Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Setting up your lab website

Your website is your labs' ambassador to the outside world. Prospective students and job applicants will check it out before applying, so will collaborators or potential donors. I have been talking to a lot of other new PIs discussing website options and set up my site right when I opened the lab. In our hyper-connected world not having a website is almost like being invisible.

I made some choices, which may not necessarily be the best ones, but I thought I'd share the process.

Independent vs. institutional. In some cases this may not be a choice at all. Some school will be very protective of their brand and will not allow their logo to be used in your personal lab website. In this situation, they may offer to host your site, but you will have very limited personalization options and will end up with a site which will look like your institution's site. As scientists we tend to want to express our individuality and to attract the best applicants, we also want to project the lab personality on the site. Is your brand distinct from the one of your institution? How much are you willing to pay for your brand?

Homemade vs. pre-made vs. custom designed. The choice on the design of your independent site will come down to 1) how good you are with HTML and 2) how much you care or want to spend. If you or a student of yours are good a web design, you can make your site whatever you want, but have to take the time to generate the look. If you are willing to spend some money to use a hosting service with pre-designed templates, you can pick something you like and populate the template much faster. Then, there is always the option of having a professional get a personalized template ready for you to populate.

Fancy vs. simple. The choice of which design to use is not an easy one. In general my feeling is that lab websites have to be relatively simple without crazy graphics and busy columns, but a site with more bells and whistles may be more attractive to a younger audience. At the end your site must reflect the image of the lab.

A word about hosting. There are many different hosting options that could be available to you. If your university does not care about branding, they may be willing to host your personal lab site for you with your design. If you want to have an outside provider and what to have a pre-designed site there are multiple hosting sites ranging from $0.50 to $5 a month for basic service. It's not easy to determine which hosting service would work best and at the end it may just come down to cost, template availability and ease of update. Some comparisons can be found here and here. I am using iPage, which as far as I can tell has been very good, templates are good looking and customizable and updates are very easy. The structure of the pages could probably be more flexible, but it works well for a basic lab website.

3 comments:

  1. Dr. Noncoding ArenayMay 7, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    I think a website is one of the most important aspects of a lab's public image. I have seen bad websites and great websites and I am always impressed by the latter that have a clean interface and just enough information that the visitor is looking for (research interests, publications, people and useful links/lab news). I also like labs that list resources so that it can help with collaboration or planning one's own methodologies.

    I have seen people recommend new PIs to hold off on launching their lab's website and focus on other aspects. I think that's bad advice - a new PI must have a superb website to attract good grad students and postdocs that will kickstart hius/her projects.

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  2. I had a similar problem not a long while ago :D. I have used google sites and purchased a domain name for my self (costs like $1/month) and can forward my google-sites to that domain. Had fun making all the cool stuff that my new lab does :D

    good luck and nice to find a new PI who is in the same boat as me

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