5 Reasons Every Scientist Needs a Homepage

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”Michael Corleone, just after trying to delete his Facebook account.

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The days of passively searching the Internet are over. We’re now expected to be active participants – try living without an email account – or risk looking like someone writing a check at a grocery store.  As our online activity and number of accounts across the web grows, managing our presence feels a lot like herding cats.  Fortunately, there is a simple solution that every scientist should examine – creating a homepage.

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Dinosaurs are cool in museums, not in labs

In the lab, we work hard to stay current – we read papers, we learn new techniques and we go to seminars.  As research scientists, we are valued by employers in part by the experimental toolkit we possess.  A chemist who only knows how to purify compounds via silica gel columns is arguably less valuable that one with expertise in distillations, extractions, HPLC, FPLC, alumina and silica gel columns.

While creating a personal homepage will not help purify compounds in the lab, it will distinguish you as an early adopter who uses the latest technologies for personal benefit.  From experience, individuals who have a passion for staying current in their personal lives often show the same tendency in their professional lives.  So if you’ve got your CV stored on a 3.5” floppy disk, you may want to consider moving it to a jump drive before your next interview… employers will notice.

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You can’t control the Internet, you can only hope to contain it

Remember that Halloween party in college?  We know you don’t, but Polaroid does and the pictures aren’t pretty.  Hopefully, your prospective new boss hasn’t seen them yet – unless they decided to Google you and what are the odds of that?  Oh yeah- 100%.

While it’s virtually impossible to control the content that’s out there, it is possible to influence what people find when they search for you.  A personal homepage will act as a hub where you can direct users to easily find out more (approved) information about you.  You know what they say about first impressions – now think about that Halloween party – is that what you want people to see first?

Take a minute to Google yourself (be sure you’re logged out of Google before searching as the results will be biased if you’re logged in).  Would an employer, collaborator, or colleague be able to easily find relevant information about you?

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Andre Agassi was right – image is everything.

Alright, maybe it’s not everything, but it matters.  A lot.  Imagine a new postdoc walks in to lab on their day wearing no pants and smelling like 5 day old garbage.  That’s an impression.  Now imagine the same guy walks through the door in a 3-piece suit with a hint of cologne.  Same brain, same talents, same personality. Wildly different impressions.  The reality is that the wrapper matters, whether in person or online.  Are you a chemist, a biologist, a photographer?  Don’t let people guess, just tell them.  Take the opportunity to create the image you want.

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“I’m not a programmer” is no longer a valid excuse.

Even just a few years ago, creating a snazzy homepage would have required some serious skills, as Napoleon Dynamite would say.  But these days, a number of companies have developed platforms that allow you to design and develop a personalized website simply by clicking and dragging the design elements that you like.  As the barriers to establishing an online presence continue to fall, the expectations that you will participate on the web will rise.  If you’re going to have to do it eventually, why not create your homepage now and stand out for being in front of the curve, not behind it.

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Your name is the most stable thing in your life.

Unless you’re Prince, there’s nothing in your life more dependable than your name.  Wherever you go, it goes.  Sure, marriage can result in a new name, but online simply forwarding your old domain name to your new one resolves that problem.  In any case, you’ll always have a name.

Although most of us have a number of profiles set up across the web, using the lab or company website as your homepage – or main Internet presence – is a bad idea.  Given it’s no longer the 1950’s, we can assume that we won’t be retiring from the place where our careers began.  So pinning your web presence on your current job’s website is a temporary solution at best.

It’s also tempting to be lured into using your Facebook profile as your homepage. While some websites seem to big to fail on the web, you just never know – ask Friendster.  Maybe new technologies will be developed.  Maybe kids will think it’s lame that they’re on the same network as their grandparents.  Who knows, but pinning your personal homepage to another company’s fate is always a risky proposition.

By creating a homepage using your own domain name, the web address will always be the same regardless of whether you change how that site gets created over the years.

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How to get started:

Take control of your domain name

Head over to a domain name registrar, such as GoDaddy, and buy the .com version of your name.  For common names, a middle initial or name may need to be included to find an available address.   Tip: although it only costs around $10/yr to buy a .com address, coupon sites like RetailMeNot often share discounts that make it affordable even on a graduate student budget.

(Full disclosure- I use GoDaddy but receive no benefit whether or not you choose to use them.)

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Set up your webpage

We’re so passionate about getting scientists to set up personal websites that we’ve reached out to the good folks over at flavors.me to help us out.  Using flavors, you can be up and running within 5 minutes with your own personal website (even if you don’t own your domain name yet).  It’s remarkable – and fun!  Head over to our Scientist Homepage Challenge to see our growing gallery of scientist homepages and to enter your site for a chance to win a full year of premium flavors services!

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