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This is the question that popped up in my mind on October 26, 2012, during one of the sessions of the symposium ‘Visibility: building online scholarly presence’ that took place at Utrecht University Library (The Netherlands). It continued to be a relevant question during some of the other sessions, so I’m throwing it out to a wider audience. Spoiler alert: my money would be on the personal page.

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Let’s start interactive. Before proceeding, please Google Dutch scientist Maarten Kleinhans. This slide is what he started his presentation with, and with it this blog.

I’d say that this is not too bad for someone not on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or writing a blog. When asked, he said he didn’t have time for these things. Others, like the university or the Academy, were doing the press releases and the tweeting for him, and he didn’t think he needed all that hassle anyway. He’d rather invest in a really good website, oh, and in his outreach and research of course.
Judging by these Google results I think he has a point. This question is worthy of another blog:

Just one thing: Maartens personal website, first in the Google list, is a personal page at the Utrecht University website. When I asked him what he would do if ever he would continue his career at another university, he replied that he would take all this stuff and start his own personal page. As he has quite an extensive website, that would mean a lot of work.

Take it outside
During the conference lunch I talked to – among others – Julio Peironcely (#FF @peyron) who blogs on www.nextscientist.com (must read) and Alex den Haan (#FF @alexdenhaan) about scientific careers and relationships / family life (sidetrack, don’t ask). Julio’s take: as a PhD you are at some university for three years, as a postdoc somewhere else for another two years, and who knows where you’ll end up after that, which makes relationships potentially more difficult.
So, potentially a lot of changes early on in your scientific career, and – more on topic and more specifically – potentially a lot of different personal webpages on different university websites.
Which – to me – would make it pretty obvious that a (young) scientist is much better off investing in a really good personal website outside of the university’s webpages.

Consequences for university websites
If this turns out to be the best advice we can give to scientists, that must mean something for the way university websites are set up as well. They need work anyway, judging by this xkcd cartoon, so might as well do it right  🙂

Wouter Gerritsma (#FF @wowter and wowter.net, must read), also present at the symposium, told/tweeted about how his university is starting to integrate social media into his university’s people’s pages. But if this is state of the art, we’re probably not there yet. University website developers should seriously reconsider what kind of functionality they offer their scientific staff on their uni’s personal pages:

I’m sure universities and uni libraries are developing all kinds of nice and spiffy ways to implement relevant repository searches into the personal pages at university websites. And having a space on a university website does wonders for your Google ranking, so I’m told.
But if we are to take all this science-2.0-personal-branding-through-social-media-stuff seriously, my advice to scientists would be to really invest in your own personal website, not your university one. You must, of course, use your university webpage as a redirect page – rather how Wouter’s page is set up -, making use of all helpful functionalities being offered, but put your money and your career on your own website.

27/10/2012 Second thought 1 (I’m sure a couple more will follow…): I think that most scientists hardly even known that they have a  personal page at their uni’s website. I hope I’m wrong on this one, but the question about where to find your webpage or how to acces it was asked during the conference, and that leads me to be pessimistic. There are but a few that use this webpage as strategically as Maarten. That makes this discussion somewhat academic, but hey, that’s the world we live in. 😉

30/10/2012 Second thought number 2: during lunch just now, one of my colleagues mentioned this brilliant comic by PHD Comics on the Academic Homepage. I think we all recognize this homepage and the subsequent feeling of ‘why bother…?’ 

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8 thoughts on “University webpage or personal website, that is the question

    • Yes, great question. Part of the reason for writing this blog is that – with hindsight – I somewhat regret using the university system now. Seemed like a logical thing to do at the time. I would certainly not start there now. I also don’t know my options when I decide to switch jobs and won’t be able to log onto the system anymore with my TU Delft employee password. I was planning to ask the person in charge of the blogs how that works this week and will definitely report back!

  1. Pingback: University webpage or personal website, that is the question « wetenschapper20

  2. I just got the reply of the e-Learning support desk: apparantly using the export and import functionality of WordPress I should be able to transfer all the posts on this TU Delft WordPress environment to my other one. Time to start experimenting soon…

  3. Pingback: Deskundigen: hoe niet en hoe wel | @RoyMeijer

  4. Pingback: Dagboek van een Wetenschapper 2.0 | @RoyMeijer

  5. Pingback: Dagboek van een Wetenschapper 2.0 « wetenschapper20

  6. Pingback: Over naar WordPress.com | @RoyMeijer

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