Online research identityOnline identity and potential impact on career of using social media
Online social communication can have a considerable impact on how
people view you and the type of person you are. When you are going to
use social media to communicate professionally, and for research
information dissemination, you need to be very aware of the messages
that you are giving to people. There are numerous stories about people
losing jobs because of their non-professional exploits discovered on
Facebook; one of the morals of those stories is to manage your privacy
and online settings as tightly as possible.
Remember: Your online activity will always leave a footprint. Deletion rarely means deletion.
If you are associated with a non-professional online profile this
will impact not only on the view potential employers have, but your
credibility as a professional person and researcher. Commentary and
communication in online spaces brings a new danger: as opposed to
gossiping in your research office, once you’ve posted comments about a
person or their work online, it’s there for all to read.
Regardless of whether you think at this stage that you are going to
have a research career, there is no avoiding the impact of online
activity on your future career, and the sooner you put in place steps to
protect your online profile/s the better. Before you choose to do any
type of online activity, and that includes anything you do as part of
this programme, you need to ensure that you have considered the
- what is my purpose of using this type of tool/technology?
General communication, recording my experiences of research,
communicating to a specific group of people, uploading my research data,
setting up professional contacts for employment . . .
- what type of content will I be publishing using this type of tool/technology? Text, photos, datasets, multimedia, comments/responses/appraisal of other people’s work . . .
- who is my intended audience? My peers, the lay
public, employers, researchers, friends . . . It could be a mix of all
of these people, and depending on who you want to target your
communication at, be aware of the tone and the language you choose to
- should I be using this tool/technology only for personal reasons? If yes, you will still need to monitor the messages you communicate online.
- what are the types of security settings for this tool/technology?
Read the information provided by the service about their use of your
personal information, as well as privacy settings that you can apply to
the display of your personal information. If you want to restrict access
to the information that you are entering check what settings you can
place on these. Reference management software, for example, should not
permit you to share documents for which you don’t own the copyright.
- if this tool/technology does not permit security settings, is it appropriate for my purpose?
It’s likely there will be some limits to the use of your personal
information that you can ascribe, but if you are really unsure about how
your personal data will be used, don’t feel you have to use the
- will other people I work with be comfortable if I use this tool/technology to communicate my work?
If you are blogging about your research, take into account other
people’s views and feeings about the possibility of them appearing in
your blog. It’s good practice to keep other people out of your blog
unless you have permission to write about them. In addition make it
clear that the views you are expressing are your own.
- if I want to set be anonymous how will I protect my identity from being discovered?
The majority of social media services require you to register before
becoming an active user. This does not mean you have to use your real
name with a registered account. However why do you want to remain
anonymous? If you are engaged in research communication, anonymity will
not further your career or achievements in any way.
- if a potential employer found this content, what would s/he think of my work? This is crucial.
- how will I protect the content I have posted so that other people do not misuse it?
You want to ensure you are recognised as the author of content that is
yours online. Use Creative Commons licences where applicable, tell
people what you will permit and not permit if content is reused. Follow
up comments and retweets, and if you find that someone or a service has
used your content inappropriately, contact them. The online community
that you will become part of will back authors’ rights, and naming and
shaming abusers of content could be most effective.
- if I am commenting on/responding to someone else’s content, what impact could that have?
Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in any other public
arena. The person you are responding to is an individual, and will have
decided they have a justifiable reason for posting up content. If you
disagree, make sure you have a good argument to support this. If content
is offensive, then contact the hosting service where appropriate.
- how can I ensure that I keep my identity linked to my other online activities, and it is not confused with someone else? There are a number of unique author identifier schemes, the two most well-known being ResearcherID, set up by Thomson Reuters, a scheme for authors to register their name and affiliation, and identify their publications, and ORCID
(Open Researcher and Contributor ID), managed by an independent
non-profit organisation. Its objective is to ‘establish an open,
independent registry that is adopted and embraced as the industry’s de
facto standard’ and ORCID’s Board of Directors
including representatives from major publishers such as Thomson
Reuters, Nature and Wiley. This is important because without the
involvement of publishers in this arena, any ID schemes will not work. Martin Fenner has written extensively about ORCID and author identifiers on his blog, and is on ORCID’s Board of Directors.
- do I want to keep my professional profile separate from my personal profile?
Maintaining 2 profiles can be time-consuming, but you can certainly
keep your social networking profile separate from your professional
profile if you wish to. For example, make use of professional networking
sites if you don’t want to foster network connections via Facebook.
What should I say online?You want to be making a positive not a negative impact, never engage
in an activity that you think could be negative. This doesn’t mean you
should not be critical, nor keep your views and opinions so neutral as
to be unimportant; innovation, creativity and debate are all major
benefits of enhanced online communication.
Your contributions have to be well-considered, appropriate, and
relevant to the discussion/activity/comment/content that you are
engaging with. Strong opinions and argument have their place in any
field, but it has to be supported by evidence and reason for you to be
taken and treated seriously and authoritatively. Otherwise you are
simply a person who rants for no better reason than because you can, and
you will be ignored, or worse considered a problem to be avoided.
Be aware of what you are communicatingA watchword about innovation:
- be very careful if you decide your purpose is to speak about a new aspect of research you are involved in.
paper or a patent application. If you’ve already disclosed data, ideas,
potential applications of your work, you may find these are unfavourably
affected. Until you have achieved your desired output, the grant,
publication of the paper, or a successfully registered patent, you may
want to keep your work out of the fully public arena.
Be aware that contentious and controversial issues will have to be
handled carefully. The upside of open communication is also a downside.
The traditional media networks are hugely powerful and influential and
controversy, as you know, is an instant attraction. Debates about issues
that affect the general public, i.e. climate change, GM, vaccinations,
nuclear energy and technology, and so on, will gain attention that you
may actually not want.
Think of the positive
- The impact on your career is the build-up of a collection of work that you can use to manage and raise your professional profile, and provide evidence of your development, work and research interests.
- You can find connections across the world, or within the same city,
that you would not otherwise make, and be given opportunities by people
you have never met in person, and may never meet.
- Building up an online network of contacts and people with similar interests can have huge benefits.
- Collaborative projects, opportunities for funding and employment can
all be achieved as a result of online communication, as well as
developing your prominence as someone to be listened to.
- The ability to communicate with a new audience, the non-academic world.
important and will remain so, but social media can provide equally
valuable forms of scholarly communication that are increasingly likely
to be valued and accommodated by funders and policy makers in the
Action1. To learn more about ORCID and to sign up for your own ORCID, go to the ORCID site.
To learn more about ResearcherID, and register for your own ID, go to the ResearcherID service.
Author identifier schemes and using ResearcherID (PDF)
2. It’s not all about author identification. For an overview of other
ways to promote your research profile, have a look at Brian Kelly’s slideshow on Slideshare. Many of the services and tools he mentions will appear in this blog as well.
3. To expand beyond the academic world, set up a Flavors.me account. See an example of Ed Yong’s (science writer) page here. You can add your accounts to any services you sign up during this programme.
4. Consider using a blog as your website. See Erika Cule’s blog written here at Imperial as an example of a PhD student blogging.
ReferencesFenner, M. (n.d.) Author Identifier Overview. Gobbledygook. Available at: http://blogs.plos.org/mfenner/author-identifier-overview/
Fenner, M. (2007-current year) Goobledygook. [Blog] Available at: http://blogs.plos.org/mfenner/
Online research identity | Blogs, Twitter, wikis and other web-based tools