How can you demonstrate you technological savvy as a 21st century academic? Liz Losh, accomplished digital humanist and Director of Academic Programs, Sixth College, shared her wisdom from decades of experience in being an academic online. The summary below is drawn from her knowledge and the online google doc shared in the workshop.

Losh argued that today’s online world is about the short form and social networks, as well as more traditional outputs such as articles and blogs. Questions of who is in your social network should drive your online presence and activities. Part of the job of becoming an academic is developing your scholarly network. Some scholars have visualized these scholarly networks; see for example, Brian Croxall’s visualization of MLA collaborations, Marco Bastos visualizations of HASTAC for Eager, or the MathSciNet Collaboration Distance Tool. You can even make your own social network visualization.

Find ways to foster these relationships and grow your intellectual community. Think of the virtual world as another space in which you can engage in dialogue around similar questions and interests. Once you find the online spaces where these conversations occur, read up, and get a sense of the personalities and players. Join in, commenting and dialoguing as seems most appropriate in that given venue.

These conversations can occur on a variety of platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, tumblr and blogging. Twitter has been home to many critical academic discussions traceable via hashtags. Hashtags also allow for virtual conversations at academic conferences and events (see for example #MLA15). FemTechNet has an active Facebook group. tumblr hosts great collections and projects such as NoBroComputing and This Bridge Called My Back. Academic blogs such as HASTAC, CASTAC, and Difference Engines centralize conversations around research topics and fields. Your professional organization may host spaces for online discussion and blogging, such as the MLA Commons. Affiliation with a research hub such as DML may also interest. If you are in music or do video work, sites such as Soundcloud and Vimeo may be important.

If blogging becomes a part of your online repetoire, consider these tips:

  • Use photographs wisely with your header. Visual images matter.
  • Follow the principle of links in/links out. Make your blog links-rich. This will bring it up on search engines and brings links to you.
  • Use metadata labels wisely. Think about how you tag and categorize your blog article.
  • Be mindful of your blogroll. If you are hosting the blog or taking part in a collaborative blogging effort, include a blogroll of other blogs in which you see yourself in conversation.
  • Have rules for your writing. Make a plan for how often you plan to do online writing. Consistency is helpful, since it keeps you active in the conversation and helps you to develop your online and blogging voice.
  • Take time to figure out your blogging voice. This will be different than your academic writing voice. Look at other bloggers you admire and analyze their work for form, style and tone as a lens to think more critically about your own blogging voice.
  • Be patient while people pick up your work. It may take time to develop a following, but keep at it!
  • Be a good commenter first. Being active as a commenter on other’s blogs can help you to be seen as a good online community member and increase the likelihood that others will read your writing.
  • Decide what you would write about on a regular basis. Posts should be timely. They need a hook to the present moment and news. Your online writing is a mode of advocating for your scholarship. To do this well, you will also have to think about why your research matters.
  • If you have a blog site that is no longer active, consider adding a final post that updates readers on where they can see and learn the latest about your work.

Your online presence is a representation of you that matters. It is in your best interest to manage this as best you can. Monitor and update your profile at sites such as, LinkedIn, and ResearchGate. When you have a new publication, a new job, or other major accomplishment, be sure to do updates. Resources such as ORCiD can be helpful as well, particularly if you have a common name. Include a picture of yourself that projects the academic persona that you wish to portray. Make your own website. Follow principles of linking and good use of metadata to ensure that your site shows up in search engines. Push your desired search results to the top of the page. This will be of great benefit to you in your networking and when you go on the job market. Search committees will google you, and you’d rather have your fantastic website pop up at the top rather than the droll results of Rate My Professor.

Below are a few tips on making and managing your own website.

  • Spring for your own url. This will be an expense, but it shows commitment and is worthwhile. Try to find something professional, memorable, and succinct.
  • Depending on your tech skill level, you can choose between building it up yourself or working with one of the many web hosting platforms that provides you with manipulable templates.
  • Peruse other academics’ websites to generate ideas for the layout and organization of your own.
  • Consider what information those visiting your website will wish to see, and make that information easy to find.
  • Include good graphics and images to which you have the rights. If you are using the images of another with permission, be sure to provide credit.
  • Keep text succinct and readable. Watch for grammar and spelling mistakes, as well as formatting issues!
  • Look at your website on multiple web servers and devices to be sure that it is readable and pleasing across platforms.
  • Revisit your website at regular intervals to ensure that there are no technical glitches.
  • Consider setting aside time annually (or more often) to revisit and revamp your website as necessary. As your scholarly identity grows, so should your web-self. Technological changes can also require you to update a website.

It can be hard to find the time to do all of this work, but it is increasingly becoming a new expectation of being a scholar in the digital age. Consider forming a small support group of amenable colleagues to help each other in the process. Most importantly, have fun with it!


WRITTEN BY: Sarah McCullough