January 2011

Homepages – how you can benefit from a digital presence

The internet is a powerful tool for advancing information output, and a well-constructed personal homepage gives researchers a customizable platform for providing a comprehensive view of their work. Here are some tips for optimizing your laboratory webpage.

How to use PubMed and
Google to make a "Recent Publications" widget for your website:

1. Conduct a search on pubmed for your name using "single citation matcher" at the top of the page, click the orange RSS button.

2. Select the number of items to include and name the feed.

3. Click the XML button and copy the address of the feed.

4. Go to feedburner.com and sign in using a Google ID.

5. Paste the address into the "burn this feed" space.

6. Name it something useful like "Recent Publications."

7. Click “skip to managing feeds.”

8. Choose the “publicize” tab from the top of the page.

9. Pick “buzzboost” from the left hand side of the page

10. Select how many items to display, some text or no text, etc. and choose activate at the bottom. This will give a preview of the feed and a piece of code to add to your page.

You can further style the feed with CSS.

The scientific world has embraced the internet as the modern form of communication. We no longer trek to the library and search through countless journals – instead, we access articles via searchable databases (such as PubMed, Web of Knowledge and Scopus) in a matter of seconds. Many institutions are streaming scientific presentations online, so now we don’t even have to leave our offices to hear a talk. However, a single journal article or talk is just one story in an expanding body of work. Piecing together a scientist’s publication record provides a snapshot of previous research but gives little information about current or future projects. This is where the laboratory homepage comes in.

The internet is a powerful tool for advancing information output, and a well-constructed personal homepage gives researchers a customizable platform for providing a comprehensive view of their work. A homepage can give useful background information to a general audience and technical detail to fellow specialists. Since research is not done alone, a homepage also can highlight work done by individual group members and collaborators. This is particularly important for attracting young scientists, who use homepages as an aid when deciding what lab to join for a summer internship or a graduate rotation. Even recent graduate students evaluate homepages when deciding what labs to apply to for postdoctoral positions.

So what makes a great science homepage? The information should be accurate and up-to-date. Once a website is up and running, regular maintenance is critical. For example, a website will work against you if the most recent paper in your list of publications was published several years ago. Broken links are frustrating and will turn people away. Your science is evolving, and new discoveries are being made; your website should reflect this.

A web page should be interactive, with several layers of organized information. The first level should provide contact information and an introduction to your research. Most people will find your homepage through search engines, especially since tracking down a researcher’s website through his or her institution can be an unfruitful process. Thus, the first level of your homepage should incorporate searchable keywords. If your institution has a standard homepage, include a link to your more interactive lab website.

Secondary levels should be customized to cover the scope of your research and should include links to things like projects, publications, people and external resources. A well-designed website allows the viewer to quickly open each layer while easily returning to the main page. As in all forms of communication, keep your audience in mind. A large list of accomplishments is impressive, but information about what you currently are doing is much more useful.

Do you know of a particularly good researcher homepage? Share it in the online comment section below.

Don’t forget the internet is a visual landscape. A clean, simple design will prevent the viewer from being overwhelmed. Fonts should be large and easy to read. Images are essential. Cartoons and figures help explain your work. Photographs of the people involved in the research give a personal touch and are useful for identifying someone at a conference.

Establishing a web presence requires an investment of resources, including time and money. If done well, a homepage can bind the chapters of your research into a comprehensive novel. A website enables you to present your work to a wider audience and can raise your profile within your community. Once you fully utilize the internet as an additional tool to communicate your work, you will reap the benefits of the electronic information age by attracting the attention of the broader scientific community.

Nancy Van Prooyen (nancy.vanprooyen@ucsf.edu) is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco.

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