Are you an academic hermit?

Here’s how to easily change, if you want to


In a recent study of The Impact of the Social Sciences a team of researchers that I lead tried to establish what made some academics well cited and well-regarded academically, and what also made them influential in spheres of life outside academia. To do this we created a stratified random sample of just under 380 researchers at UK universities, assembled everything we could find on their citations and other influence indicators, and searched comprehensively on Google and press databases for mentions by external bodies, surfaced any funding links and looked for wider indications of external recognition on their department or center websites. We then undertook a regression analysis, trying to include variables like how old people were, what their highest qualification was, where they got their PhD, and so on.

Our biggest single problem in doing all this was that a high proportion of our sample were clearly academic hermits, sitting alone on top of a pillar somewhere in academia and doing their level best to not communicate in any way with the outside world, or let any information about their work leak out. Try as we might, we could not assemble even the most basic demographic information on fully 35 per cent of our target British academics. Their university or department websites contained no details of their PhD or career track, nor did even Library of Congress data for their books or any other clue that we could devise tell us their birth year. And these researchers had no personal website, no online CV, and were absent from every known digital listing of scholarly activity — such as the five key systems that I review below.

I hope that this is evidence enough that a significant fraction of academics and researchers still need to reassess their stance and to try systematically to reverse years of quiet solitude by going out into the digital world and making their name and works as well known as they can possibly be. There is no point at all in undertaking research, and authoring papers and books about it at great pains and over many months or years, but then not doing your level best to communicate your corpus of work to professional and wider audiences.

Yet if you are not online in the kind of places I review below, then you are for all intents and purposes in the modern, digital world not an active academic. In my view it is not just advisable to do this kind of thing, it should effectively be mandatory, part and parcel of the obligations that go with holding any academic or research job. Scholarship and science must be public, and researchers need to seek to maximize the reach and accessibility of their work to relevant audiences in any way they can.

Five essential digital locales

In the digital world there are some key locations where everyone in academic or working in research outside academia should be listing their work (and making it as available as it possibly can be, although that is a subject for another post). That means, making details of all your work available, in a comprehensive and permanently up-to-date online way, so that it can be quickly accessed by anyone from a PC, tablet or mobile phone in the world. Your target audiences should include students, potential students, colleagues in your university or academic profession, people who are going to a meeting with you, people thinking of contacting you about your expertise, journalists and science journalists, or just readers who have encountered one piece of your work and are curious what else have you done. If you do this in the right way, using the five essential systems listed below then this is not a lot of work. In particular, you don’t have to constantly keep checking in to things always up to date yourself — the wonders of modern digital systems below will do (almost all) the work for you.

Google Scholar Citations

is the number one place where you must be seen. Of course, everyone in academia knows and uses Google Scholar, but the Citations part adds a huge amount of extra functionality at minimal cost in time. Yet it has so far been taken up by only a large fraction of academics. If you follow the link above and log in to Google (for which you need to choose a user name and password), then you simple give Google Scholar your standard author name [You’ve only got one name haven’t you, that you always keep the same across all your publications? And do you also have a unique researcher ID number via the ORCID scheme?]. Scholar’s database then goes away and instantly hunts down all the groups of publications that could be you. Their suggestions are usually right on the button, and once you’ve said which author groups are you, and which are not, it will create a display for you that shows all the books, journal articles, chapters, working papers and all other stuff that you’ve ever published and Google has found. All this takes you just 5-10 minutes to do. And once it is done you never really need to do anything more — Google Scholar will update your publications every time it registers a new one for you, and send you twice-weekly updates of who’s cited you.

The main display in Google Scholar Citations (from now on, GSC) shows the title of each of your works and basic publication details and if you click that item it show you far more). It shows date of publication and most useful of all how many people have cited that book or paper. You can rearrange the list in terms of reverse date order (so you can see how cites are going for your newest work), in terms of number of cites (so you can see what is popular and what not), and alphabetically (useful in merging any duplicate entries together). If you click on the cites number it will show details of all those citing you.

