Computing Profession

Visibility Matters: Why You Need a Professional Web Page

IBM Almaden Researcher Tessa Lau

I’ve been serving on a lot of selection committees in the past few years. As you get to be more senior in your field, you are tapped to participate in these committees more and more; all this volunteer work is what makes our field of endeavor possible. It’s how conferences are run, papers are accepted or rejected, award winners are chosen, fellows are nominated.

If you want to succeed in this field, you need to be well-known. One concrete step you can take towards becoming more known is to create a web page for yourself. It really works; let me give you some examples.

In 2006 I was the program co-chair for the 2007 IUI conference (International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces). One of the program chairs’ responsibilities was to select a program committee, the group of area experts who technically reviews the submitted papers for quality and help to decide which papers are accepted to the conference. Serving on a program committee, you are helping to determine the direction of a research field.

One of our tasks as program chairs was to ensure broad representation in the committee. We needed people from academia and industry, people from the US and overseas, people with different levels of seniority, people with expertise in all the various subfields of IUI. Searching through my own personal network was not enough; I had to identify a set of experts on topics I knew little to nothing about.

We didn’t have to start from scratch, of course. We had the list of people who had served on the committee in previous years, and authors of accepted papers from past years of the conference. However, names were not enough; we had to select a subset of these to form our program committee. To ensure balance, we needed to consider topic area, country, seniority, institution, and more. To get all this information about these people, I turned to the web. I created a huge spreadsheet with everything I could find out about each of these people, and ran statistics to make sure our program committee was not going to be composed entirely of people doing plan recognition research, or people from Asia, or people less than 10 years post-PhD.

All of this information came from the web. And if I couldn’t find out information about a person, and I didn’t know them personally, they were dropped from my list. There were plenty more names to take their place. Lack of a web presence led to some people missing an opportunity to serve on my program committee.

Of course, it’s not just program committees where this matters. I sit on the board of the CRA-W; this organization runs several programs aimed to help women succeed in research careers. Some CRA-W awards and scholarships have limited eligibility (e.g., only N years post-PhD, or must be close to finishing grad school). Similarly, the Grace Hopper conference has a "New Investigators" track that showcases work done by new investigators to computer science research (students or researchers less than 3 years post-PhD). In all these cases, if it’s not possible to verify your eligibility from your application materials, the selection committee can and does turn to the web to find information about you. If your information can’t be found, you risk not being considered eligible.

Web presence is also important at more senior levels, to select speakers for conferences (think keynote speakers), to chair a banquet, to receive an award. Chances are good you will be selected by a committee who does not know you personally. In that case, you need to have that professional web page that gives you credibility and assures them that you are what they are looking for.

Based on my experience, here are the important details to include on your professional web page:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • High-level description of your research interests (e.g., HCI and AI)
  • Current employer and job title
  • When and where you got your PhD (or when you expect to get it)
  • Past and future conference responsibilities (e.g., organizing committee, program committee)
  • Conferences you have reviewed papers for
  • List of representative publications
  • Gender (a picture should be enough)
  • Awards you have received

Many of should be on your CV already (if that isn’t on the web, it should be).

I hope I’ve convinced you why it’s important to have a web presence. It’s particularly important for students and women in industry research labs to do this (because you tend to be less visible). Now, go update your website!

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