Do you think it’s fun to talk about how great you are in your biography? No? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most academics hate to talk about themselves, brag about their accomplishments or show how good they are. Be that as it may, it’s still important to do sometimes. Let’s find out how you can write a bio that is effective and that you feel comfortable about sharing with the world.
Things to avoid in your bio
- Past tense. You’re not living in the past, you’re living in the present and are writing for the future.
- Passive voice. Keep it active and snappy to keep people reading.
- Starting your bio with “My name is…”. You’re not in kindergarten anymore. Your name will probably be the heading of the biography, so leave this out to look more professional.
- Your age or where you live. It’s not necessary nor relevant.
- A list of facts. It’s boring to read.
An example of a badly written biography (based on a real one):
"My name is Jacob Daniels. I’m 26 years old and I live in Utrecht. I did both the bachelor and the master in Epidemiology at Utrecht university, from which I graduated last July. During my bachelor I did a minor in public health and during my master I followed the specialisation physiology. I did a thesis investigating the differences in plasma metabolome between liver and muscle insulin and I did my internship at the Institute for Public Research where I investigated the effect of liver function on immunotherapy effectiveness. So I’ve experiences in different topics, but I liked the field of epidemiology the most. Currently I’m looking for a job, most preferably in an academic setting. Furthermore, I would like to do a PhD somewhere in the near future in which I would like to dive further into epidemiology."
Write about yourself as if you were a colleague
To get researchers more comfortable with writing a biography, we often do a little experiment. We show them someone else’s bio and ask them if they find it too much. Most of the time, the answer is no. So if you’re afraid to come off as arrogant or bragging, a trick can be to think about yourself in the third person. Imagine you are a colleague. What are they good at, and what do you think the world needs to know about them? Distancing yourself from yourself a little bit helps to write better and be more comfortable.
Don’t write a resume, write about what you’re curious about
Nobody likes to read a chronological resume. A summary of what you have done in the past is not interesting to anyone. So don’t write about what education you have had, which schools you attended, and all the jobs you have done. If people want to see that, they will visit your LinkedIn page.
Instead, write about what you’re curious about. The one thing that makes scientists interesting is their passion about a topic (it’s also why we love working with them). Just write about what you want to discover, what gaps there are in the knowledge, and how you would like to solve this puzzle. If you love what you do, this should be easy to do!
Start with a powerful tagline
A catchphrase or tagline can be very effective, and make it easier for people to remember you. It’s infinitely better than starting a piece of text with “My name is…”. So think about what the essence of your research is. Are you solving a problem? Are you trying to understand a mechanism? Are you doing something that
An example for a PhD student in marine biology: Trying to understand micro-plastics and health
If you are using this for a LinkedIn headline, you can extend it as follows: Trying to understand micro-plastics and health | PhD in Marine Biology | Speaker | Blogger | Researcher & aspiring TV host.
Write your bio for your future you, not your past self
As we’ve mentioned, a biography is not a resume where you tell people every detail about your past career. Think about it, what you have done in the past might not be something you ever want to do again in the future! For example, I’ve done plenty of data analyses in SAS, but do I want to do that in my dream job? Definitely not. So I should probably not tell anyone that I can do this.
A bio is a promotion of the best parts of you, and should reflect what you’re interested in and what you would like to do in the future. Do you want to become an (assistant) professor, speaker, writer or TV host? Just write it down. People love to help others achieve their dreams. So write about what you want to do in the future, or what you have loved doing in the past. And maybe someone will notice.
Writing in first or third person?
Since it’s about you and your passion, we recommend writing your biography in first person. It’s a personal text, so write it as if you’re speaking to someone. Do you think it looks more professional if it’s written in the third person? It might, but the drawback is that it also sounds like you are not approachable, more distant, and more corporate. Unless you want people to think you’re too cool for them, write in first person.
The only exception is when you write the bio for someone else to introduce you with, and they would read your biography out loud. For example on a third party website, folder, brochure or as a speaker introduction. Then it’s be more suitable in the third person.
A biography is only 100-200 words
People don’t like to read, so keep your biography short. A good biography is only a few paragraphs long. If you need more words to talk about everything you want to say, like on LinkedIn, you can add paragraphs about your projects, interests, vision etc. But don’t forget to keep the paragraphs short and add a title, so it’s still readable.
Essential elements of a good biography
You write a biography for someone else, so it’s good to answer the questions that most people want to know. Here are some elements that we think are essential for a well-written biography.
Show your credentials
What makes you a good researcher? Is it the number of publications? Are you great in communicating science? Did you receive any awards or grants? If it feels to much like bragging you can hide your accomplishments inside a sentence.
For example: “I’m an assistant professor at Wageningen University, where I am working on an ERC starting grant to find out how we can prevent diabetes by looking at new incentives.”
What is the ultimate goal of your research?
This is the juicy part of your biography. What do you want to achieve with your work? Which disease are you trying to eradicate? Which fundamental problem are you trying to solve? What impact do you want to have with your work? This is an important bit, because it helps people outside of academia understand why your research is valuable. People might not know any of the names of the molecules or technology you’re working with, but they can definitely understand your work in terms of how it impacts the real world.
My own goal is to make science sexy and help researchers become better science communicators. What is yours?
Bring some personality into your writing
What makes you unique? Adding your personality in the text makes it fun to read. And people love to know how you’re different from other researchers. Are you very outspoken, nuanced, light-hearted, critical, down-to-earth, creative or expressive? Make sure it shines through in your text, so people get a taste of who you are as a person. I’m a very informal and direct person, and it usually reflects in my writing.
See for example the well-written bio of William Harrison that clearly shows his personality.
Connect with your audience
Are you tired of talking about yourself? Then write about the problems of your audience. Are they a potential employer, the general public, or a colleague? Address their problems and frustrations, and show what you can do for them. If you’re happily employed and are not looking for new opportunities, you can tell people what value you will give them when they start following you.
If you’re sharing lot’s of tips about what you’ve learned on the job on LinkedIn, you can talk about how following you might help them with their data analyses, field work or career. And if you want people to get in touch with you, you can include your phone, e-mail, social media accounts.
Some examples for social media:
- Follow me to learn more about marine biology, and how microplastics impact ocean life.
- Connect with me to regularly get tips for scientist to create more impact.
An example of a great biography that shows personality and passion about their work:
"I want to find out what the effects of puberty on brain development are. Because if we can figure out what this sensitive period means for brain development, we can help young people cope better. My research helps to figure out ways to prevent brain damage. Previously, I’ve done research into brain imaging at Southern University, where I received two poster presentation awards. Besides feeling the rush of science and trying to get the answers to these problems, I get my adrenaline from playing baseball and soccer. And I love to have nerdy chats with my colleagues about methodology and science communication."
Don’t forget to include a good profile picture
Appearance is everything. So if your biography is presented with a photograph of yourself, make sure it looks professional. So no holiday pictures from ten years ago please. You might not be very comfortable in the spotlight, but nobody wants to have a bad picture floating around on the internet. Read our blog about how to create a good profile picture to get all the tips.
Happy with your bio? Use it on multiple platforms!
- Your LinkedIn profile
- A profile page on the website of your university
- A profile page on the website of your research group or consortium
- As an introduction for a (poster) presentation at a conference
- For other speaking engagements
- In the author acknowledgements underneath a blog you wrote
- As an introduction to your resume