Last August, our 18-year-old cat finally succumbed to chronic kidney disease, the most common cause of death for pet cats in the US.
I am trying to turn the story of Denver (the cat) into a children's book about living with the trials and tribulations of chronic disease. Since I know nothing about non-academic publishing, I attended a workshop on the topic last spring (and blogged it here). Throughout my time in Boston, the instructors all hammered home the importance of platform. Not my usual platform; in this case, platform broadly means your credentials, and not merely in the academic sense. Do you get quoted in the media? Do you blog and twitter? Do you have a professional presence on facebook? Do you control your domain? Seems that an appearance on Oprah is the current gold standard for platform.
Some of these I could answer affirmatively; others required some work on my part. I'm still trying to get 25 folks to "like" my professional facebook page so I can get the vanity URL, but things are going pretty well for platform. Increasing web visibility, among other things, has probably helped my consulting work as well.
Turns out many faculty pursue these options in a growing online trend reported August 19 at www.timeshighereducation.co.uk:
"Increasingly, academics are looking for a way to create a digital presence that is not dependent on their current place of employment and that can go beyond the stodgy faculty pages at department websites with their mugshots and lists of courses and CVs," says Larry Cebula, an associate professor of history at Eastern Washington University who has a personal interest in the topic.
Robert Levers, a website designer in Boston, recently launched a special do-it-yourself website "package for professors"for $3,000. Last October Harvard announced a free website-creation package for academics called OpenScholar. Obviously, the trend must be strong.
Another advantage I see is a permanent presence online. Right now my email and website could be linked solely to my current employer. By purchasing my domain and building my own site, I have a permanent place of contact, regardless of where my career may lead. As long as I keep renewing my hosting and registration agreements, I can be found at pascalelane.net.
As with all things under the sun, some academic, somewhere is studying it:
One of the few scholars to have carried out research specifically on academics' websites is Mike Thelwall, professor of information science at the University of Wolverhampton.
In the five years since he has been examining the issue, he says, one of the biggest trends has been the move by university marketing departments to insist on standardisation for departmental and personal home pages. He isn't surprised, therefore, to have observed an increase in the number of academics opting to operate in a separate web space outside the institution's control.
But Thelwall puts his comments in context. While a scholar's home page is overall "still an important presence to have" - particularly to allow other academics to keep track of you - it is less essential than it once was, with increasingly important roles played by Facebook for personal connections and Google Scholar for the location of papers.
My own university "rebranded" last year. The new web design presents a host of difficulties aside from all the broken links that occurred with the initial roll-out. The colors and logo are ugly, and the site really cannot be browsed comfortably on a mobile device. The powers-that-be now have "standard templates" that we are told to use for brochures, research posters, and even PowerPoint slides. All of the fun and creativity gets sucked out of these things (if we follow the rules). No wonder I prefer to send people to my own site where I can choose the colors and organize materials as I see fit.
I worry less about personal and academic connections. I have a facebook profile visible only to friends, those who should be seeing my vacation photos. Academic colleagues can find me through professional organization directories, LinkedIn, or by using Google. I'm not exactly hiding online. I do ask myself, in these public locations, how I would feel about my patients or their relatives reading each and every post. Some editing occurs, but less than you might think.
Good to be on the leading edge of a trend, for once.
Image courtesy of PhotoXpress.