Should PhD Students Create A Website About Their Work?

As I wrapped up the coursework phase of my doctoral program last year, I asked myself, “Should I create a web site about my work?” I thought, “I just finished four years of part-time coursework for my doctoral degree, I gained all this knowledge, I have some publications, so shouldn’t I share this with the world?” But the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that building a site about Stephanie A. Bosco-Ruggiero, PhD student, was not going to be all that interesting to the general public or my colleagues.

The more I thought about it, I came to the following conclusions:

  • A student website is not worth my time building if it’s just my CV
  • A student website will eat up my time while I have many other priorities such as writing my dissertation proposal
  • If I do want an online presence it would be better to blog or vlog, answer questions, share knowledge, or advertise a service
  • Whatever I decide, it should be fun and done during off hours

This post was written by Stephanie A. Bosco-Ruggiero (PhD candidate in Social Work at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service) on behalf of Dave Maslach. This is part of the R3ciprocity project (Check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and research folk by providing a real and authentic look into doing research. It provides solutions and hope to researchers around the world. For more on this topic and to see what Dave has to say about whether PhD students should have a website:

A PhD Student Website Is Just Not Worth Your Time

To be honest, a PhD student website is just not going to be that interesting to the general public or your colleagues. Having a web presence as a PhD student does not benefit you if you are going to have an academic career and it does not matter that much if you are going to have an industry career. I have yet to meet a single PhD who was hired because they had a website.

Don’t waste your time creating a website if it’s simply going to be a glorified version of your CV – just post your CV on ResearchGate or Google Scholar instead. To get any type of ranking and presence on the web you must have a tremendous amount of content (and if it’s a blog, daily posts) and a high-quality site. Spending a lot of time creating a presence on social media is going to be another waste of your time – the return on investment will probably be disappointing.

Why Invest Time And Money Into A Website When You Have Other Priorities?

I know you have thought about creating a website because you want to share your accomplishments, but what will get you more exposure is producing more research and getting it published. Instead of creating a website, focus on getting published, a book deal, teaching, or freelancing. You could also get your dissertation done (oh yeah, that’s pretty high up on my to do list). A website project can sideline you and help you procrastinate. Before you know it you’re becoming a perfectionist about your site and it’s become a full time job. No time for a dissertation! If you are really wedded to the idea of having an online presence try the following ideas instead.

Blog or Vlog

Should you create a blog or vlog site? Vlogging is video blogging (just in case you haven’t heard the term). I have met people who have enhanced their standing in their field because they have a successful, well-trafficked blog. For example, economics has somehow become very accepting of blogs and people have obtained non-tenure and tenure track positions because of their web presence. Blogs on research methods are starting to become more influential in the PhD world as well. If you blog about using Stata or R tools, for example, you could become an online star! The ‘type’ of blog you have will influence your web presence – commentary on your latest trips and travels is not going to matter.

A Website Should Create Added Value

If you do want to create a website, make sure it has added value besides simply advertising how smart and accomplished you are. Your site should be focused on providing tools to help others succeed. For example, I am interested and knowledgeable about child welfare and I have done a lot of work around child trauma. On my site I could provide links to trauma assessment tools that can be used by clinicians in the field. I could also provide links to the latest and most innovative research in the field.

You could also focus on providing instructional information or advice of some kind. As a freelancer, instructor, and tutor I have racked up hundred of hours advising and teaching students about how to be a better writer, how to analyze their data in SPSS, and how to approach their thesis or dissertation. What if wrote a list of top ten questions people ask me about how to improve their writing? What about a ten list about how to make extra money while pursing a masters or doctoral degree. Lists get a lot of hits and are very helpful. This could increase your website’s exposure especially if you provide a way for readers to submit their own questions.

Another idea for creating a successful web presence is to offer a service of some kind. As a PhD student you probably need some extra cash. Why not try tutoring, consulting, or freelancing and advertise these services on your website? There are many sites you can use to get some initials clients such as Wyzant, LinkedIn, or Upwork but then you will want to also advertise your services elsewhere.

You can do all of the above in one site, but make sure there is a common theme linking your information, expertise, and services. You don’t want to write about ten different topics on your site – that can be overwhelming and confusing for your reader. It’s probably best to focus on only one or two specific topics so you will rank higher in a Google search. If you do decide to focus on offering several different types of services or knowledge, try using a common theme to link all of your information.

Building An Online Presence Should Be Fun

Most importantly make sure building your web presence is fun and adds value to your career and maybe even lines your pocket with some extra cash. (Check out how to make your PhD research less boring in this blog post.) Your web presence should be viewed as an asset by fellow academics or industry colleagues, help you get new customers, and/or cultivate new connections.

Create your site or blog using Wix, Weebly, or WordPress (this one can be more complex if you’re up to the challenge). You may be thinking, “can’t I just hire someone on Upwork to create my site for me?” The simple answer is, sure, if you have the cash; but be careful, building an online presence can become a money pit. Professionals are good for suggesting that you have it all – this app, that functionality, this type of maintenance, and on and on.

Whatever you decide to do, don’t work on the project during your core working hours– keep that time reserved for students, your research, and your day job. Do make sure you continue to learn about best practices for blogging, creating a website, and using social media. There is a lot of valuable information on the web about doing all of these things – ask your web savvy friends what are the best resources or ask Dave!

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