Why you a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y do not need a personal website as a scientist


I have to criticize this claim that YOU A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E-L-Y NEED A PERSONAL WEBSITE AS A SCIENTIST, because it’s wrong. You don’t.

So, you need a personal website. Why? Because you need to stand out. Because you need to have a consistent presence when you change employers. Because the university profile isn’t sufficiently yours, and an academic networking site is too closed off. Because it gives you the opportunity to learn to communicate to a wide variety of audiences, including your peers.

There’s empirical evidence against this claim: there are many scientists far more prominent than I am who don’t have a website (and some who do), and there are scientists who are less prominent than I am who do (and some who don’t). Why, it’s almost as if having a website is irrelevant to success in science.

I’m on a university committee engaged in a job search. I’m a web nerd, and I didn’t do a single search to see if any of our candidates have a website. It wouldn’t matter if they do. My fellow committee members would look at me funny if I tried to suggest that Candidate X was particularly enticing because they had a website. We look at their CV, teaching statement, research plans, and recommendations…not what they say about themselves on the web. Get real: maintaining a web site takes time and effort, and we’d rather see that potential colleagues are doing good work in the classroom and the lab. It’s a matter of priorities, and “personal website” is very low on the list.

That said, however, a web presence is important for public outreach and communication. If public engagement is one of the criteria for a science position, not having some sort of actively maintained web presence is definitely a failure. There aren’t that many jobs that have that criterion, however. You could argue that we need to get better at reaching out to an electorate that keeps putting anti-science ignoramuses into high office, but that does not imply that everyone needs to become a PR expert. People who can inspire students and can generate new knowledge are still essential.

Comments

  1. sieve! says

    You don’t do a basic Google search on potential candidates? It seems like a good way to, at bare minimum, search for potential red flags on a potential hire.

    I don’t know how a website would potentially help a candidate though.

  2. says

    Yes, I did a quick google search on them. You won’t usually see red flags on a personal website, though, they tend to come out more in letters of recommendation or, rarely, second person reports. (Most of us have a fairly bland record on google, you know.)

  3. oualawouzou says

    But PZ, those of us who grew up with the Internet must suffer that our depressingly uninformed (I refrained from using “stupid”) opinions on crap music and movies are now archived for the enlightenment of generations to come. I dread the day a potential employer will challenge me over my glowing review of Adam Sandler’s “The Waterboy”.

  4. Erik Jensen says

    I would consider a scientifically accurate and well-maintained public website as a plus for a candidate for the reason PZ stated (public outreach) and also because it indicates that the candidate wants to effectively reach students (both prospective and current). Do you want a copy of the syllabus? Go to my website. Do you want to know about my background and research? Go to my website. When is the quiz? Go to my website.

    I just find it very odd that some professors don’t do this. It’s so easy and it actually ends up saving work when teaching. You can focus on developing content and discussing the subject with students rather than administrative details.

  5. shadow says

    @3:

    By ‘glowing’ I hope you meant irradiated/nuked.

    I try not to judge people on their ‘artistic’ preferences. Same with culinary choices. That’s a bit personal, you know?

  6. astro says

    i have family members and friends who have been involved in researching the backgrounds of candidates.

    typically, their personal website will pop up in a minimal search. and will be promptly ignored. why? it’s like finding their facebook, instragram, or other personal stuff. which you aren’t looking for. you’re looking for publications.

    sure, the website will tell you what organizations they’re members of, or affiliated with. but that’s all listed on the CV.

  7. Matt Cramp says

    Our research institute has its own PR team. Senior researchers have some media training so they can give good quote, but the public outreach stuff is best left to professionals, I think.

  8. methuseus says

    The main reason to search for a candidate’s web presence is just to make sure they are not vehement neo-Nazis or the like. Other than that, as long as they don’t seem to spout ideas completely counter to their area of study/employment (i.e. a paleontologist who believes the Earth is 6000 years old) it really doesn’t matter much as PZ said.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    Consider a hiring committee contemplating an application from, say, Dick Airconditioner. He has degrees from prestigious institutions, numerous books and other publications, and a prominent role in scholarly debates in which he defends and maintains his position with well-documented assertions – just the person for a school looking to raise its academic profile.

    What else could a committee leaning towards such a hire possibly learn from Dick’s blogging history?

  10. blf says

    Personal website = PR. Possibly useful for highlighting quack / loon tendencies, or maybe discrepancies, but of rather low value.
    Blog ≠personal website (this very blog is an example).
    That does not mean the hypothetical blog isn’t also of low value (in a job search), nor that does it mean that it is low value. The point here is blog ≠ personal website.

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