Yet there is far more to Google Scholar Citations than just this. The system will also:

  • Let you list and link to all your co-authors who are also on GSC. This is great for academic networking and for people who don’t know you to understand your various interests and academic affiliations.
  • GSC Updates analyses your publications and who cites you and then provides weekly notifications to you of other work similar to your own and in the same area (including other work that cites your research). The strike rate here is very good if you have already published a lot of stuff that’s well cited, because GSC’s auto-algorithm has more data to work from. I would not now be without the Update facility — GSC scans a far wider range of literature and finds items that I never could, and then pushes a great list to my email that’s very quick and easy to review. However, I’m not sure how it works when you have just a few publications and few cites — it may not be as worthwhile then.
  • The GSC ‘My Library’ facility archives all the citations and references that you have included in any of your previous publishing work, doing the job that you always meant to do with a dedicated referencing system like Endnote or Mendeley. You can’t control the format that you get references in, but this is a fabulous aide memoire as your publications grow. I can now find in seconds things I referenced years ago, things that previously would take me hours or days to re-find by looking unavailingly in the cites lits of one poorly remembered paper after paper.
  • You can also of course use GSC to search for all the other (non-hermit) scholars that you need to find out about. Once you find people relevant to you (friends, rivals and academic opponents) in one keystroke you can define an Alert to follow all their new publications, or even who else is citing them if you wish. GSC again alerts you automatically, and if you get tired of someone or feel swamped by the volume of information you’re getting it is very simple to edit your Alerts down.
  • You can easily save and export the complete GSC listing of your works as a BibTeX file, which is just a great format for importing into the other tracking systems that I describe next. Hence it is a good idea to put your Google Scholar Citations account into good shape first before logging onto these other systems.

Research Gate

is the second key locale, but one that is much less well known outside Europe. The company is a fast-growing start-up based in Berlin. You need to log on and register user name, password and email, and then you can easily upload details of all your publications in one operation from the BibTeX file you exported from Google Scholar Citations. In a couple of minutes Research Gate (hereafter RG) will define separate items for each of your works and list them in an accessible looking format. Next the system will look around a large range of databases for open access or ‘open Web’ versions of each piece. If it finds such versions it will alert you and ask you to confirm that they are indeed your article or working paper, and that you are content to have them uploaded as free full text versions. If you have new material that is embargoed by the the publisher from being free (including books) you need to be a bit careful here, because RG will also find bootleg versions of your work on the Web that you won’t want uploaded. If material is embargoed RG will auto remind you when they think the embargo period is up and they believe you are eligible to upload a free version.

Research Gate also computes various scores for your publications and has a wide range of other features. The most useful for me is that people can request copies of your work or suggest that you upload a free version. RG also records who has viewed your work and who has downloaded copies of papers. And it provides really useful updates weekly (if you have lots of publications and downloads) that tell you which of your works are being used. The RG format also allows you to upload datasets and other supplementary materials (such as extra evidence or working papers) to accompany each main publication. This is a really neat facility and it’s excellent for getting the full story of your work out to the people who are really interested in it.

RSG lets you follow other researchers, getting updates about their work, and it will identify other people who are citing you and other people in your own department, faculty and university who are on the network. It also allows academics and researchers to recommend other authors for specific skills, competences and areas of expertise. This is a very helpful way of finding about and assessing the status of other scholars; it looks and works a bit like the same capabilities on Linked-In (see below).

There are additional interactivity features on RG that you may wish to explore — but where I remain a bit un-sighted. People can pose research questions and seek answers from other researchers in the network. This may work well in specialized science areas, but in my field (political science) the questions that I’ve seen so far were generally too low level to be useful, or to be worth answering. RG gives you points for asking and answering questions though, so I’m afraid that I have a nice low interactivity score so far.

