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Recently about a dozen graduate students gathered to explore the question of “Branding and Managing Your Online Identity” at a Humanities graduate student workshop facilitated by April Trask at the University of California, Irvine. Although we each arrived with different levels of experience in web site management, we all came away with an appreciation of what our online image can do for us and the tools to put our best foot forward, digitally speaking. Here are some of the thoughts that the workshop sparked in me—and some resolutions for improvement.

Gail at UCI

What do you want them to see?

Everyone has an online presence. If you have entered, joined, or commented on anything online, you have started to build an image. You can consciously shape this image or let random information introduce you by default. If you are making a change, such as from student to professional or from one career path to another, don’t let your image fall behind. I was a medical technologist and now I’m an historian. Having my own web site gives me an online home base that I can control.

Sooner or later someone will search your name. It might be a colleague at work, a student considering your course, someone you met at a conference, someone who is going to interview you, or someone who read your book or article and wants to know more about your background and expertise. What do you want them to see? A doctoral candidate who expects to be on the job market soon can post a profile and curriculum vitae and then expand on them to showcase relevant accomplishments: awards, links to online articles, descriptions of classes taught, abstracts of papers, short videos of presentations. This is the place to blow your own horn.

This is the place to blow your own horn.

This is the place to blow your own horn.

Even though I am not looking for a full-time job, I want my website to show that I am an engaged scholar and historian. I want it to enhance my credibility as a presenter at a conference, a candidate for a grant, an author, researcher, and occasional speaker. All of this can be accomplished with a static website. However, because I enjoy observing, commenting, and reacting to history and related subjects, my decision was to include a blog, which has been going since 2008. Even if you don’t blog, you might use the blog update capability to note something new in your field or announce your latest achievement, such as an award, publication, or conference paper.

Now, full of ideas, some directly from the workshop and some inspired by it, I want to make some changes. In principal, they can apply to any field, so here they are:

Five ways to improve your online image:

  • Have several profiles, but one base. This helps people find you and makes your identity maintenance easier. I will join Academia.edu to improve my presence in the academic environment. Update my profiles on Google Profile, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu and link them all to my WordPress web site. My web site will be the home for detailed information such as c.v., research, achievements, and, of course, my blog. I will consider my Facebook page as a purely social site and lock down my privacy settings.
  • Choose your identity carefully. Which “you” do you want to bring forward in this environment? Stay consistent on your profiles. I will change my front-page description from “student” to “historian,” the field that I have devoted the last ten years to, and in which I plan to advance. Modifiers, like specialty or current status (fifth-year doctoral candidate, dissertation in progress) can go lower down on the page or in the c.v.
  • Be easy to find: I will put my name on each main page of my web site to make it come up faster on searches. I will learn how to use tags that apply to my web site as a whole, for example: History, Fulbright, Science, Dissertation, Doctorate. If you don’t have your own domain name, get one.
  • Enrich the career-relevant content: I plan to update the static pages and add links to my online articles, abstracts of paper presentation, citations of my work, etc.  I will make my list of links on the front page more focused by separating them (if I can) into sites that contain my own work and sites I find interesting.
  • Stay in the loop: I will learn about using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Twitter broaden my access to news in my field. Recognizing that the online environment is a dynamic system, I will continue to explore ways to use it effectively.

My goal is to implement these steps in the next week and then evaluate them. I’ll report back in about a month.

Dissertation Progress: Finishing conclusion of Chapter 2, Draft one. Plan to submit Chapter 2 Draft two by March 31.

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