All I care about is your research. Exceptions are influential tutorials and software code. I think anyone interested in DBN did visit Murphy's tutorial online cs.ubc.ca/~murphyk/Bayes/bnintro.html. Other things might contribute to the social activities of the applicant more than academic research
    – seteropere
    Mar 13 '13 at 11:54
  • 6
    This is very similar to Is web-presence important for researchers? Mar 13 '13 at 15:59
  • 2
    Answers to the question cited by @ArtemKaznatcheev look to be answers to this question.
    – Ben Norris
    Mar 14 '13 at 10:37

Generally speaking, online presence is not so important with respect to your career advancement in academia. Your professional stature is based on your publications, presentations, connections, and ability to obtain grant funding. When you look for positions, you'll be judged primarily on these criteria; blogs and media appearances are a very minor factor, if considered at all.

That being said, it may be beneficial in other respects. A strong online presence can significantly boost your visibility to those outside the academic environment. This can lead to consultation opportunities, collaboration opportunities with those outside of academia (think business ventures), and possibly job leads in industry. To the extent you're interested in those, you may want to invest in creating a strong online presence to help you advertise yourself.


Consider the related question on having a web page. In some communities it would seem laughable NOT to have a personal web page (and in parts of CS it's considered silly not to have your own domain!).

My feeling is that the general issue of an "online presence", whether it be blogs, twitter, or other social mechanisms, will become a non-issue as everyone starts placing their material online by default rather than by choice.

We used to joke in our department that we only want to hire people with active blogs (because a few of us blog actively). But now that isn't even a distinguishing factor: more than not, people have personal blogs and other forms of online presence.

As a general rule, don't force it. Understand that an online presence is something you should become accustomed to having, but take advantage of the fact that it's not yet the norm. Experiment with what works for you. Don't write a blog if it's not something you find comfortable. Or try it and see if you like it before deciding to do it. An online presence is not An Online Presence: it's merely another method to express yourself. If you don't have things to express, it doesn't matter what medium you use :)


The first general answer that comes to mind is that it depends on what you do online. Adding professional material into the public domain will probably be very positive if it is good and useful. Engaging in academic discussions (through a blog for example) on what might be considered serious topics such as ethics, scientific fraud, pedagogics, your research etc. would probably not construed as negative either. At least as long as you treat the writing there as seriously as you would do any academic writing.

The "lightweight" activities such as Facebook and Twitter may have its points especially towards students and attracting students towards scientific activities and thinking. But, ones reputation in such medias would probably not be of much value unless one builds up a reputation that is leading. I suspect you may have to become a leading scientist before anyone really takes notice of your social media contributions.

What single persons find positive or negative of the points in your lists will likely be very variable but I think the different media have their (almost) separate audiences. Social media might be excellent to communicate science to the public. The problem is that it will always be your personal communication and not yours as a representative of your department/university etc. unless the activity is somehow endorsed.

The bottom line as I see it is that what is good or bad highly depends on what you communicate not in which way you do it. Keeping a high academic standard should not be negative anywhere.

Becoming buddies as you suggest in "Good 2" sounds almost bad to me since in the case of academic employment, that employer will likely be thought of as having a conflict of interest. On the other hand being visible and not "buddies" is probably only a plus in such a case. About "Good 3" and "4" I doubt anyone will hire you or invite you to give talks based on internet visibility unless you have something solidly academic to back it up. It is your core academic reputation that will open doors for you.

  • 1
    I read "Good 2" as "If your potential boss regularly reads blogs (or StackExchange, or Google+, or...), then your online activity may make you more visible to them." No conflict of interest there.
    – JeffE
    Mar 13 '13 at 14:26
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    Also, if you do have strong research results, then having a strong online presence can definitely positively influence hiring, promotions, and funding committees. This web page I used to maintain was mentioned in at least one of my tenure letters. I list my StackExchange activity under "synergistic activities" in NSF grant applications, for example.
    – JeffE
    Mar 13 '13 at 14:31
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    My blog was referenced in my tenure letters positively as well. I think in the early days of blogging it was viewed as a waste of time, but not any more.
    – Suresh
    Mar 13 '13 at 15:08

If you are looking for a job in academia, having a presentable website is a plus. If you put your website address on your CV and you also have Google Analytics for your website, you'll notice an explicit spike in your website traffic when (if) hiring committees are looking at your site (unless, of course, your site is popular enough to reduce the extra hits to noise). Google Analytics even has a fancy mapping tool so you can see, for instance, that the Cornell hiring committee is looking at your website when you see fifteen extra hits from Ithaca within a couple of days.

Additionally, having a website is a good place to put your publication listing (and, of course, your CV) with links to all of your papers. When someone meets you at a conference and wants to see what you've produced, searching for your name to find your website should be easy. Many faculty members also have their class listings and curricula on their websites, and those resources can provide other indicators to your hire-ability if you're looking for a job.

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