Academia.edu

is an older listing system that is well used in the USA, and also seems to be used by researchers in Asia a lot. Academia (henceforth AE) will search the open web for versions of your publications and will upload all those titles that have kosher open access versions. They will also find bootleg versions of embargoed papers or books though, so you need to check what they have got and remove things that should not be there

AE is not automated like Google Scholar Citations and it will not update automatically. So it is a lot more work to keep it up to date — you probably need to revisit your page every six months or so and manually input new items. AE works best if your university has a good electronic repository, especially one that regularly puts up the full versions of your publications when they go out of publishers’ embargo periods. When they notify you that full text is viable for them you can upload the same full text version to AE. If you have things like books that maybe cannot be open access, you can still provide a link to the publisher’s URL.

However, a nice feature of AE is that you can easily put up social network links to your Twitter, Facebook, Google Scholar Citations, and Linked In URLs, and to your university or personal web page, or your page in your university’s electronic repository. This is a sharing capability that other systems don’t offer. You can also upload a CV if you wish.

There are two or three smallish problems with AE. It is a bit clunky to use if you have lots of publications to add. So it’s more maybe more suitable for younger folk with fewer and newer publications — it will not take an early career researcher so long to create and upkeep a decent Academia entry, and you can also reorder entries to put your most popular stuff first. But if you have dozens of publications the AE ordering system is clunky and takes ages to use. AE also sends update emails when people download your works, but they seem to be few and far between and you have to click through from your email to access them, so I almost never bother (whereas Google Scholar and Research Gate both display in the email itself). Finally AE seems to be almost not used in Europe or the UK.

Mendeley

is a free referencing system and PDF organizer and it again requires registration to use. The system is much easier to upload a whole set of papers from your files into Mendeley — just highlight a whole set of papers in your PDF archive and move the cursor into the middle of your main Mendeley screen to upload all the PDFs to its servers. The system then auto-extracts the publication details from all the files you have uploaded and creates entries for each that sit alongside the full text copy — although you may need to edit some entries. Mendeley is a good way of storing all the literature that you use in easily indexable and findable forms, and then being able to access this information from any PC or (after a wait maybe) tablet.

There is a My Publications tab on Mendeley where again you can easily upload the BibTeX file of your publications from Google Scholar Citations. This is another useful ‘front window’ for people to find out about you and your publications.

Until recently Mendeley was a London start-up company but last year the founders (three German geeks from Berlin) sold out to Elsevier, widely seen as the arch-opponents of open access and a kind of Darth Vader figure on the academic publishing scene. It remains to be seen how far this ‘going to the darkside’ move will on the one hand reduce Mendeley’s popularity, or lead to its expanding its functionality.

Linked In

is the last of the systems that all academics should seriously consider having an entry on. This is a great place to put your CV details and materials out in a way that will be a hundred times more visible than just posting it on a personal website. You can also use Linked In to create links to all your academic and practitioner contacts that they themselves will update from their end, without your having to constantly go and adjust your own email entries. Finally some academics a lot more skilled or dedicated than me have found Linked In a good way to store and update their publication details, link to their teaching videos and podcasts, and much else besides — I haven’t myself figured out how to do all that yet.

Because business and government folk already use Linked In a lot, getting yourself an account is also a great way for researchers to reach external audiences beyond the university world. It is a key first step in beginning to build your external visibility and research impacts with these audiences — an important aspect now in the UK where a fifth of all government support for university research is now linked to ‘impact’.

Other things to do

These five resources above are ‘generic’ ones, almost equally relevant whatever your discipline. I focus on them because in the digital era it is the most inclusive resources that tend to win out and to increase their salience year after year. But there will also potentially be other discipline-specific or subject-specific resources where your work can productively be listed for smaller, more specialist audiences. Again you should find that key capabilities above — for instance, exporting your whole Google Scholar Citations record as a BibTeX file, or exporting just the most recent publications in the same format — will stand you in good stead. In a couple of mouse clicks you can quickly update these extra resource listings periodically .


People working in the social sciences, humanities and some sciences will find a lot of relevant material on related issues in S. Bastow, P. Dunleavy and J. Tinkler, The Impact of the Social Sciences (Sage, 2014). Or go to LSE’s Impact blog And on Twitter there are many useful updates across more disciplines on: @Write4Research.

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