Shimi Rii, contributor
A young scientist’s web presence can have a tremendous impact on their career. Job searches are widely conducted through professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, and a first impression is now made through the first three search hits on our name. Thus, it’s important to showcase our accolades, publications, and professional associations.
More often than not, we suffer from a lack of web presence. If you do have an online presence, one questionable hit on a search engine could impact the opinions of people whom we haven’t met, which may influence our future endeavors. Juan Enriquez, one of the world’s leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences, said in his TED talk titled, Your online life, permanent as a tattoo: “Digital tattoos shout” and “they tell a lot of stories.”
I started thinking about the importance of our web presence when I Googled a speaker’s name after a seminar. I clicked on the first hit, their personal “professional” website, and cringed. Though the scientist’s credentials were indisputably impressive, the flowery clipart, emoticons, and photographs of the scientist dancing while holding a red Dixie cup were throwbacks to a 16-year-old’s MySpace page. The aimed message was clearly that “scientists can have fun,” but the person somehow missed the mark.
In response to a call for scientists to communicate with the public (see Time to Tweet, Escape from the Ivory Tower, and Dr. Lubchenco’s call for “a new social contract” for science), many of us are now mixing business with pleasure by speaking out on the web. There is no longer a clear line between the “personal” self and the “work” self. Stan Lee’s famous quote, “With great power comes great responsibility,” doesn’t just apply to superheroes. As scientists in an increasingly digital age, we have the responsibility to be our best selves on the web.
Is your web persona aligned with your best self? Check it out:
Step 1: Google your name
The first page of most name searches reveals professional websites, social media sites, and passive identifiers. For example, my hits identified me as an oceanographer in Hawaii who tweets and writes, who wanted Noritake plates on her wedding registry and recently ran a marathon. My seventh hit was a photo-sharing site I signed up for years ago that I didn’t set to ‘private.’ Second page in, someone would discover an old website describing my least favorite food as a “peanut butter and toe jams sandwich.” Though some ‘digital tattoos’ may never be erased, it’s important to be aware of what the first hits of your name are so you can modify their content and privacy settings.
Step 2: Read your posts
My friend’s mom wrote her a private message on Facebook, advising her to “not swear so much” on her status updates. “It’s about the Patriots!” She retorted, but after a careful look at her posts, she realized that her mom was right. Her frequent cussing could potentially rub a friend, and worse, a future employer the wrong way. This is particularly important for public sites with no privacy settings, like Twitter. In Twitter-sphere, we are no longer who we are on Facebook, with our families and friends. By tweeting, we are part of a new breed of “approachable scientists,” and we should abide by the Social Media Etiquette. Like “Mom” on a biker’s biceps, words are the most common and uncensored ‘digital tattoos.’
Step 3: Check your images
You’ll find that random images associated with your name show up in Google: a photo of an undergrad mentee, an image of an artwork you liked on Pinterest, an ad for a cleanser that happened to be on a web forum you commented on. For this reason, be aware of what images you post and where you use your name. One way to avoid unintentional images is to consistently use a cryptic username that can’t be traced back to your full name.
Step 4: Create a professional website
Whether it be a personal professional site (hosted by the likes of WordPress, Weebly, Wix, etc.) like the example above or a departmental template, it is crucial to have a website that outlines your credentials and research interests. Do as I say, and not as I do, since I haven’t set aside the 10 minutes to cut and paste my CV into a university departmental template. Embarrassed as I did research for this post, I finally added a picture to my ResearchGate profile, which, for the longest time, gave off a sloppy, unmaintained impression. A quick search of my recent Ph.D. cohort led me to her amazing, up-to-date professional website, LinkedIn profile, and a page showing her Google Scholar citations. A mere five minutes later, after some reluctant clicking, I set up a Google Scholar citations page of my own. This leads me to Step 5.
Step 5: Don’t disappear
Let’s say you take a day to set up your professional website, links, and clean up your social media pages. However, maintaining an effective web presence should be consistent and on-going. The profile pages should reflect your “current” self (updated within the month), or you come off unreliable and disconnected. If you are committed to being on Twitter or blogging, you should be fairly active, giving the impression that you are “in-the-know” and are accessible.
Final Step: Be mindful while staying true to yourself
Imagine yourself as the new person at work. You smile at your coworkers and slowly establish relationships. You’re careful about first impressions and try not to insult anyone. Building your web persona is a similar endeavor, in that you want to take responsibility for your “actions” on the web. Unlike a job, however, you can’t quit and move away – digital tattoos may haunt you forever. So choose the image that most accurately represents who you are, and one that you won’t get tired of.