A common question I often get from mid-career researchers wanting to start communicating their work is, ‘Should I build a website within my university’s branding and IT space, or go outside the system?’.
At Tenure Chasers we typically build new, independent websites for our clients. We feel that their research is independent: why shouldn’t their communication be too?
In these cases, we deliberately avoid using university branding, instead saying that ‘X lab is based at Y university’. The key advantages of this approach are that we can deliver websites quickly (within as little as 2 weeks) and the clients escape many of the barriers that prevented them from communicating effectively in the first place: namely, IT gatekeepers and overzealous corporate comms teams that want to control their message.
However, we aren’t naive. We understand that many universities are investing substantially in their corporate branding and our clients, and that they justifiably want to protect those investments. For our clients, though, this can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Working with corporate IT & comms teams usually adds about 3 months to their website launch date, but there can be longer-term benefits, such as leveraging the marketing and brand identity of their host institution, and accessing local support for hosting, design, photography and development.
Sometimes, universities really are keen to genuinely engage with staff and allocate resources towards their shared cause of raising the researcher’s (and therefore the university’s) profile. This is refreshing, given the on-costs charged by universities to competitive research funding awards. However, the communication staff are usually in different departments and sit in different physical locations to the researchers. They’re often waiting for staff to contact them, rather than reaching out (which I find strange).
To illustrate using our own portfolio, here’s an example of a site that we built outside the host university’s IT system: https://thehulab.com/
And, here’s one we built within, using an external domain that directs to an internally hosted site: https://theriotlab.org/
Both work well for each of the clients and they each seem satisfied with their websites. They have also been inspired to start using them as a platform for broader communication activities. For example, Jia Hu has been interviewed on Rock Your Research about her work, while Casey Theriot has become more active on Twitter @theriotmicrobe.
To conclude, my advice is that for 90% of mid-career researchers having your own, independent space is preferable, because you retain control and can take it with you if you move to another university. The other 10% would be based at well-known universities that can drive traffic to their new webpages and proactively engage and support their communication activities in the longer term.
A word of warning: once you ask IT if you should have an internally-hosted website, there’s often no going back.