Researchers and Academics: Rethink Your Bio

Look around the web at various schools and research organizations and you will see a variety of different ways in which bios are presented. Perhaps you think your bio is stale. Maybe you haven’t updated it in many years. Or alternatively you might be curious to know about other compelling ways that faculty members and researchers write their bio. Here are some tips and ideas from others that you might want to consider.

1. Integrate Your Key Messaging

I begin with the most difficult, yet probably the most important point. What is your unique value proposition? Who are some of the audiences you influence and how does your work help them? Most importantly, how can you summarize what you do in a few brief points? I recommend that professors and researchers define 3-5 key message points. Under each message point are related statistics, stories, data and sound bites that back up the initial claim. It does take some time to craft these messages. Once defined, it is then a matter of cascading these messages on to different assets, including official bios

2. Keep It Simple

In writing this post, I put in a good amount of time to reading several bios from different organizations and schools. Many bios include long and clunky sentences. We live in an online world in which attention spans are limited. You need to get to the point quickly. It is difficult to maintain readers’ attention when your bio has several five-line sentences. Keep jargon out of your bio and try to be as clear and concise as possible.

3. Be Scannable

Blog posts and other forms of online thought leadership content need to be scannable so that busy and easily distracted online audiences can quickly obtain the information they need. This also applies for bios. Take a look at the faculty bios for The Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.  You will notice on Dr. Michal Kosinski’s bio that there are some 15 different bold headings. Under each is a related description displayed on six or so lines. If there is more information than the six lines, you can click on more to see the expanded section, without having to load a new page. Another way to be scannable is by showcasing tabs. Mark Hall, a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law, has six different nicely displayed tabs on his bio (bio, CV, courses, media, course materials and publications). The one drawback is that each tab does require a bit of time to re-load a new page. Still, it is a nice way for users to access the information they need, as opposed to scrolling through a long litany of information that might not all be pertinent to the different audiences.

4. Include Contact Details and Social Media Links

In my opinion, two main goals of a bio are establishing credibility and serving as a means to connect. It is difficult to do the latter if contact information isn’t provided. Therefore, include all your contact details as well as other means to connect on social media.

5. Highlight Your Programs, Courses and Projects

Faculty who teach on programs should highlight the courses or programs that they teach. Not doing so is a wasted opportunity. An example of a professor incorporating links to courses is Karl Moore of McGill University. On the research side, professor Steve Adie from Cornell Engineering includes a link from his official bio that goes to a dedicated site focused on his research of optical imaging methods.

6. Incorporate Downloadable High Resolution Photos

If you want to gain more traction with the media, then include high resolution photos that journalists can easily download from your bio. Faculty at IMD, a business school in Switzerland and my former employer, have links to downloadable images on their bios. Once an editor from the Financial Times asked me for a photo of a faculty member. I sent her the link to the high resolution image available from the bio. She thanked me in her response and noted that she wished all schools made it so easy to download images. You can also think about including other forms of visuals that might be of interest to media, such as videos highlighting your research and graphics. Including this type of information is also useful for conference organizers and groups that might need visuals for programs, brochures and other related materials.

7. Feature Media Visibility

I highly recommend that you highlight media coverage on your bio. It establishes credibility in general, but also signals to journalists that you have experience working with the press. We live in an era of pageview journalism in which journalists are tracking the clicks on their stories. It is therefore beneficial when journalists can work with experts who they know will disseminate their work. As an example, take a look at how the Rand Corporation highlights its researchers’ media presence.

8. Consider a Personal Touch

Every institution is different and there should probably be consistency across experts’ bios. That said, a little personal touch could go a long way. Consider how the design agency IDEO features their experts’ bios by first featuring a first person commentary followed by an official bio written in the more traditional third person. Sara Goldrick Rab of Temple University’s College of Education wrote her bio in the first person and incorporated a call to action. While it is atypical, I personally find this first person account to be more compelling and personable. I would certainly suggest that bios on personal websites and LinkedIn be in the first person and more casual. It is a more personable and engaging way of communicating.

9. Connect to Institutional Marcom Goals

A bio is a good way to connect to institutional marketing communications goals. The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) does this quite well with its faculty bios. For example, if you click on faculty member Phil Willburn’s bio, you will see related products and multimedia in the bottom left hand corner. These are links that support revenue-generating activities for CCL.

10. Don’t Be Afraid to Smile  🙂

I was going through a faculty list for a very prestigious school. As I scrolled down the list, I couldn’t help but notice that for every individual smiling, there were nine other disgruntled faces. A smile can go a long way towards communicating that you are approachable! It won’t take away from the fact that you are serious about your work! On the contrary, it is more likely to signal that you actually enjoy what you do.