by Shannon Schorey
Several months ago I utilized my professional networks on social media to ask a question that had been on my mind for sometime: are personal websites valuable for grads on the market?
Ultimately I decided, for me, that the answer was yes. I’ve been asked to share some of the rationale for this decision, so I do so here with the hope that it may help other folks staring into the abyss of the academic job market, and possibly add a little tiny laser pen to your own repertoire so that when the abyss looks back at you you can say “hey, you are an ugly abyss and I’ma shine your eyes out.” That’s probably what Nietzsche really meant to say anyway. It’s, like a metaphor or something.
So, let’s begin with the negatives, because we are Proper Academics and Negatives Are Our Jam. Here are some of the reasons I approached creating a website with wariness, and you should too:
- Lots of people have bad websites. Bad websites are a bane, not a boon (and not even a sexy Bane). Bad websites make you look boring, out-of-touch, and – at worse – indistinguishable in a crowd. Bad websites can, in other words, take you out of the running. What makes a bad website? Unattended blogs, hard to read fonts, hard to navigate pages, and stock templates. Think of a bad website as a bad CV – a two second glance and it’s either going in the trash or on a “hmm, let’s read more” pile.
- There is a cult of productivity in workplaces that, if you are a Hyper Nerd like me, can be very attractive. Resources on writing the dissertation, article, monograph, schedule balancing, teaching, etc. abound. These can be wonderful, life saving resources. They can also allow you to procrastinate and Not Feel Bad at all. Because, of course, you are researching How To Do The Things, and what are scholars, if not researchers? Because of the threat of the Bad Website, putting in the effort to make a good website walks that fine line between helpful work and You Should Really Be Writing Stop Doing This Now kind of work. Crafting a good website demands a thoughtful time investment that can be difficult to balance while teaching, writing, and compiling the very many materials required for the market. This is not an insignificant balancing act.
- Websites can be expensive. Given the very real material constraints of those entering the academic workforce (and therefore surviving on either graduate or adjunct stipends), deciding what works for you may take time and resources that you may not be able to stretch. (Places like https://hcommons.org/ may be a good workaround for this.)
The counter to all of this is that we live in a Google world – and having some amount of control over what your potential employers, students, and peers find when they Google you (because they will and are) is more than compelling. In this job market, it is increasingly necessary.
The tl; dr here is that websites that are not molded to you do not demonstrate your strengths, full stop. Often, they demonstrate weaknesses – not just in your teaching, research, or publication record, but in your ability to translate yourself and your work in an interesting and compelling way. Ultimately I found it useful to think of a website as a portfolio – translate your CV into a digital short hand that is best suited to your strengths.
Feature what you want to be featured, and do not feel beholden to categories that do not make you look Stellar. Love teaching? Have that be your landing page. Only have one (or maybe even no) publications? Then write up a research blurb and a description of your current projects. Find a clean design that is colorblind and mobile friendly, and compile a list of researcher websites that you find compelling to understand what draws you in. Start with a template and adjust, adjust, adjust. Don’t include a blog unless you are Very Dedicated to it (dead blogs make the whole site look dead). Include contact information, and maybe an “events” page to advertise what you are doing next. Experiment, and update whenever you update your CV.
A good website demonstrates skills that departments are looking for but often don’t articulate in a job search: PR, design, and advertising skills. A great website should make you feel good as you are finishing it; treat the creation of one as an act of self love, an I Am Awesome And Have Done Some Things page on the internet just about you. And then go have feelings about capitalism, personal branding, and Marx.