Writing the (dreaded) academic bio

Every time I need to write a bio for a conference or a paper, I rush it and I’m never happy.

A bit of quick googling revealed this great post at GradHacker from about two years ago. Unfortunately (for me), the GradHacker post is directed at, obviously, PhD students and very recent graduates so is fairly focussed on “how to present your brief academic career in the best light”. Presenting a slightly longer academic career in 100-200 words (or as little as 50, sometimes!) is its own problem.

GradHacker’s advice is good, though:

First, three big picture things to keep in mind that will pretty much always outweigh any smaller, more specific tips: context, audience, and purpose.

And these matter, because:

Context, audience, and purpose matter because they should help you decide what information about yourself you’ll want to emphasize. With these three points in mind, you’ll want to think about things like: What kinds of information will my audience be looking for in this particular context? What kinds of information will my audience be interested in for this particular context? Is my tone/style appropriate for this context/audience/purpose?

I’ve been thinking about academic bios because tomorrow, my college Lindy Osborne and I are presenting at QUT’s Higher Education Research Network Symposium and I had to write a bio for that. We’re giving a workshop on Shut Up and Write, so I tailored my bio in that direction. Here it is:

Dr Ben Kraal is a research fellow with the People and Systems Lab in the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT. His research interest is ethnomethodology of systems and services, particularly in healthcare, though his recent focus has been airports. He is an enthusiastic writer, until the time comes to commit pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, when he needs all the help he can get, often in the form of a tomato.

I think I’ve managed to get the context, audience and purpose fairly right. It’s a bit glib, I guess, but the conference organizer liked it.

What do you think makes a good academic bio?

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One thought on “Writing the (dreaded) academic bio

  1. I think that most academic bios are boring. To provide a bit of variety, I usually use the text from my LinkedIn page:

    When I began work at RMIT, my boss pointed to a black cable disappearing into the wall. “That’s the Internet,” she said. “You’re the youngest. You like computers. Learn all about it, and tell us what it can do.”

    That was in 1990, just before the Web was invented. For me, exploring the Internet was like living in the science fiction books that I had loved as a kid.

    So I’ve been learning about it ever since and helping people to work out what it can do.

    This works great for the text in the conference program, but is not so good if the program chair is reading it out before you present.

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