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Design tips for building an academic portfolio: what, why and how?

What is portfolio?

Portfolio refers to a collection of a person’s work, which can be writing, drawing, images, etc. For graduate students and novice researchers, it is particularly important to have a personal portfolio as it helps to visualise your professional work to employers or the public.

Personal portfolio vs. Academic portfolio

Here I would like to share two examples —— one is my job-seeking experience in the field of instructional design in higher education, while another is about my friend Jiayu’s job seeking in the academic field.

To think of what should be shown in the portfolio helps us to plan and manage our studies and make our projects renewable. When I was doing my Master programme at the University of Hong Kong and have realised I would like to be an instructional designer after graduation, I intentionally created a personal portfolio on a free online platform and had tried to sort out and update my projects and design work in a simple but clear format (Screenshot 1) throughout the whole academic year.

Screenshot 1. An example for a personal portfolio, created in July 2020 for job seeking, by Cindy Liang.

In the portfolio, I indicate my preference for a job position by introducing myself, highlighting my educational background, work experience, and professional skillsets, and presenting projects and galleries I created (e.g., course design, photography, and video production). I see it as a good way to provide a ‘shortcut’ for employers to know about me and my professionals. And this did help me to get a ticket for the interview, and luckily, now I work as an instructional designer at HKU.

If you’re trying to step into the academic field, it is also important to organise your research experience and visualise your academic work. Firstly, you need to realise being academic is a time-consuming process. It takes time on lab experiments, designing prototypes and writing papers. The process could be dull and de-motivated. Then, you need to realise that visualising the work and trying your best to motivate yourself are necessary. Therefore, having an academic portfolio helps to archive your projects, conference talks, publications and organise your academic life. As shown below you can see my friend Jiayu’s academic portfolio (Screenshot 2).

Screenshot 2. An example for an academic portfolio, created by Jiayu Sun. https://www.jiayusun.com/

Similarly, a nice welcoming page with self-introduction, then followed by various sections to show his academic life: posts, projects, publications, talks, services, rewards, and contact. If you also have lots of academic experience but haven’t organised your work, it is a good time for you to start creating your academic portfolio from now! However, if you are new to this field, and do not have much experience, it is also the best time for you to design the template from now; in this case, you will realise what you will need to work on in the near future to fill in the portfolio.

Design tips for beginners

  1. Select a free, no-code online platform There are many free, no-code website builders that you can create and customise your portfolio. For example:

2. Start your first design with a template

It is always good to start creating something with a template provided (e.g., as shown in Screenshot 3), and you can add more and try to customise the portfolio when you have more time and ideas afterwards.

Screenshot 3. Website templates provided by Wix.com

3. Style, Format and Contents

Do you plan to use a template or design it on your own? Do you prefer it with a plain design or a colourful one? And next, we need to create different sections of the portfolio. Is the personal portfolio designed for the job-seeking purpose? Or showcasing your academic life? Or just a casual blog sharing knowledge with the public?

Here I would like to share two checklists for your reference:

  1. For job-seeking in the non-academic field,
    1. Homepage (or About Me): to briefly introduce yourself
    2. Resume (or CV): to provide more details in a formal tone
    3. Projects (including graphs, writing, and other multimedia content relevant to your professionals): to showcase your professional work
    4. Contact: Make your portfolio interactive and communicative so that potential employers can approach you!
  2. For academic purposes,
    1. Homepage (or About Me): to briefly introduce yourself
    2. Resume (or CV): to provide more details in a formal tone
    3. Different categories relevant to your academic life:
      1. Academic Events you have attended or presented, like conferences, symposiums, workshops, Seminars, etc.
      2. Academic deliverables like posters, talks, conference papers, publications or research projects (refer to the previous post ‘Use ResearchGate to share research project: https://www.researchic.com/docs/tutorials/use-researchgate-to-share-research-project/)
      3. Rewards, Certifications, Accomplishments, and Achievements
      4. Contact

Extra: Make it more attractive and communicable

Some more tips to help you make the portfolio more attractive, user-friendly and communicable:

  1. https://ipa.typeit.org/ It is an online tool that can help us to ‘pronounce’ words. For example, the pronunciation of names could be so different in different languages. Then we can use this tool to help us to create IPA phonetic symbols, Italian characters, Danish characters, Vietnamese characters, Chinese Pinyin and so on. Feel free to explore more on the website.
  2. https://indify.co/ Indify.co is a useful website that provides many kinds of widgets that can be embedded on the Notion (notion.so) page, which includes weather, image gallery, clock, life progress bar and so on. If you would like to show more of your sense of design and creativity, this tool may help.
  3. https://www.canva.com/ Canva is a graphic design platform that provides many free templates and design tips. If you have many graphs, videos or multimedia content to present, feel free to explore more ideas with Canva.
  4. LinkedIn: https://linkedin.com/ LinkedIn is a social platform primarily used for professional networking. I do recommend you create a LinkedIn account and try to connect with more people to expand your networks. You can link your portfolio to LinkedIn to enable more target audiences to visit your site.
  5. ResearchIC: https://www.researchic.com/ You can also find more connections with other researchers and potential collaborators in ResearchIC. For more information, please visit:

Especially thanks to Jiayu Sun for sharing his own site and ideas on this topic.

You are so welcome to share your experience and ideas with me!

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