Your web page is out of date – how to fix this forever

I like looking at faculty web pages. I like seeing what they are up to, how they frame their research, who is on their team, and what excitement there is. It is really fun to see how much creative, collaborative energy is out there and applied to science and scientists.

If you want to build a fabulous web page, there are some great ones out there. Look at what Liz Haswell has done, everything from a calendar to a lab manual. A more minimalist page that still has everything is Vanessa Ezenwa‘s one. My own page is somewhere in between.

But this piece is not about having a great web page. It is about keeping it up to date. Almost no one does this, for good reason.  We are busy teaching, mentoring, writing, and doing research. But a web page that looks like you fell off a cliff along with your entire group in 2013 is not good either. What to do?

Have a minimalist web page. The front cover should have on it a picture or two and what you do, a paragraph on what questions you ask and a paragraph on what you have figured out. Each can have links to longer entries elsewhere, but these should be on the front page. The latter is almost never there. Contact info for the PI should also be on the front page.

If you want a very minimalist page, you can have just 5 tabs. I think these should be Home, Research, People, Public, and Join. They should be constructed so they need as little updating as possible. Home is that top page I already talked about. Under research the first thing you should have is a link to your Google Scholar page. You do have one and have made it public, right? If not, do it. Here is a link to how. Having this will keep your publications up to date. Below that, you can expand on the different research questions you ask, and what you have discovered.

The People tab should have a photo and maybe a link for each person in your group. It should say what they do. I prefer that they be sorted by postdoc, grad student, undergrad and so on, but any way is fine, provided their position in the group is named. These people should be encouraged to start their own WordPress blogs to which you can link. If they do it with WordPress, then as they move to different universities, or outside the academy, the page can remain.

The Public tab should have something for the public. You could describe your outreach, point to good resources in your area, indicate the kind of thing you are willing to do, have links to things like the National Academies evolution page and the like. After all, we are funded by the people. Make them glad about science.

Finally, you should have a Join-the-lab tab. This is for a category of people looking at your page that you might be particularly interested in. Tell them under this tab how to contact you, what you would like to see from them, and whether you have openings. For experienced people, this may seem a bit extra, but it can be helpful for people looking for a program.

If you do this carefully, this web page will not have to be updated very often. Put a tickler on your calendar for once or twice a year when you can add new people and tweak other sections. Or not. Your pubs update automatically with that Google Scholar link. This is in some ways the most important besides the overall descriptions of your research questions and what you have found out. Also, if you use WordPress, then updating is easy and in your hands.

Remember to think about who looks at your web page as you make changes. Here are some of the kinds of people that look: nominators for prizes, recommendation letter writers, introducers for talks, curious students, potential grad students, people writing papers, colleagues, the general public. A minimalist page works for all. But remember you will hear those words come back at you in introductions. If you don’t have a strong section on what you have figured out, it will be harder to nominate you for awards or write recommendation letters.

It is also great if you want to do a whole lot more with your web page and have many more tabs. Look at your colleagues and see what they think of for this. But if you do, keep it up to date!

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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