Not that Kind of Page: Tales of Building a Better Lab Website
In this day and age, every company has a website. You are running a small business and you should too. There are even murmurs that searches for your name will peak right before study section, as study section members look up the people whose grants they will be reviewing. Here are my thoughts on what makes a successful website. As always these days n=me, and the hundreds of lab websites I have explored to track down collaborators, reagents, and potential hires.
Invest in your own website: I have said it before, but it bears repeating. Invest in your own website. Institutional websites are clunky, infrequently updated, and limited in scope. The price of nice cohesion across the department, school, and institution also keeps these websites very limited in content in the majority of cases. Spend some time and some money to put together a website that is yours to make, update, and modify as you want. Institutions will, of course, have rules as to what of theirs (logos, colors, fonts, etc.) you can and cannot use, as well as what you can and cannot claim (i.e., you need to note this not an official Big Research School website). Some of them will not let you link from your faculty profile into the personal website because it is external, but do not let that discourage you. Link it to your Twitter account, stick it in LinkedIn, put it in your email signature, whatever. Make sure it is out there and accessible. Should you be so lucky as to have a flexible and easy-to-use institution provided website, you might consider keeping your own website anyway for the reasons I have listed above.
Clearly define your role: Your website should provide basic information about you, like where you are appointed, what programs you are affiliated with, and where people can find you. Some people provide their training history, others do not. I have also visited a couple faculty websites recently where the principal investigator (PI) is not obvious. This happens more frequently with labs that have come up with clever names rather than sticking to the PI’s last name. Clever names are great, but can make it hard to determine whether this is one lab or many, how many PIs there are, and who you should be emailing. Either way, stick your picture somewhere and designate yourself as the PI. Most of the time, people looking at your website want to see what you look like so they can find you at a meeting or conference. Make it easy for them. Use a headshot in semi-professional attire that is fairly up to date.
Keep it professional: This should go without saying, but I will say it anyway. Keep the content professional. Grant reviewers, collaborators, and potential trainees will all be looking at the website, so strike the balance between good science and good environment.
Make the science accessible: The people looking at your website much of the time will be trainees and lay people. Use this opportunity to polish up your scientific communication skills and describe the big ideas you think about in your research program. The experts, like potential colleagues and study section reviewers, will simply click through to your research articles.
Keep it updated with lab news: There is nothing more depressing than a lab web page that has not been updated in years. Put it on your calendar, make a recurring reminder, and keep the website updated with papers, grants, outreach, and professional updates to trainees and staff. I include a list of papers accepted, grants funded, lab outings, and conferences attended. The point is to keep a record of the large and small victories of the lab, especially when it comes to your trainees and staff.
Include your trainees and staff: Include a photo of your research team and individual members. This is particularly important for the members who might not end up on papers quickly, like summer students or staff. For example, it is difficult to evaluate a CV of postdoc applicant when there is no trace of them on your website, especially if their papers are not yet in press. Let your trainees write up a description of their research project and, if they have one, a link to their own professional website. Include an alumni section as well. You should be keeping track of your trainee outcomes on the NIH training tables, so updating your website with what your past trainees are doing should be easy.
Advertise open positions: This is the perfect space to advertise open positions. I also stick in instructions how to apply to our graduate program and the mechanisms by which summer, medical, and high school students can participate in our research.
Make resources, manuscripts, software, and data sets readily available: There should be links to Google Scholar, ORCID, NCBI Bibliography, your institutional website, NIH Reporter, etc. The link to your NCBI bibliography will include links the PubMed Central open access articles. Link your pre-prints and other works in progress. If your manuscripts are associated with large data sets, provide a link to downloading the data or instructions on how to access it. Should you have reagents that are frequently requested, make yourself a webpage with details on how to request said reagents, what the material transfer agreement covers, etc. I also include links to resources we use frequently and resources for patients, should they come across our website.
Acknowledge your funding sources: While the NIH loves a shout-out for supporting your research program, your institution and private foundations rely on your success and advertisement of their support for continued donations. Acknowledge them.
I hope these ideas have inspired you to create your own website, outside of your institution, that provides you the flexibility to include these elements and possibly more. In this age of connectivity, do not let your institution’s static website limit your, or your trainees, online presence. Stay tuned for more tales!
Did I miss an important point? Do you have questions or concerns about the post? Or perhaps an anecdote to contribute! Feel free to send some electrons my way in the comments, via Twitter @PipetteProtag, or through traditional electronic mail firstname.lastname@example.org