Creating effective PhD Careers Service Websites

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Stuart Johnson, Director of the Careers Service at the University of Bristol, recently wrote a piece on the purpose of a CS website. He noted ‘the starting point for a site should never be the organisational structure but rather what the users of the site actually need/want from the service’.

I’ve been editing a Russell Group University’s Careers website for the past five months, and felt this was a point worth expanding on regarding webpages for PhD students. 

Know your audience

PhDs provide complications: ‘What can I do with my degree?’ takes a different tone when you compare an undergraduate in history with a PhD specialising in Healthcare Systems Engineering.

However, don’t assume only PhDs are reading your webpages. There’s also:

  • People considering PhD study – undergraduates, Masters / MPhil students, or professionals coming back to study.
  • Anyone weighing up academic vs non-academic careers
  • PhD supervisors – if a PhD comes to them for career advice, will they be able to answer? Give them simple, clear resources to direct their students to.
  • Other Careers Services measuring their own webpages against yours

The temptation is to try to reach every single person. This is a common ambition of online content, but one which is wholly unrealistic.

Weigh up which questions are consistent, and which are one-offs. If you add content for every possible question, all you do is create hundreds of dead pages no-one visits. The consistent questions need to be answered – using Google Analytics properly is a big help.

Collaborate (in moderation)

Writing for a professional website isn’t easy. Not everyone is suited to it.

Without wishing to denigrate the profession in any way, this is something I call, ‘The Careers Adviser’s Curse’. CAs often try to write something for every conceivable question someone could come to the website with. This is both noble and utterly implausible. It also actually damages your site by creating those dead pages.

Remember: Focus on the questions of the many. Specific questions are answered in one-to-one guidance sessions.

So, do you rule CAs out of writing content altogether? Not at all. A PhD may come to see a CA because they couldn’t find something on your website. Get that feedback, add it in.

I recommend creating a ‘Strike Team’ for your PhD web content. You need:

  • Someone who knows how to write for the web. This took me a year, developing in the years since. It’s not something you can just pick up and do.
  • Someone in charge of all website content – they should be the one defining the overall tone and message of the site, and ensuring it doesn’t get bloated or miss key information.
  • A PhD-specific CA. You want their input and to check over the content for accuracy.
  • PhD students – run a focus group. Can they find what they want? Do this once a year.
  • Employers who recruit PhDs – does your advice match what employers expect from PhD students? Ask for some input into the site. A simple quotation can add weight to your content.
PhD Section

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