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Who are you? – Some tips on Personal Branding in Academia (3)

Part 3: Your Personal Top 5 Branding Must Haves.

In this third and final part of my short blog series on Personal Branding in Academia, I will share with you the 5 must-have pieces of content material to promote your work (and yourself). If you have missed the previous two instalments of the series, you can find part 1 on The One-Liner here and part 2 on Publicity – How to let people know about you here. All three blogs together form a summary of the workshop on personal branding in academia that I gave at one of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Education and Learning PhD networks meetings in June 2022.

CVs with photos and text
Your personal top 5 branding must-haves [Picture: CC0 Shari Jo from Pixabay ]

Your Personal Top 5 Branding Must-haves

Whatever you do when promoting your work, be it creating a social media account, a profile on Research Gate or preparing a paper for a conference, chances are that somewhere along the line you may be asked for one or more of the following and always on short notice.

  1. Professional Headshot

  2. One-Liner on your Research

  3. 5-10 line Biography

  4. Professional Curriculum Vitae (max. 2 pages)

  5. Academic Curriculum Vitae (unlimited length)

Sod’s law says that these requests always come at a time when you are either in a hurry or extremely busy, so trust me when I tell you that you want to have these up to date (Check at least once a year if updates are needed) to hand in an easily accessible cloud folder so you can access them on any device. I will discuss each in a bit more detail in the rest of this blog.


1. Professional Headshot

Photo of a colleague in front of a banner with his photo on.
You never know what the picture is for! Photo: CC-BY Willem van Valkenburg

If you are thinking here, oh she means a photo, then you are right, but it is not just any photo. This is a portrait photo of your face from your shoulders up, well-lit with you and not the background in focus. This is how the wider audience will get to know you, so I hope I do not have to explain that Selfies, Photo booth Pics, Beach photos, Family snaps (incl. pets), as well as caricatures etc. are all out! You never know what the organization will use the picture for, as one of my colleagues found out.

Often institutions arrange to have these made every so often, but if you have just missed the photographer, see if you know a good photographer in your own network, or contact a professional photographer. A good photo is well worth the investment and most photography shops that do passport photos will also happily make a professional headshot and even photoshop that pimple that just popped up and email you the digital photo for a small fee. Oh, and as an added bonus: partners, parents and grandparents tend to also really appreciate such a photo, so print some copies and put them in a nice frame and that is at least part of the Birthday/Valentine/Mother’s day/Father’s day/Christmas presents sorted.

For those of you stressing about what to wear: Wear something professional that you feel you look good in, that does not look sloppy or too busy and is the common standard within your field. In academia, you can rarely go wrong with professional business clothing and colours like navy, blue and dark grey will look good on almost everyone. Be careful with pure black, pure white and skin colours as they may affect the way your face contrasts with your clothes. If unsure: Google it and read through the many websites dishing out more advice.


2. A One-Liner on Your Research

As discussed in the first instalment of this blog series, a one-liner is an essential opening piece for any scientific conversation. In one sentence explain the who, what, where, when, how, and why of your research, using terms that are specific enough for your field, yet short enough to not lose the attention of the person you are talking to. This one-liner also comes in handy as a building block when writing grant application letters or the letter to the editor accompanying your journal article submission and your short biography, which I will discuss next.


3. A 5 to 10-line Biography

This 5 to 10-line biography explains who you are, what degrees you hold, where you work, what you do now and what you have done in the past and/or your main achievements. The more experienced you become the harder it gets to keep this biography short. The text about you is usually formulated in the third person. You will be asked very often for this bio, be it for the short bio that accompanies your conference or journal paper, for the session chair to announce you as the next speaker or as input for a project proposal or on the project’s website. So, make sure you have an up-to-date version ready to just cut-copy-paste it across.

As a template, for you to generate your own 5 to 10-line bio:


[Name] is a PhD student at the [Institute department you work at] at the [University you work at]. [She/He/They] hold[s] a [BSc/BA/BEng/..] in [degree subject] from [University you obtained degree from] ([Graduation year]) and a Master’s in [degree subject] from [University] ([Graduation year]). [She/He/They] [are/is] currently working on: [Insert oneliner] (or if you want to keep it more generic:) [Her/His/Their] main research interests are: [topic X, Y, and Z]. (Optional if applicable:) In the past [she/he/they] have [list relevant previous work, achievements or positions] and to date [has/have] published [X] conference and journal publications.”


As this may seem a bit chaotic, as an example, this is my current (August 2022) biography:

Gillian Saunders-Smits is an Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft where she also obtained her MSc (1998) and her PhD (2008). She is currently attached to the LDE Centre for Education and Learning working on the Erasmus+ RAPIDE project and an Open textbook on Multidisciplinary Research Methodologies for Engineers to accompany the MOOC of the same name. She is a passionate lecturer and researcher with 20+ years of experience in engineering education, teaching a variety of engineering courses using a plethora of methods. She has built a reputation in managing and organizing education and is a keen engineering education researcher with an extensive international network and an often-invited speaker with over 60 publications to her name. In 2021, she was one of the finalists for the edX prize and in 2022, she was awarded the Open Education Ambassador Award at TU Delft.”

