Students and early career researchers have a lot on their plates: we are expected to write papers, attend conferences, do field work or lab work, manage our project, manage our supervisor, manage our time, manage our sanity…all while being constantly reminded of our limited chances of landing our dream job when we finally leave student life behind.
In order to counter some of the cynicism, I’m a big believer in the value of crafting an ‘online presence’ for while we study, in order to create as many opportunities as possible. When I say ‘online presence’ I mean using a combination of a personal website, social media, and academic profiles. Whether you’re a high school student, an undergraduate student, postgraduate student, early career researcher, lab head, etc, we can all can get so much out of a web presence.
This post is a quick one-stop shop for setting up a simple personal website you can use to list your interests, show off your achievements, and maybe even start a blog.
Just before we start: I’ve chosen not to monetise my site is any way through ads, affiliate marketing, or recieving any kind of freebies. Same goes with this post. I recommend WordPress because I believe its the simplest, quickest, and best value option to get a site off the ground. Cheers!
A personal website is great for building an online brand:
- A polished website makes you look professional, committed, and knowledgeable in your chosen field.
- You can show off your awards, achievements, media coverage, publications, research/science interests all in one central place.
- You can blog your work, hone your writing skills, and reach a wider audience to get your name out there.
And lets not forget: Uploading post-prints to your website is the easiest way to make your research open access legally, for free, no matter which journal you publish in:
— Thomas E. Saunders (@TomSaundersNZ) June 18, 2018
I always recommend WordPress.com for personal websites.
For starters, its the most popular content management system on the web powering over 75 million websites. It is flexible, easy to use, and can be customised far more than the competition. Due to its popularity, a massive support community is on hand to answer all the newcomer questions you can think of. Plus there are whole websites dedicated to providing helpful guides on every aspect of WordPress.
There are actually two WordPress options: I recommend the simple all-in-one platform at WordPress.com, but I’m actually using the other option: WordPress.org. The main difference between the two is the .org version requires you to purchase hosting space with a separate webhost, to register your own domain name (the address of the website, e.g. tomsaunders.co.nz), and it allows a far greater level of customisation. However we’ll be sticking with WordPress.com for this guide because it’s much simpler and fits the needs of most people very well (and you can easily switch later if you want to).
But how much will it cost? It is free to create a simple website but among other restrictions, you will have ads placed on your site. I recommend the personal plan – a great option for most people: US$5/month billed as $60 annually. For your money you will receive a custom domain name of your choice (provided it is not already taken), 24/7 email or live chat support, and the restrictions associated with free sites will be removed. If you’re a bit unsure you can always start out with the free version to get a feel for it, and then upgrade to the personal plan later.
You can also find a comparison of the different pricing plans here.
Your first port of call should be to sign up over at WordPress.com. After naming your site you’ll be asked to select a domain name (site address). Think carefully about this step. If you’re a young scientist trying to stand out and create more opportunities for yourself I would argue your best brand is your name. If you’re starting with a free site, then the rest of your domain is already selected for you (free sites always end in “.wordpress.com”). If you’re jumping in with a paid plan, you’ll be able to select the rest of your domain. I chose “.co.nz” because unfortunately the .com version of my name was already taken. I would advise you to take the .com version of your desired domain name if it’s available, although using a more localised domain like “.co.nz” will make very little difference in the long term.
Next choose your plan and create a WordPress.com account, which you’ll use to login to your website in order to make changes. After that process is complete you should see your new website! Exciting!
Tweaking Your Site
Head over to your website’s dashboard by going to yourdomainname.wordpress.com/wp-admin/ OR yourdomainname.com depending on whether you chose the free or paid plan (Remember to replace ‘yourdomainname’ with the address you actually chose). This is essentially your command center and you’ll be spending most of your time here. You’ll see lots of menu items down the left hand side of the page. Make sure you read up on how to use these:
- how to create pages
- how to publish posts
- how to work with media
- how to link other blogs
- how to change the appearance of your site
- how to connect your blog to social media
If this is all a bit overwhelming, you might like to split your learning into chunks with the Blogging Fundamentals email course – Over three weeks you’ll be sent emails outlining different aspects of using WordPress sites and blogging (and all courses on WordPress’s ‘Blogging University’ are free).
What Pages Should You Add?
You don’t want to have too many pages, or pages buried in multi-layered menus if you can help it. Try to make your site clean and simple to navigate, otherwise you might lose visitors out of confusion, frustration, or boredom. I chose to have the following:
Home: My front page acts as my blog. I thought about having a separate home and blog page but decided against it. I feel it makes more sense for individuals to combine the two and means less work for your users to navigate.
About: Here I list a few general interests, my science interests, and a blurb about my MSc and PhD projects. I’ve also included a list of my teaching/outreach experience down the bottom.
Publications: Try to think of everything that would make sense to list here. Under each of my journal articles I list the online publisher page, a free full-text link (post-print if journal is not OA), and a blog post. I’ve also included other media and publications that are directly related to my research. This is a good place to put posters or presentations – upload them to Figshare or a similar service (but make sure you have permission from copyright holders of any images etc).
Awards: Here I list achievements and funding. Some people are uncomfortable with ‘tooting their own horn,’ but trust me, if you don’t show your achievements to the world no one else will.
Media coverage: Try to drive media interest in your work by talking to your institutions media relations team. Then list it here (and of course blog about it too).
Contact: Just a simple contact form. Mine is linked with the email address for my website, not my personal or university email. Using a contact form means you don’t have to display your email address which may result in lots of spam.
Feel free to add whatever pages you like, but remember there is only so much room on your main menu before things start to get overcrowded and confusing.
What Are Your Questions?
Please let me know if you have any questions about starting a website and I’ll do my best to answer them. I’m also planning another post in a similar vein to this one where I explore how young scientists can get the most out of twitter.