Like any other profession, the academic community relies on making and sustaining contacts – to bring expertise together in collaborations, spread news about the latest research and job opportunities, and share advice, resources and information. This used to be achieved through colleagues and conferences, when knowing your PhD supervisor or professor would tell others all they needed to know about you, but academia is no longer such a small world. We’re also increasingly reaching out to promote the impact of our research to other sectors where we have no established contacts: industry, policy makers, journalists and the public sector.
The two platforms we will be exploring this time are LinkedIn and Academia.edu. Some of you may not have set up a profile on these platforms yet, and others may have set up a profile a while ago but not been sure what to do with it since. If you have already explored one, try using the other as a comparison, or look at how you might review your use and take advantage of advanced functionality.
This post draws on the workshop session which was kindly offered by Meg Westbury, User Experience Librarian at the Judge Business School. I’ve embedded the slides below, and will be relying extensively on her expertise in this post!
LinkedIn is a site aimed at any professional in any line of work, which allows you to build an online profile of your experience and skills. It also allows you to actively network and interact with other users much as you might with Facebook, but with a more professional focus. Although it might seem like a very business-oriented site, Higher Education users form a major part of its membership. LinkedIn is also favoured by Google’s algorithm, so by creating and maintaining a comprehensive and up-to-date profile, you will automatically make yourself far more visible online. Nor is it just for job-seekers. Maintaining a current profile will make you findable and approachable to potential collaborators, consultancy offers, journalists as well as a range of people who can help you with advice and opportunities at this stage of your career.
Unlike your university webpage (if you have one), your profile here is not constrained by the disciplinary categories of your institution, or even by your identity as an academic. How you describe yourself and where you place yourself in terms of your research topic and career aspirations is more fluid. On LinkedIn, you may be presenting yourself to future employers outside academia, and you may not wish to appear too narrow in your interests.
To create a profile on LinkedIn, you’ll initially need your first and last names, an email address and password. You can also sign up with Facebook if you’re happy to mix professional with what may be a personal network. You’ll then be prompted to fill in further details about your current employment status. Even if you already set up a LinkedIn profile a while ago, several new features and sections have been added, so there is more to add! LinkedIn is very good at talking you through what to add, so if you have a copy of your CV to hand, it’s pretty quick to set up a full profile.
Meg’s slides offer great tips for enhancing your profile, but I’ll summarise a few of them here.
- Use the first elements in your profile well to encourage people to connect with you as they may not read all your profile. Key elements are a profile picture of your face, together with a clear statement in the ‘headline’ and ‘summary’ sections, describing your overall professional profile, expertise and what you can offer. These aren’t really your current job or other position, they are for giving a sense of who you are professionally. The keywords you choose here are also important as they will help people search for you, so think carefully about your metadata.
- There is a section to add your publications. Other sections may not be quite tailored towards academic researchers, but can still be adapted. You can upload media such as documents or powerpoints of papers and talks and other research ‘offcuts’, create weblinks to webpages or online resources you’ve worked on, add funding or scholarships in the ‘awards’ section, add any extracurricular, teaching or public engagement activities in the ‘interests’ section. Training you’ve undertaken at Cambridge or elsewhere could also be added in the ‘courses’ section to demonstrate your continuing professional development. ‘Projects’ might include conferences you’ve worked on, a blog or journal you’ve edited.
- You can change the order of these sections to prioritise what you want to. You can also customise your unique LinkedIn URL, which you might include on your webpage, email signature or business card, so that it’s more personalised.
- Find some contacts. Spend a few minutes thinking about the kind of people it would be useful to connect with and why. You can import contacts from your email account or Facebook. Take it a step further and see what issues or goals you might want to contact them about, and send a message or ask a question! It’s polite to personalise the message that LinkedIn sends out when you invite someone to connect, and also to send a message to greet those whose invitations you accept.
