Saturday, March 21, 2015

The ultimate graduate student website creation guide

Alright everyone, I am about to get up on a soapbox for a moment, so please bear with me. If you are an academic, you should have a website. Period. This goes for graduate students, postdocs, professors, everyone. The only exception may be if you already have your Fields medal and someone else has taken the time to curate your Wikipedia page for you. The website itself can be absolute rubbish, but if I Google you and the first thing that comes up is a drunk picture of you at a party, that is my first impression of you professionally that you can never get back.

I should point out that I, as the token academic for the purposes of this discussion, will Google you often. Examples include:
  • We are attending the same conference and I've never heard of you but you're on the participants list. 
  • You write a paper and I don't recognize your name. 
  • I talk to some other Professor about you and I want to find out more about your status. 
  • You write me an email trying to get into my class with no explanation of your current academic status, what department you're in, etc. Oh my goodness this happens a lot and it is almost impossible for me to give good advice until we have exchanged at least 3 more emails where I try to tease out this information! Please for the love of Pete setup an email signature with 
    • Your name 
    • Your institution 
    • Your department / major 
    • Undergrad vs masters vs PhD 
    • A link to the website I am about to force you to make 
Since I will Google you often, it is in your best interest to put your most professional Internet presence forward. This includes using the privacy settings on your personal Facebook account so that I can't see the things you meant for your friends. This likely also means building a LinkedIn profile, although I apologize in advance for all the useless emails that little piece of advice will send to you. More importantly, you should have your own website. As academics we are completely fine with comparably ugly websites as long as you have the proper information.

Ok, so without further ado, here is my advice and experience with setting up an academic website. 


You are an academic, so you hypothetically are associated with some sort of university. Many of these places give you free hosting space by virtue of your affiliation, so make use of it. This probably means your website address will be something like 
If you are at UAlbany, the necessary information about how to do something like this is here.

Of course, you can also pay for hosting which gives you control of your domain name. For example, I pay a company called ANHosting to host my website, which allows me to have the domain name The perk of this solution is that I don't have to move my website when I move Universities. The downside is of course that I have to pay.

Creating a website and finding a template 

Like I said, your website can be ugly as long as you have the necessary information on it. Websites are created by uploading an html file, which is just a text file. Html is markup language, so you write the plain text with little bits of code wrapped around it and your web browser will figure out how to make it pretty for you. It's a bit like writing a latex file but seeing the output pdf.

Note that UAlbany gives free access to a program called RedDot which apparently is some kind of editor for html that you can use.

There are also many free website templates out there that you can use. Feel free to use my website as a template if you'd like, I only ask that you put a link to my website saying it was my template. Be warned, my code is not the prettiest, so use at your own risk. Also, you can spice up your website by using CSS, which is another file type used to make the html a bit more pretty. If you want to learn html and CSS, I recommend this book.

I should also point out that it is better to err on the side of too simple rather than too busy (See this website for some ideas of what not to do). In general, solid color backgrounds are the best idea since they allow the reader to focus on what really matters... the content.


Alright, what is supposed to be on your website? Some of these things, at least to me, are mandatory and some are less important but useful.

  • Your name. This should go without saying, but I usually can't figure out your name from the alphabet soup provided by the username in the url. Also, of course, this makes it easier for Google to start pointing hits from searches of your exact name towards your website. 
  • Relevant affiliation information: 
    • Institution name. A link from here to the University website is also a good idea. 
    • Department name. Again, a link to the department website is a good idea. 
    • Address. Some people put the University address which is fine. More important, however, is your current office number so people can find you. 
    • Contact information 
    • Email address. Be warned, web crawlers will find your email address because of it and will likely start spamming you. I just have a good spam filter and hope for the best, but some people find other workarounds. This includes providing their email address as an image file with no link, or writing out the full address as we would say it aloud, e.g. "emunch at albany dot edu". 
    • Phone number. This should probably be your office phone number unless you don't mind having your cell number all over the Internet. 
  • A current, close up picture of your face. Not a picture of the back of your head. Not a picture of you walking into the sunset, climbing mount everest, or with another person in the picture so that I don't know which person is you. Not an artsy picture. Not a picture from that super rad party last weekend. Not a picture of your baby. Not a picture from 10 years ago. For goodness sake, not a selfie. This is absolutely my pet peeve, I realize, but let me try to explain why this is so important. Maybe I've read some of your papers and know that you are going to be at a conference. If you have a picture on your website that makes it easy for me to recognize you, I will be able to ask you about it. It also means that later when I google your name trying to figure out when and if I met you, my visual memory will be jogged by having an up to date picture. 
  • A current CV. Maybe I'll put a full rant on how to do this part properly later, but it is so crucial to make a CV early and update it often. This is of course particularly relevant if you are on the job market or will be any time soon. Now we enter the list of things that are super awesome to find on someone's website but are certainly not necessary. 
  • A list of your papers. 
    • If you want to get crafty, a picture for each one is always an excellent idea. 
    • If your copyright restrictions from the journal don't disallow it, a link to the pdf hosted on your website is also awesome, particularly for people with limited library access. 
    • My favorite is when someone provides the bibtex source code for me so that I know I'm referencing the paper correctly and also fixes any ambiguity with what version is most recent, conference vs journal version, etc. 
    • A link to the website where the paper is published. This could be the arXiv, or the peer reviewed journal, or both depending on the situation. 
  • A blurb about your research. This should hit any of the key search terms that are related to your work. Also it should be readable to the mathematical layman (i.e. A mathematician not in your field). If you do interdisciplinary or applied research, it should be able to reach an even wider audience than that. Once you're on the academic job market, you will appreciate having written these sorts of things already!
  • Teaching information. 
    • What classes you taught, when, where, how much responsibility you had, etc. 
    • If there is a website for the course, link to it. 
    • If there is a course description somewhere, link to it. 
  • A video of you doing something. I heard this advice from Robert Ghrist a while ago and I think it's quite excellent.  This video could be a short video of you explaining some basic part of your research or a snippet of you teaching. If you are lucky enough to speak at a conference or workshop that records, archives, and hosts the videos for you, by all means do it and, of course, link to it! What this does is gives people a chance to see your ability to explain yourself and gives them an initial insight into your research even before they get a chance to meet you. 
Finally, here are a few examples of awesome academic websites that follow all or most of the above. These will of course be heavily skewed towards the applied topology community since those are the websites I end up on the most often and thus are the first ones that come to mind.

I hope you found this post useful!  Please feel free to send me any errors or omissions, as well as other examples of excellent academic websites that I should have as examples above.


  1. Just found this smack in the middle of trying to update my own website (because I was stalking your website for ideas). Super helpful, thank you for sharing/ranting!

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