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Home » Discover Rackham » Tips for Developing a Professional Online Presence OR You Are Already Kind of a Robot

Co-authored with Meredith Kahn, Women’s Studies and Publishing Services Librarian

The first time I updated Facebook, I accidentally posted my comment ten times. Literally. At the time I had approximately five friends, so it didn’t really matter, but even now, I remember with crystal clarity how embarrassed I was when, hours later, I realized my mistake.

For me, not all that much has changed since that first botched post (despite years of Facebook experience, I still managed to inadvertently Like Mitt Romney during the last presidential election cycle). I am still mindful of the hazards of diving headfirst into new digital environments – digital choices can and do have material consequences, particularly on our professional lives. But this cautious approach has a downside too, preventing me from exploring and participating fully in a professional world that is increasingly digital – and I don’t think I’m alone.

While I have many colleagues with impressive digital skills, I have just as many who, like myself, lurk sweaty-palmed in the shadows. For all our big smarts, when it comes to navigating the technological and digital tools available to, and, increasingly required, of us, our proficiency with e-mail doesn’t mean bupkis. We’re busy, we’ve been burned by our experiments with LinkedIn, and we’re afraid of doing the equivalent of posting FB pictures of ourselves doing keg stands. In short, we need answers.

By now it should be painfully obvious that I’m not the tech savvy guru you’ve been waiting for – fortunately, I know someone who is. Women’s Studies and Publishing Services Librarian Meredith Kahn ran a workshop for my WS capstone class that made the prospect of crafting a professional, digital self a lot less intimidating, and maybe even a little exciting. On top of that, she was kind enough to share her insight and experience with graduate students outside of our class (thank you again Meredith!)

Meredith Kahn

Meredith Kahn

One of the first things Meredith had us do was google a few faculty members here at U-M to get a sense of just how much variation there is, not only between faculty members in different disciplines, but even between people in the same field or subfield. This exercise was a nice balance of inspiration (srsly, check out Maria Cotera's website) and realistic modeling (see most faculty members).

After we spent a few minutes exploring the search results, she had us google…ourselves.

I know, I know – this might seem obvious. I mean, let’s be honest, we’ve all googled ourselves. If you share a name with a celebrity chef or a reality star, you probably already know that – and while it’s useful, and sort of fun, to know what the top hits for your name are, it’s hardly an insider tip.

But Meredith’s guided google raised some key points:

You already have a presence online, regardless of whether you’ve spent much time actively curating it.

This was the first big takeaway of Meredith’s workshop for me: Doing nothing is still doing something. If you’re looking for a reason to take time away from your research and teaching, this is it: When you choose not to craft a digital presence online, you’re letting others do it for you. This can sound scary but don’t worry – Meredith has you covered.

In the rest of this post, we’ll lay out some quick and easy steps you can take to take charge of your online presence. And when I say quick and easy, I mean REALLY quick and REALLY easy: everything we suggest here can be accomplished in under an hour.

Deep Googling
Before you can start making choices about how and to what extent you’d like to represent yourself online, you need to spend some time learning about how you’re currently represented, and this is more than just a quick glance at the top google hits for your name. Most of us don’t dig deeper than the first page of results, but it’s worth a look. You can find some embarrassing things – like an article in your hometown newspaper quoting your less-than-generous review of your high school’s AP program. Not that I’m speaking from experience.

As Meredith explained:

If you go looking for information about yourself out on the web, try looking past the first page, using a search engine different from the one you typically use, and combining a few keywords with your name that you think other people might use when searching for you online. Some of what you find could be useful to you later as inbound or outbound links.

(Curious about inbound and outbound links? We’ll talk more about this in part two of this post.)

After searching for ourselves online, Meredith had us examine a few of the results we found in depth. She noted that while it’s hard for you to remove items from search results about yourself (don’t bother paying for the reputation management services you hear advertised on NPR), you can have some influence over whether what does appear is accurate and relevant. In examining the results of our searches, several common results included departmental profile pages, social media accounts, and other content we could edit for ourselves.

Departmental Profiles
If you’re anything like me, you probably can’t remember what your departmental profile page looks like, let alone that you have one. But you do! Take a minute to check, and if you’re in need of an update, get in touch with your department to make it happen. If you’re stumped as to what to include, Meredith recommends:

  • a brief description of your research interests, written in a style that is understandable to both colleagues in your field and outside it
  • any recent publications or presentations
  • link to your professional portfolio (we’ll cover this in part two)
  • social media accounts you use professionally (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)

Google Scholar Author Profile
Meredith recommended setting up a Google Scholar author profile. We’ve all used Google Scholar to find articles, but did you know that you can use Google Scholar to keep track of your own work and make yourself more visible? With a Google Scholar author profile, you can see who else is citing your publications and calculate your h-index. h-index is something that's used in article-heavy disciplines in the social sciences and sciences. Humanities folks (with exceptions, of course) don't use it much. In addition, your author profile will display in Google Scholar search results, which can help potential coauthors, presenters, or other possible collaborators find you.

To set up your profile, visit this page while logged in to a personal gmail account. You’ll need to provide your U-M e-mail account as verification of your institutional affiliation. Using a personal gmail account during sign-up will make sure you have access to your Google Scholar profile even after you leave U-M.

You’ll need to set your profile to public in order to show up in search results, but it’s not required – public or private, google will still track your citations for you.

Keeping your departmental profile page up to date and using a Google Scholar author profile are two easy steps you can take toward wrangling your professional identity online. If you want to take it to the next level, you can create an ORCID ID. ORCID allows you to create a unique digital ID number (sort of like an ISBN for humans) that distinguishes you from other people with the same or similar names. Don’t think your name is terribly common? Think again. Here at U-M alone, it’s estimated that 14% of people with research appointments (faculty, research scientists, GSRAs, etc.) share a last name and first initial.

You can sign up for an ORCID ID for free because U-M is a member, so don’t sleep on this opportunity! Other members of ORCID include many universities, publishers, funding agencies, and professional societies. ORCID IDs don’t just allow you to disambiguate names. They also allow you to list your publications, academic affiliations, grants you’ve received, and other things you might want to keep track of during the course of your career. Some journals are starting to require ORCID IDs for submissions, as are some grant agencies. Getting an ORCID ID now might be helpful for you later.

ORCID is just one example of something called a “research profiling system,” and there are many more out there. If you have questions about which systems you should use, Meredith says you can always contact her or the librarian for your subject area to learn more.

To Be Continued…
Congratulations! You made it through a long and potentially terrifying post. If you found this helpful and are curious about other ways to professionalize online, keep an eye out for my next post. Later, I’ll be talking to Meredith about social networks and creating your own professional portfolio site from scratch or a template.