- Don’t just use LinkedIn as an online CV or a directory of your contacts. Make sure you use it actively. Post updates about your professional activities such as conferences or seminars you’re going to, teaching you’re doing, something you’ve read recently that was interesting. Contribute to two-way discussion too. LinkedIn allows you to join (or create) interest groups, which bring you together with others with that shared interest to discuss and ask questions. There are many of these groups which are aimed at academics, including PhD students and Postdocs. Here are a few starting points, but have a search in ‘groups’ for others which might interest you. There are also groups for university alumni, which might be useful for career networking.
- Academia.edu is a similar platform but as the name suggests, is designed specifically for academics and the kinds of information and interactions they need to exchange, for example, listing publications and research interests. Both sites tend to rank very highly in Google searches, and will make you more visible online.
- Social network platforms rely on high levels of traffic and updates to encourage visits and work well, but professional platforms possibly won’t generate as much traffic as personal ones like Facebook. If LinkedIn isn’t going to be the main place you ‘are’ online, add links to the platforms you use more, such as Twitter, and let people know how best to contact you in the ‘contact details’ section.
- The Careers Service is a very valuable resource when creating or reviewing a profile on LinkedIn. You might want to look at some of their resources or talk to one of their advisors about using LinkedIn, even if you’re not actively job-hunting at the moment.
If you still feel that LinkedIn is too business-oriented for you, you may want to set up a profile on Academia.edu. This platform was developed as an academic version of LinkedIn, to allow researchers to present themselves in a way which is tailored to their needs when networking with other academics. Remember that its reach won’t help you connect with non-academics for any impact, policy, media and press, consultancy or public engagement opportunities you might benefit from.
To set up a account on Academia.edu, you will again need to enter your name, email and a password. You’ll then be prompted to add more details to fill in your profile, including a profile picture (which again is best kept to a professional headshot).
- Academia.edu recognises that some early career researchers may be between contracts, or have roles at more than one institution, or be independent scholars and it also allows you to set up an account with a non-academic email. However, it is quite limited in the job role it allows you to select, unless you are a PhD student, Postdoc or Faculty member. Early career researchers may not necessarily fall neatly into these boxes (for example, if you are a College Teaching Officer), and may take on academic-related or even non-academic work for a while, and if this is the case in future, you will have to enter this in the ‘other’ box.
- You can then add research interests, which are not only keywords to assist others in searching, but also act to link you to others who use the same term. When you click on any of these research interests, you can see who else shares that research interest.
- As with LinkedIn, you can add a few sentences in the ‘About’ sentence to give an overall sense of who you are professionally. This can be very useful if your research is interdisciplinary, and could sit across more disciplines than the department you are currently located in.
- The main purpose of Academia.edu is “to share and follow research”, and the focus is largely on uploading papers you’ve written. This is quite a narrow interpretation of the academic role, and if you aren’t in a position to have published much, this can mean that your profile looks a little thin. However, you can also create sections to share talks, conference presentations and teaching materials, as well as drafts and other ‘grey literature’ which is produced as a by-product of academic research. You can also upload your CV if you want people to get a sense of your experience, particularly non-publication related roles, but there is no way to showcase this as on LinkedIn.
- You can follow scholars whose work you are interested in, so you will be alerted when they upload new papers. As the publication process is rather slow, means that that the volume of traffic on Academia.edu may be rather low! You can find people to follow via people you’re already in contact with through email, Facebook or Twitter, or by clicking on research interest keywords.
- You can interact with others on Academia.edu, although this feature isn’t as prominent as other platforms. You can post updates and ask questions, and add links to your other platforms you use where there may be more traffic.
Which of these platforms do you find best fits the way you want to present yourself? Or do you find that the templates they offer are too restrictive? Do you think you will use the more interactive networking features, and will they help you to reach out to new contacts? Or will you just stick to the profile-building aspects?
You might find this article of interest: John Naughton’s column critiquing LinkedIn
For more information on using LinkedIn as an academic, see http://www.exeter.ac.uk/staff/web/socialmedia/linkedin/
Next up: we’ll be looking at setting up a blog using your wordpress account, and the different ways you can use a blog or website to shape your online presence.