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LinkedIn for graduate students: how to market yourself on the net


You might be a first year graduate student or a post-doc looking for its next challenge in the academy or in the industry. Whatever goals you have, your career path will rely heavily on your qualifications and experience but not just that; smart marketing/self branding can get you farther than your dry qualification can. Of course, if you have spent enough time in the scientific niche you already know what makes a successful scientist: observations skills, innovative mind, a bit of luck and… healthy marketing capabilities. Scientists sell their ideas every day, whether over a podium or through the flickering computer screens so they might as well harness these capabilities to sell themselves as a brand. I suggest that whether you’ve just started your graduate school or on the last sentence of your dissertation, do yourself a BIG favor, and build your marketing strategy.

Building a marketing strategy

Where to start? And why do you need a marketing plan/strategy anyways? Well, you’d be surprised how a well prepared strategy with aims, steps and contingency plans can be good to your success in marketing yourself. When you commit yourself to something in writing and deadlines you will find yourself making it happen more than pushing it aside.

The first thing you need to do is to write your career objective(s). What do you plan to do after completing your studies? Pursue a tenure track? Work in the biotech industry? It might sound irrelevant to some of you to think about a career path right now, yet those that have a clear vision of their objectives can be much more focused on their goals, navigate their studies accordingly and have more chances of achieving their goals.

Now that you have a certain objective (which you can adapt as you progress), its time to lay out the steps that are required for achieving your goals. Let’s say you plan to get a tenure track (TT). Awesome! So, you’d probably need to achieve the following aims (simplified):

  • Write several papers (or one Nature/Cell/Science not necessarily in this order)
  • Collaborate with external labs, if possible.
  • Be in good terms with your PI (always a smart move!)
  • Talk and meet with profs in your department, especially if you plan on coming back for a TT.
  • Participate in at least one conference/yr and make the effort to get an oral presentation slot.
  • Be active in your department as much as possible and give help whenever it is possible.

And the list goes on…this is of course a suggestion which can and should be further elaborated and detailed (for example, which figures you’d need for your planned paper). You’d find Labguru a great companion for doing just that and achieve your goals.

Using LinkedIn for self marketing

One aspect of the marketing step which can aid you in establishing yourself as a professional in your field is a LinkedIn profile. At over 200M users worldwide, LinkedIn is the biggest social network focused on promoting professional connections. That’s already one good reason to setup an account and join the vast professionals that connect and share insights, thoughts and tips. Additional reason includes the ability to have an upgraded version of your CV online and available for Human Resource (HR) and recruiters to search and find you. However, appearing on Google searches your LinkedIn profile should be flawless written and used to the best practice so it would not “back-fire” on you. One point to remember is that LinkedIn should be joined as soon as you can and updated regularly, especially when you approach the time of job seeking.

 The basics of a LinkedIn profile

The LinkedIn profile has gone through some cosmetic and modular changers since it has been online and today it is composed of several major sections:

  • Activity – this section is the update/status section much like Facebook and Twitter. Every connection, post or comment will appear here.
  • Background – this is the heart of a LinkedIn profile, containing your education, experience, publications, patents and much more.
  • Connections – The number of people you know from first degree.  The more, the better coverage you have of your professional connection. Remember, connections can be easily picked from your email lists, yet connections with strong emphasis in your field can help you build a solid brand.
  • Recommendations – a great way to recommend a fellow or get recommendations.
  • Professional groups – it is wise to follow several groups in your field, not just for job opportunities but also for knowledge sharing and know-how tips.

While recruiters and HR personnel have different opinions about what optimally should be written in each section, one thing unites all of them – be honest. Don’t write expertise/knowledge that you wish you had or plan to have (but not yet achieved!).

Background section

Before elaborating on each section, you should note that you can change the order of these sections such that you can put more emphasis on a certain section in comparison to another. Below is the section listing according to my LinkedIn profile.

  • Photo – although not as important as the headline, this is the first thing visitors will see and can have a major influence over their first impressions. If you can, put a professional headshot photo of yourself. A professional photographer will make sure a) you have the right facial expression and b) that the photo’s settings are optimal (lighting, background, clothing etc.). If you can’t afford it, dress and prepare yourself for a potential interview and ask someone to take a headshot photo of you.
  • Headline/title – this is the first thing that appears on Google searches after your name, is the place to start your branding. Here you should state your profession and your current affiliation. Since most of the readers are grad students (or yet to be fully employed), you should add “PhD student” before your professional title so HR personnel will know you’re not yet available for recruitment. You can, however, drop that section from your headline once you start looking for a job.
  • Education – here list all your academic titles while elaborating in each section what was on your project’s title & description and any academic achievement (not just published papers).
  • Experience – this is a tricky bit and depends on your career choice. If you’re a grad student aiming at TT then put all your studies experience, teaching experience, organizational activities and so forth. If you are aiming at a biotech position, then you should put any past biotech experience you have (even if it was short!). Those without any prior biotech experience should put their current studies with a strong emphasis of how your transferable skills such as mentoring undergrad, leading an independent research project, working as part of a multinational team, writing reports etc.
  • Honors & awards – list every academic competitive achievement, whether it is best poster award or the Dean’s prize. The more the better.
  • Publications & patents– this is a proof of your academic achievements and should be listed toward the first sections if you are planning on pursing a TT. In the industry, however, publications are signs of accomplishments yet past experience in the biotech is far more sought for. One additional point – currently, the system doesn’t allow for rearrangement of author listing, meaning that each paper you add to the listing will show you as first author. To resolve this citing issue, it is adviseable to add the following sentence at the beginning of the article’s “description”: “[correct author order listing]:” and then list the correct order as it appears in the article.
  • Courses – this is not as obligatory as the previous sections. But, if the courses you took have a direct connection with your profession, then you might want to demonstrate you have been qualified academically. Furthermore, the title of the course might improve Search engine optimization and will put your profile first when someone searchers for a certain expertise.
  • Skills & expertise – Here list only those skills and expertise that you are not just familiar with but have also experience with. Your contact might endorse some of them as an apparent proof of your proficiency. This is simply because people can endorse you even if they have less knowledge of your exact expertise.
  • Languages – here the more the better, especially if you have native/bilingual proficiency.
  • Additional info – another place to add keywords related to your profession as well as a place to put links to your personal website or any other project you have been involved with.

Beyond the “Background” section you can add additional modules such as patents, Volunteer Experience & Causes, Organizations you’ve worked for and special project which you are proud of AND can demonstrate your skills and capabilities.

Want to pump up your profile with icons? well, LinkedIn doesnt support rich text layout for the time being. However, you can add symbols! Go ahead and visit this webpage of Unicode characters. I would use these cautiously, as this is still a professional profile and not a circus!

Today you can also add live links to youtube, articles on the web or images which can describe your thesis, projects and academic achievements. All of these will help you build a strong brand of yourself.

Do you have any LinkedIn advice? Have you been contacted or recruited via linkedin? Please comment and share!

One comment on “LinkedIn for graduate students: how to market yourself on the net

  1. This is something I have been thinking of doing for a while. I setup a LinkedIn account beforeI started my PhD but didn’t really use it much but will deffo give it another try

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