Thursday, February 4, 2016

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Online branding for scientists

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!


Today, we continue where we left of last month, when we talked about how to use Twitter as a scientist. Now we are going to look at the entire perspective of using the internet to show to world who you are.

When I mention online branding, often researchers shoo away. Branding is for marketeers, they tell me, and I have no need to brand myself at all. I myself don't like the term "branding" that much (I don't like the associations that branding call for, such as commercialism and consumerism). But let's be scientists and call it branding, because that's the definition somebody gave it some time ago. I could wonder why creep (the fact that concrete, and structures made with concrete, have deformations that increase over time when stresses remain the same) is called creep, and I find it a creepy word, but it is what it is.

So now that we -hopefully- have your fear and repulsion for this marketeer language out of the way, I can introduce you to what we are actually talking about: having an influence on what the internet shows the world about you. If you are not active online, or not conscious about your online activities, you depend on other people. If you do not manage your online profiles, perhaps only irrelevant information about you might be available online, and give people the wrong impression of you.

Let's do an exercise - right now. Go to Google and type your name in the search field. What do you find? What are the 10 first results that show up? Here's what I find - and it is indeed the information in a nutshell that I want to show up when somebody googles me:



If your search returns the fact that you won the lottery of your local baker, some emotional comment you once made on a news article or whatever random stuff you are trying to sell online, it is time to get some grip on your content. If future employers look you up online, you want Google to take them gently by the hand and bring them straight to your important information.

You might say that it is easier for me, since I have the curse and blessing of a unique name. There's only one other Eva Lantsoght active online, and she is a translator in Prague, so it is very clear for whoever looks me up online that we are two different people. If you have a very common name, you might need to repeat the exercise by googling your name together with your current institution, and see what shows up then. For consistency, just as with your journal publications, you might want to add the first letters of your other first names to your online content. Because my name is so uncommon, I use just Eva Lantsoght online, but I do use Eva O.L. Lantsoght for all my publications.

What should I do to get grip on the online content that is available about me, you might ask now. Well, let's break it down into several steps. Remember that once you start to take action here, the irrelevant stuff will start to sink down to the bottom of Google's search results and your important information will be right there at first glance. Here are several actions you can take to curate your online profile:

1. Using Twitter

Here's our favorite blue bird again. If you don't have a Twitter profile yet, check out my post from last month to help you in getting started. You can also find some inspiration on who to follow and who to look for on Twitter in this post that I wrote a while ago. In terms of showing up in your Google search results, Twitter will only provide one entry. However, if you think you are able to post something on Twitter every now and then, keeping in mind that is a very fast media source, then it is certainly worth the time and effort. And with "time and effort" I am expressing myself strongly: I feel that using Twitter is a gentle form of distraction that can lead to interesting professional results.

2. Using LinkedIn

LinkedIn is your online resume. If you don't have a profile, you need one (much more than you need a blog or a Twitter account).

If you don't have a LinkedIn account, carve out 2 to 4 hours some day to get this thing up and running. Take the summary from your resume, and add it to your summary. Use a recent photograph. Transport all the categories from your resume into LinkedIn, and make sure your information is up to date. Then, start connecting with people you know. Typically, LinkedIn will suggest people you know to get started.

If you have a profile, give it a serious look, pretending you are an outsider (say, somebody who would be interested in working with you). Do you like what you see? Is your information up to date? If not, it's time to clean ship and give your profile an overhaul.

3. Writing a professional blog

I've blogged extensively about, well, blogging. Blogging in academia and blogging as a scientist is what I particularly have been writing about. If you are not sure on how to start blogging, here is the introduction manual I wrote not so long ago. It is my opinion that blogging is for every academic, but I also understand that time is a valuable resource for all of us. You can learn a lot from it. Even if you don't have time to run your own blog, you can always contribute as a guest author to other blogs. Just make sure your byline gets your name and information correctly, so Google can find you.

4. Finding your brand

If you start to use several social media platforms and other online sources, you might want to start thinking about what is really the main thing about you that you want others to see. I'm not talking about holding up a rosy image of your life (let's leave that to some Instagram accounts, where all food looks perfect and everybody is always in the sun). Authenticity online is something I care deeply about. What you want to share online depends on what you are comfortable with. Nobody is forcing you to post sarcastic tweets, or to retweet political things. I do, because I guess it's a GenY thing, and I've always embraced the internet as a means to communicate with the rest of the world. But nobody is forcing you to do so; it is perfectly fine if you only tweet about your field and your current work.

5. Finding your tribe

Once you start using social media platforms, you can start to form bonds online. Through the blogging and Twitter community, I've been reaching out to fellow academics over the last 6 years, and I have gained a tremendous amount of insights. I learned a lot of tips and tricks from fellow researchers during my PhD, and learned how to manage my time and plan accordingly. My tribe, as such, has been generally academic. Your tribe might be more specific to your field - whatever you are comfortable with, and whatever feels like developing meaningful connections. Make sure you reach out to others by leaving comments on their blogs, replying to tweets and interact in different ways. Once you have found your community, you will hopefully see the benefit of putting some time into your online profiles, and Google will show information that you yourself provided to the internet.

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