Inspired by nothing more than a joking remark from a colleague on the importance of securing a unique domain name before someone “stole it,” I made my personal website, RituRaman.com, in my second year of graduate school. Luckily for me, launching this website was the first step in an ongoing attempt to develop a coherent web presence and recognizable personal brand.
Before I continue, I would like to acknowledge that terms like “personal brand” can often come across as meaningless buzzwords used by millennials to justify a relatively self-centered use of social media. When used without context, they make me cringe and feel pretentious – and I understand if they make you do the same – but this blog post isn’t about the philosophical clash between personal modesty and taking selfies. Rather, this post is about crafting your online presence in a way that best represents your personal history, your interests, and your future goals.
Now that we’ve moved past the obligatory disclaimers, I will attempt to distill the social media lessons I’ve learned over the past few years into a few pithy steps.
Step 1: Figure out why you need an online presence
Take some time to think about what you want to do in your life, and what information you need to make prominent online to achieve these big picture goals. I knew relatively early on in graduate school that I wanted my own lab in a university some day, so the largest focus of my online presence is on sharing my research: past/current projects, journal publications, fun videos of robots I made, etc.
Step 2: Choose the right platforms and stay consistent
There is no scarcity of social media platforms out there, and not all of them are suited to your purpose. You can use as many as you like, as long as you understand the scope, audience, and limitations of each. I use my website as an interactive CV, my twitter as a science networking tool, my Instagram to document my morning runs and conference travels, and my Pinterest as a repository of STEM-themed jewelry and Bollywood fashion. Each of them has a specific purpose and audience, and I care enough about them to use them regularly.
Step 3: Remember that you aren’t one-dimensional
I love science. But, because I’m a human being, that’s not all I love. All of my social media platforms link back to the others, because I want anyone who is interested to be able to build a holistic picture of me (also it improves your Google page rank!). I have found research collaborators on Instagram, and that never ceases to amuse and astound me.
Step 4: Toe the line between unnecessary modesty and obnoxious bragging
We live in an increasingly competitive world where everyone needs to learn how to “hustle”. As a first generation immigrant, I’ve had to learn that getting ahead is not just about working harder – sometimes, it involves telling people about all the awards you’ve won. It’s awkward and blush-inducing, but there’s no need to hide your hard work and pretend to be less accomplished than you are. However, it is rather easy to lapse into shameless self promotion. Don’t be afraid to constantly re-assess the image you project, and ask your family and friends for feedback.
Step 5: You change, so your brand should too
I’m getting ready to graduate, and just beginning to think about how to change my online presence to reflect my future status as a post-doctoral researcher and (hopefully one day) a professor. I’m still learning how to do this, but as a general rule-of-thumb, I suggest you regularly evaluate your brand with a critical eye to see if it still reflects your core values and interests.
Social media is a brilliant and versatile tool for STEM, and has given me access to many opportunities for which I am extremely grateful (most recently a live interview on NPR – every graduate student’s dream?!). Crafting my online presence has been engaging, rewarding, and honestly just a lot of fun. I hope this post has encouraged you to share your own personal and professional journey online, because we all need an excuse to waste time on the internet!
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Ritu Raman is a Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate at the University of Illinois, funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (2014-2017) & IGERT Fellowship (2012-2014). She graduated from Cornell University magna cum laude in May 2012 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Biomedical Engineering. She received an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in December 2013. Her research interests are focused on developing and commercializing 3D printing technologies for biological and biomedical applications. Specifically, she is interested in using 3D printing to forward-engineer biological machines and systems (“bio-bots”) that can adapt to their surroundings and address societal problems ranging from medicine to the environment. She is an aspiring writer and entrepreneur, and is passionate about promoting diversity in STEM.