Monday, 28 December 2015

Thing 06: Managing your online research networks


Thing 06: Managing your online research networks

Group portrait of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, London.
Earlom (mezzotint after oil painting by Johan Zoffany, 1771-72), ‘The
Academicians of the Royal Academy’, 1773. National Portrait Gallery,
This week, 23 Research Things takes
a look at online research networks, such as, Research Gate
and LinkedIn. Thing 06 has been written by Mary Stone, Liaison
Librarian (Culture & Communication) and members of the Baillieu
Library Liaison Team.
Researchers have more options than ever
before for connecting with others, whether in the academic community or
more broadly. This week we look at some of the most commonly-used online
research networks.

Getting started

Academia’s stated mission
is ‘to build a completely new system for scientists to share their
results, one that is totally independent of the current journal system’.
But it’s not just for scientists. Registered users from all disciplines
can create a profile in which they identify their ‘research interests’
and use these to follow other users and ‘tag’ their uploaded papers. You
can also follow the profiles of other scholars, which is useful to keep
up to date with people’s publications. can be especially
useful for research students. Not all universities provide their
higher-degree students with online profiles, while many other researcher
databases rely on publications as a way of constructing a profile. The
simplicity and flexibility of allows you to create posts on
your general research activities and upload ‘grey’ literature such as
conference papers, reviews or opinion pieces. This is useful for all
researchers but perhaps particularly valuable for those at the start of
their careers. also includes some analytics tools, which
can also tell you how many people have viewed your profile, where they
are from, what keywords they used to find you (though Google’s
encryption settings are now reducing the effectiveness of this), and who
is following your own work.


LinkedIn describes itself
as ‘the world’s largest professional network’. Its aim is to ‘connect
the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful’.
LinkedIn users create a professional profile and connect with others
working in the same or a related field. They can also ‘follow’
individual researchers or universities/departments. As LinkedIn is aimed
professionals in any line of work, it allows you to interact with other
users outside of the confines of academia and often with a more
employment-focused slant. Users can identify their own skills and
strengths, and other users can elect to ‘endorse’ these, though it’s
worth reading John Naughton’s critique of this in The Observer (Naughton, 2012).

Research Gate

was ‘built by scientists, for scientists’, but it now includes
researchers from a broad range of disciplines (though the sciences are
still strongly represented). It has 4 million users and is very research


is a free reference management tool and we will be looking at this
aspect of Mendeley in a later post. However, it also incorporates a profile function
that can help you organise your own research, collaborate with others
online and discover the latest publications. It interfaces with
Facebook, and you can sync your Mendeley library to your iPhone, iPad or
iPod Touch.

Google Scholar Citations

Google Scholar Citations
primarily helps researchers to monitor who is citing their work. There
is also an option to publish a ‘user profile’ page. This appears at the
top of a Google search for a researcher’s name and shows a list of
publications and co-authors. It also includes options to follow an
author’s articles or citations.

Considerations and risks

Security and confidentiality

The usual cautions about disclosure of
personal information on social networking sites apply equally here: only
publish information that you are happy for people to know. The
University of Melbourne has its own useful Social Media Guidelines.
Always check the user agreements. It’s
important to know who will have access to your data, how long it will be
retained and how easy it is to delete an account.


If you have published a paper, you should
check the journal’s copyright conditions before uploading it. In 2013,
the publisher Elsevier issued take-down notices to when it
found that some researchers had uploaded papers in breach of their
copyright agreements (see Holcome, 2013 listed in the ‘Further reading’ below).
Many publishers allow researchers free
use of the ‘author’s original manuscript’ or ‘author’s accepted
manuscript’, but it is important to check any agreement you sign. You
must only share material in which you own copyright, or have the
appropriate rights to do so. While there are limited provisions under
copyright law for material to be shared online, sharing copyright
material through these services without explicit or implicit permission
from the copyright owner may infringe their copyright.


All of these tools can be useful, but they can also take up a lot of time. Some researchers estimate that it takes 15 to 45 minutes a week per tool to maintain a useful online profile. Is it better to have no profile at all than an out-of-date one?
Some of the best ‘networking’ is
completely unplanned; none of these should replace tried-and-true
networking options such as conferences, chats in the corridor and coffee

Try this


Create an account on LinkedIn (you can always delete it later) and look at some examples of particularly active users. Sean Cubitt,
Professor of Film and Television at Goldsmiths, University of London is
a good example, but there are many others (see Foote, 2013).

Check out the profile of Richard Price,
the founder of for a very thorough profile. See if you can
find any of your colleagues and researchers working in your area.
It’s worth setting up a full profile on
one of these sites (or both, if you’re keen!), if you don’t already have
one. Both tend to rank very highly in Google searches, and will make
you and your research more visible online. Building an online profile is
as much about ‘pulling’ people to your content as well as ‘pushing’
information out there, and about active participation. A completely
static profile might never be viewed or followed up. If you’ve already
set up a profile on these platforms, you might want to focus on this:
how many ‘hits’ are you getting and how much interaction do you have
with others? Spend a few minutes thinking about the kind of people it
would be useful to connect with and why. Both platforms are able to find
contacts from other accounts: for example your email, Facebook or
Twitter accounts but be sure that you want to link these accounts!
Decide who you want to connect with, but take it a step further and see
what issues or goals you might want to contact them about, and send a
message or ask a question.

Reflection and integration into practice

All of these tools provide networking
opportunities and allow you and your work to be seen by a wider
audience. There are pros and cons for each, so it’s worth doing some
research before committing to any one tool.
Julia Gross and Natacha Suttor of Edith Cowan University in Perth have provided a good overview of different online research networks (Gross and Suttor, 2013). They conclude with the following salient advice:
Make effective decisions about the
platform(s) you adopt, based on who you want to connect with and what
you want to do on the platform. No platform is mutually exclusive:
each has different strengths and each has different user demographics.
‘Find your audience where they naturally occur.’

Further reading

Foote, 2013: ‘3 Stunningly Good LinkedIn Profile Summaries’, Linked, 7 February 2013 (retrieved 15 April 2014).

Gross and Suttor, 2013: ‘Getting found: Using social media to build your research profile’, Conference Presentation, ECU Research Week 2013, 16-20 September 2013 (retrieved 15 April 2014).

Holcombe, 2013: ‘Riled up by Elsevier’s take-downs? Time to embrace open access’, The Conversation, 13 December 2013 (retrieved 16 April 2014).

Naughton, 2012: ‘LinkedIn endorsements turn you into the product’, The Observer, 30 December 2012 (retrieved 7 April 2014).

Mary Stone, Liaison Librarian (School of Culture & Communication) and members of the Baillieu Library Liaison Team.

Do you have
an online research profile and, if so, how useful has it been? As a PhD
student, I don’t (yet) have an extensive publishing record that would
make for an impressive online profile, but I have found to
be extremely useful for making contacts with other researchers in my
area. Many users post unpublished conference papers or pre-print journal
articles, providing early or unique access to new research and ideas.
It also ranks high in Google searches, so the papers that I have
uploaded (either in full—with relevant permissions—or as abstracts) get
regular hits and from a diverse audience: who knew so many people were
interested in portraits of Luigi Boccherini?! My
supervisor also finds that an ‘hit’ is often followed by
an email from someone—another academic or an interested member of the
public—with a query about his research, which then may lead on to other
research opportunities. Are you using any of the above profile
platforms? Are there others that you would recommend?

Mark Shepheard

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