Just to show you how these bios evolve: the bio below was my bio for one of my first conference papers back in 2005 when I was working on my PhD which does not even contain a one-liner (missed opportunity from my side at the time):

“Gillian N. Saunders-Smits obtained an MSc. in Aerospace Structures and Computational Mechanics from the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology in 1998. After a short period in industry, she returned to the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering in 1999 as an assistant professor. Since 2000 she is the faculty’s project education coordinator. She also teaches Mechanics and is currently doing a PhD in engineering education.”

It is well worth spending some time to create your own small biography and control the narrative.


4. A Professional Curriculum Vitae (max. 2 pages)

This you will most likely already have, as it is likely how you obtained your current position. This is a basic Curriculum Vitae, typically structured in these sections:

  • Contact information - No need for full address, but do also link to any professional profiles such as LinkedIn or Research Gate. Also, add your photo.

  • Research interests - One-liner again.

  • Education - Degrees obtained, when and where.

  • Research, Work, and Teaching Experience - List relevant experiences only.

  • Relevant Skills and Experiences - Including relevant volunteering experience, additional computer skills, languages spoken

  • Achievements/Awards, and most Relevant Publications - max. 5 publications, and do not worry if you don't get to 5 yet.

  • Professional Memberships - Such as KIvI, IEEE, etc.

This basic CV can be asked for when applying for (limited) positions on courses, participation in research projects, etc. No need to put references on here, but when applying for jobs you may need to add those. Try and keep your CV to a maximum of 2 pages and ideally less. There is a plethora of websites on how to write a professional CV so I will not venture into more detail here.


5. An Academic Curriculum Vitae (unlimited length)

Now the first time I was asked to make this by my then supervisor, I honestly thought he had lost his mind. But in all honesty, it is the most useful document I have created as I use it as a basis for almost anything, from (grant) applications to writing my annual review report. It also allows me to tailor my 2-page CV if needed by copying relevant sections across. This document basically entails everything of meaning you have ever done in your (academic) career and is only of use within academia and for you personally as a sort of portfolio of your professional life. Any industry recruiter will probably immediately reject you if you submit this CV. Yet for any academic job applications, especially in North America, these CVs are the norm. They are built up using the following components

  • Contact information - No need for full address but do also link to any professional profiles such as LinkedIn or Research Gate. Also, add your photo here.

  • Current Position - Where do you work now and what academic position do you hold?

  • Key Competences & Research Interests - What keywords describe you the best? You can also add your one-liner to summarize your research interest.

  • Education - List your degrees, dates obtained, supervisor, university, and title of dissertation as well as any other official post-graduate qualifications.

  • Academic Employment - All academic positions you have held to date, and where.

  • Industry Employment - Any industry positions you have held to date and what you were responsible for.

  • Research & Publications - All your publications, usually organized per Publication type and within that per year: Books, Journal Articles, Book Chapters, Key Notes, Invited Speeches, and Conference papers. The longer you are active in your field, the longer the list will become.

  • Leadership Activities - All coordinating roles you had within the university or your department: e.g., Project Education Coordinator, MSc Track Coordinator.

  • Teaching Activities - All the courses you have taught or are teaching. Subdivide them into Bachelor's, Master’s, Post-graduate, and online courses and list any workshops you taught. Also add all your PhD, MSc, and BSc students you supervised/are supervising here with thesis title and graduation date.

  • Achievements – All Grants including grant issuer and amount, Any awards you were given etc.

  • Service – Here you list all your academic committee work past and present within the university as well as any external service such as reviewer for journals, mentoring positions or external examiner positions.

  • Other Qualifications – Other qualifications you may have gained and courses you may have taken such as teaching courses or online courses.

  • Professional Membership & Networks – All professional bodies and networks you are affiliated with such as KIvI, SEFI or IEEE.

  • Skills - Skills such as foreign languages spoken, computer skills (other than basic word processing), editing/video skills, etc., and if you feel it is relevant also add your interests outside of work.

  • Voluntary Work & Outreach – Relevant volunteer work as well as outreach work.

As you may guess this will result in quite a few pages and you must get into the habit of constantly updating this CV to keep it current. You can find many examples online. This is where you can find mine if you want to get an idea of what it could look like but do create your own in a style that works for you!


This completes this blog series on Personal Branding as discussed at the LDE-CEL PhD network meeting. Hopefully, it will be of use! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, do drop me a line using the comment box or contact me using the contact me tab.

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