Grad School 101: Building your online presence

By Emily Elia: The internet and social media can be powerful tools when it comes to establishing yourself as a scholar, networking, and promoting your research.

Image of three cartoon resumes on a bright blue background

Your professional presence is no longer exclusively in-person; today, many grad students take to virtual spaces to build their “brand.” The internet and social media can be powerful tools when it comes to establishing yourself as a scholar, networking, and promoting your research. To be competitive in academic spaces, it is almost a given that you need to have your own website! But many grad students are also going far beyond just a personal website. Read on for some tips on how you can build your online presence while in graduate school.

Make a website.

The most essential online presence that one can have is a personal website. You can think of the other pieces of advice in this article as “recommended but optional,” but having a website is an absolute must, especially if you are going onto the academic job market. Your personal website can contain a lot of value information about you, such as your research interests, your working papers or projects-in-progress, your C.V., your teaching experience, etc. Furthermore, in this very digital age, many people include links to their website on their online C.V.s, which further allows people to find more information on you and your work quite easily when you distribute your C.V. virtually. 

When should I make my personal website? If you’re a first year grad student, you probably don’t need to rush to make a website yet. Every program’s timeline—and every student’s timeline—is different, so the appropriate time to make a website may vary, but most people I know make a website sometime during their third year in the program, generally once they become a PhD candidate after defending their dissertation prospectus. Of course, there is no right or wrong time to have a website, though! Asking the more senior grad students in your program is probably a good way to figure out when you should have a website.

How do I make my personal website? There are many platforms that you can use to make a website. The two big deciding factors are likely going to be related to cost and functionality. How much does it cost to maintain the website on a platform? How usable is the platform? You do not want to break the bank paying for a website, and you also don’t want the website platform to be so complex that you can barely edit anything. The right platform for you will depend a lot on your resources and needs. Here is a short list of some popular sources to check out: Squarespace, Wix, Google Sites, GitHub, Weebly, WordPress.

The Digital Media Commons in Fondren also offers online classes on web building (and a wide variety of other topics!) Check them out here.

Be present on “Academic Twitter.”

If you’re like me, Twitter debuted while you were a young tween, and it quickly became the fun, simple social media platform that everyone jumped onto because it was “way cooler” than Facebook and our parents weren’t on it. Fast forward to 2020 and Twitter now encompasses just about everything and everyone. Academics are no exception! “Academic Twitter” is a very active “twittersphere” where academics can connect with one another, share research, and even get feedback and help on work. Having a Twitter profile is a great way to engage in virtual networking and promote your own work as well as the work of your colleagues and friends! 

Getting a Twitter does not mean you have to be tweeting 24/7 or super interactive; if you’re not somebody who feels comfortable tweeting often, that’s okay! You can only post every now and then if you want to. But even if you don’t produce your own tweets often, I guarantee you will still find Twitter to be a helpful tool in building your online presence. I have personally found Academic Twitter to be surprisingly helpful in staying current with up and coming research, as many scholars and academic journals will tweet out new articles. Since you can follow people who work on research that is similar to your own, Twitter can be a great resource for finding new studies that may help enrich your own research agenda.

This article by Sarah Mojarad on how to get started on Academic Twitter is an awesome beginner’s guide! Some brief highlights: choose a professional headshot for your profile picture, write a bio that lets people know what your research is about, and keep your tweets focused on your professional life.

Keep LinkedIn up to date.

LinkedIn may feel more static than other forms of social media, especially once you spend some time on Academic Twitter, but it is still a staple resource for building an online presence! If you do not yet have a LinkedIn, definitely make one. If you do have one already, make sure it is up to date. You should update your LinkedIn just like you would update your resume, as a key feature of LinkedIn is your profile’s resume-like structure. 

For those of you who are interested in non-academic jobs after graduate school, LinkedIn is probably an even more powerful resource for you than it may be for others on the academic job market. Though academia tends to use its own specialized channels for networking and job hunting, that is not the case in other job sectors. You want your LinkedIn to be a thorough indicator of who you are and what you would bring to a job. Have a nice headshot as your profile picture, compose an informative but succinct bio, and structure your profile in such a way that you highlight your strengths and accomplishments. You can read on for more tips about how to build a strong LinkedIn page here.

Don’t forget that LinkedIn is also a valuable resource for job searches! After building yourself a strong profile, spend some time exploring the Jobs page on the site. 

Connect with the Career Center for help.

The Career Center at Rice has lots of resources to help students succeed professionally. Check out the Career Counseling options to see the many different appointments you can schedule in order to make sure that your professional documents and profiles are as strong as possible. For example, before sharing your C.V. on your website or your social media, you can make an appointment to review your C.V. and polish it up. You can also get feedback on your LinkedIn profile, learn how to draft networking outreach messages, and even get a professional headshot to use for all your professional profile pictures!

Read more:

Seven Rice resources to check out now

Make virtual conferences work for you

Networking at a (virtual) conference

About the author: Originally from Massachusetts, Emily Elia is a third-year Ph.D. student in political science. She graduated from the University of Alabama in 2018 and currently studies comparative politics with a focus on Latin America.