Revamping the group website

One of the admin tasks I volunteered for soon after joining Kent was to do some work on the Applied Optics Group website. While the traditional routes of dissemination – journal papers and conferences – are still by far the most important ways we communicate our work, having an attractive, user-friendly website and social media presence to communicate with potential collaborators, postgraduate students and the general public is increasingly expected, and we felt that we were falling a little behind the curve.

I had worked on the old group website back during my PhD, and it had continued to build up huge amounts of valuable information over the years, but it wasn’t particularly easy to navigate and some of it was out-of-date. As we couldn’t edit the site ourselves, sorting it all out would have meant taking up large amounts of the School of Physical Sciences technical services team time, which we didn’t want to do when they have lots of other responsibilities. We also had an external domain ( which was being used to host some information (including details of the 2nd Canterbury Conference on OCT, which needed to be updated regularly), but we wanted to have the main website on a domain.

Luckily, thanks to a tip-off from one of my new colleagues, I discovered that the central web team, who are currently working on an entirely new website for the University (see their blog for lots of details if you find these things interesting), had the idea of creating WordPress installations in the subdomain. Any group or research project team can have one set up, and edit their own set of pages using a fairly simple interface. The WordPress theme they provided has the same visual appearance as the new University website, so once this rolls out to individual schools, the research mini-sites will blend in with the rest of the Physical Sciences site quite nicely.

We were one of the first sites to be set up, so there were a few bugs to be ironed out, but being used to WordPress we were able to get things going quickly. Transferring and organising content form the old site took a couple of weekend’s worth of work, but I had lots of help from colleagues, particularly Manuel Marques and everyone who  contributed by providing details on themselves and their projects, and once done we instantly had a pretty comprehensive website.

We’ve also set up a twitter account @AOGKent, which you should follow if you’re interested in following what we get up to.  The website and social media will continue to improve and evolve, we’d welcome any feedback, particularly from members of the public or undergraduates. Does our work interest you? How can we explain and communicate it better?