There are three major reasons you should consider creating a website as you begin your academic job search:
- Expand your reach. A website will allow you to showcase everything you weren’t able to send to the search committee in your initial application package.
- Distinguish yourself. It puts a face and a personality to a cover letter and CV that is otherwise nearly indistinguishable from the 200 other applicants.
- Demonstrate tech-savvy. Few people realize just how easy it is create a professional-looking website; they’ll consider your ability to do so welcome evidence of your “cutting-edge” tech skills.
My own academic website (http://www.ficklet.wordpress.com)
- Decide on 5-6 sub-sections you want to highlight. At minimum, your site should have five pages: home, CV, dissertation, teaching, and contact. If you have publications, you should also create a page for that; likewise if you have substantive ideas for a next project, or are affiliated with a (relevant) institution that you want to highlight.
- Choose a self-portrait. Unless you have a good reason for obscuring your face, choose a basic, straight-forward headshot; use a sepia or similar filter to soften it.
- Create a WordPress account. Go to www.wordpress.com and create a free account. Choose your site address carefully: use something short, neutral, and easy to input, ideally your name or a variation of it. And write your password down!
- Choose a theme. Your theme determines the layout and basic color scheme of your site. Choose whatever you like (you can always change it), just make sure it has the following features:
- Prominent sub-section/page titles, ideally placed just below the title text
- Readable font, size, and color scheme
- A wide enough main column (3” minimum) for your body text
- Choose a banner image. This is really important. You must add some visual interest to your page, and a strategic way to do it is by choosing an image – or, even better, a series of images – that reflects your academic interests (I work in games, hence the theme of my banner). In my experience, abstract/symbolic images work better than photographs. Start by Google image searching some keywords of your dissertation and then crop images to a thinner size (I’d say max 200 pixels high). Use your theme’s color scheme as a guide.
- Populate your site with content.* Don’t just create a new page and start typing. Jot down the basic elements that you want each page to uniquely highlight; the homepage, for example, should explain who you are and briefly summarize your most noteworthy affiliations/accomplishments – but leave the details for the relevant sub-pages. The “dissertation” page should not be one massive block of text – try to introduce the visitor to your research in a different way than you did in your cover letter/dissertation abstract, perhaps by incorporating multimedia or links. The “teaching” page is especially valuable: here’s where you can upload sample and past syllabi and provide course descriptions of all the courses you’ve taught.
- Advertise. Make sure your website address appears on your CV, your e-mail signature, and your departmental page/profile. Most importantly, add a line in the final paragraph of your cover letter that refers readers to the site for a more comprehensive picture of your scholarly and pedagogical pursuits. This is especially useful in teaching statements, since you can refer readers to a full roster of courses you have taught and syllabi you’ve constructed.
- Update and maintain. Over the course of the job search , make sure to keep the site updated, especially the CV, publications and teaching pages. If you have a “future research” page, this is also a great way to keep search committees abreast of your current progress, as they may well take another glance at your site before an interview or campus visit. Good luck!
*If you need a basic introduction to the WordPress interface, there are many tutorials; http://www.siteground.com/tutorials/wordpress/wordpress_start.htm is a good place to start.
A Caveat: While an attractive, informative website can give your candidacy a boost, an ugly, sparse, or confusing site is likely to do the opposite. So unless you’re willing to put in some quality time to develop and maintain a website, you’re probably better off not making one at all.