This article was originally published at Ideas on Fire on January 31, 2017.
The start of a new year is a great time to finally build that professional academic website you’ve been putting off. Maybe you just haven’t had the time, maybe you didn’t know where to start or what would go on it, or maybe the process seemed too intimidating. In this week’s post I have some tips on how to get started building an academic website that showcases the awesome work you do as an interdisciplinary scholar, educator, community member, and cultural producer.
Why Build a Professional Website
Your professional website services as a central hub for information about your work. Your department or grad school webpage is a good start, but departmental pages usually don’t allow you to quickly and easily make changes or updates (without going through a university IT department) and usually have limited options for layout, content, and integrations. Building your own gives you complete control over these things.
To Get Started
There are two ways to build a website:
- use an all-in-one platform that offers both a domain name and hosting (most of these options are free), or
- buy a domain name, build one yourself or pay someone else to do it, and install it on a paid hosting platform you find
In this post, I’ll focus on the first option to get you started.
Choose a free platform you like to build and host your website. Some user-friendly options include:
None of these options require any coding knowledge—by dragging and dropping some images and video, typing some text, and picking a font you can have a professional website up in a few hours.
Brainstorm What You Want to Include on Your Site
You might be tempted to just reproduce your CV on your website. Avoid this impulse! Your work in the world is much more interesting than the exclusively textual, research-teaching-service format a CV allows. This is your chance to present why you do the work you do and why it matters to the universe both within and beyond academia. You’re not bound to the research-teaching-service triad, even though you can and should certainly showcase those areas on your site. Think of your website as a snazzier, more cohesive, and more holistic version of your CV.
So what to include? Here are some ideas that may apply, depending on your fields:
- A professional bio and headshots of you
- Descriptions of your courses and links to the syllabi or course websites
- Abstracts of and links to all your publications—books, academic journal articles, magazine articles, blog posts, newsletter articles, statements, white papers, online forums, etc.
- Photos and videos of you speaking at various events, along with descriptions of and/or slides from your talks
- News and upcoming events
- Community or digital projects you’re involved with
- An academic service or leadership statement explaining what kind of service/advocacy work you are committed to, along with a list of and links to your work in this area
- Links to or audio recordings of interviews you’ve given for podcasts, newspaper articles, blog posts, etc.
- Films, TV episodes, digital humanities projects, or any other creative work you’ve produced relevant to your professional endeavors
- Social media links to the accounts you keep public and want folks to follow you on (don’t include links to social media accounts you keep private or don’t want colleagues connecting with you through)
- Reviews of your work—reviews, book blurbs, testimonials, etc.
- A pdf of your CV
- A contact page
Choose a Theme
WordPress, Strikingly, and Squarespace all offer a variety of visual themes that organize the content you upload to your site. Choose one that projects the “feel” that you’d like your professional site to convey. You also have the option to purchase a theme if you can’t find a free one you like. When choosing a theme, make sure it has options to include the content that you want on your site. Some themes are better for visuals, some excel at audio, and some showcase written content best.
Some Things to Consider
Links, images, audio, and video: Use these liberally. Interactivity is one of the main benefits of a website over a textual CV, so embrace it! If you list a talk you gave last month, add a video or audio recording of your talk or an image of the event flier. When listing your published books, include a clear link to where people can buy each book (you can link to the book’s page on the publisher’s website, or to a bookstore site where people can purchase the book). For articles, blog posts, or other publications, add a link for those as well. Make sure to follow copyright law when using images—either find ones that are available for use under Creative Commons licenses or create your own images with free programs like Canva or Pablo.
Bio: If the bio you usually use for speaking engagements and cover letters is more than a few months old (or somebody else wrote it), take this opportunity to compose a new bio for your website. Don’t just copy and paste the bio from your department’s faculty page. In addition to introducing you to folks who visit your website, you can also use this bio for speaking events, social media profiles (abbreviated of course), grant applications, cover letters, online profiles, and other professional endeavors. Additionally, if you are hired to give a talk at an event, organizers will probably copy and paste it into marketing materials they create (although it is definitely not good practice, many event organizers don’t ask speakers for photos or bios, choosing instead to just Google around and pull whatever they find off the Internet). The bio should stand alone as an object that contains all the pertinent information necessary for a reader to understand who you are, what you do, and why your work matters.
Some Great Examples of Professional Websites
- Heath Fogg Davis
- Yolanda Covington-Ward
- Terry Park
- Koritha Mitchell
- Jesse Stommel
- Alondra Nelson
- Minh-Ha T. Pham
- Cathy N. Davidson
- Tanisha C. Ford
- Mimi Nguyen
As these examples show, a professional website—one that you own and control—is enormously helpful in getting word out about your various projects and giving colleagues (and potential colleagues) an overview of who you are and what you do. It also allows them to contact you for speaking engagements, collaborations, or other professional opportunities.
This has been an introduction to professional website building for those who are just getting started with the process. If you have just published a book (or have one coming out soon), you might consider building a book marketing page on your professional site. In that case, check out my guide Book Marketing for Academics for advice on how to harness your website and publicize your new text.