MLIS degree (yay!) and am finally all set to graduate in October. What
many of you may not know is that I chose to finish my degree by
completing a guided research study
instead of traditional coursework. Over the last 8 months, I have had
the opportunity to explore one of my research interests: the scholarly
communication patterns of users on academic social networking sites.
The uptake of academic social networking sites is an interesting
phenomenon. These platforms allow scholars to list their papers in a CV
type fashion, to share their research, to name their research interests,
and to look for others with similar research interests to their own.
Members can even upload their manuscripts and preprints and ask for
feedback on works in progress- which invites comparison to the
traditional peer review process found in academia. In other words, these
sites are being used for informal scholarly communication. But how are
scholars using these sites? Are social networking norms present or do
these sites follow the scholarly status quo ? Are there disciplinary
differences with regards to who is using these sites? These are just a
few of the questions that I’ve encountered during my research.
Following is a brief overview of my study, some of my findings, and a few ideas for future research.
Overview:Why academic social networking sites (i.e Academia.edu)?
Many academics are active users of social media (Facebook, Twitter,
LinkedIn) and some even use these sites for professional networking. In
one study conducted by Procter et al. (2010), the authors found that 80%
of academics had a social media account, while 13% of scholars reported
using social media in novel forms of scholarly communication. For
example, a few studies have examined how Twitter allows scholars to
follow sessions and topics covered at academic conferences and the
relationship between sharing research on social media and citation
counts (Letierce, Passant, Breslin, Decker, 2010; Weller, Dornstädter,
Freimanis, Klein, & Perez, 2010; Weller & Puschmann, 2011).
However, while scholars can use traditional social networking
platforms to network with their peers, share research articles, and keep
up to date in their fields, there are some limitations that emerge when
these sites are used for academic purposes. A number of scholars have
expressed a perceived loss of personal privacy while using these
networks, while others have reported difficulties maintaining boundaries
between their personal and professional lives (Gruzd, 2012). As a
result, many academics have multiple social media accounts in order to
achieve a better work-life balance (Gruzd, 2012).
This is where academic social networking sites come into
play. Academic social networking sites, or social media sites designed
specifically for scholars, have emerged as one alternative to
traditional social networking services (Gruzd, 2012). Some examples of
popular academic social networking sites include Academia.edu, Mendeley,
and ResearchGate. After joining one of these sites, users are
encouraged to create a research profile, add contacts, search for
members with similar research interests, create and/or join groups, and
participate on discussion boards. Members can also consult a news feed
that updates them on the latest uploaded papers and comments from others
in their network (Oh & Jeng, 2011; Krause, 2012). A few academic
social networking sites, such as Mendeley and Zotero, also offer
bibliographic management tools to help scholars manage their documents
and citations (Jeng, He, & Jiang, 2015). Most academic social
networking sites, including Academia.edu and ResearchGate,
employ altmetrics that allow scholars to track their profile and
document views, total publications, total impact points, and downloads
(See Figure 1).
How do these sites play a role in the scholarly communication process?
However, beyond allowing researchers the ability to track the
discussion and attention garnered by their work, academic social
networking sites are also formally playing a role in the scholarly
communication process. Scholarly communication can be defined as “the
system through which research and other scholarly writings are created,
evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and
preserved for future use” (ACRL, 2015). The introduction and subsequent
success of academic social networking sites, such as ResearchGate,
Academia.edu, and LinkedIn, have changed the way in which scholars
connect, collaborate, and disseminate their research (Greenhow, 2009;
Weintraub, 2012; Zaugg, West, Tateishi, & Randall, 2010). Many of
these more professionally marketed social media sites encourage members
to list their documents on their profiles and even give users the option
of uploading their manuscripts and preprints. Users of these sites are
then encouraged to share their research with their scholarly network or
with the broader (and often worldwide) academic community via
traditional social media sites (i.e. Twitter). Such examples suggest
that academic social networking sites are also being used as a venue for
But are scholars actually using academic social networking sites to
share their research and to network and collaborate with others? A study
by Jordan (2014) revealed that most scholars on academic social
networking sites view their profiles as an ‘online business card’ or
curriculum vitae, rather than as a site for active interaction with
others. However, participants did like the concept of using the site to
promote their research, particularly junior researchers (Jordan, 2014). A
more recent study conducted by Jeng, He, and Jiang (2015) found
contradictory results. The authors examined user participation on the
academic social networking site Mendeley. While the majority of
participants reported using the site for its research features, or as a
document or citation management tool, many members also used Mendeley to
manage their academic contacts and to expand their professional
networks. There is also evidence to suggest that researchers are using
academic social networking sites to find scholars with similar research
interests to their own and to keep up to date in their fields. Results
from a survey of physicists, linguists, and sociologists on
Academia.edu, for example, showed that these academics are using the
site to read articles posted by other researchers. Participants also
searched for members with similar research interests to their own
(Megwalu, 2015). These studies suggest that academic social networking
sites are platforms where both formal and informal scholarly
communication occur, creating a unique space to study existing and
emerging communication behaviours.
Who is using these sites?
Fortunately, several studies have tried to address this question by
examining the academic status of those who use academic social
networking sites. For example, a study by Jordan (2014) investigated the
impact of academic seniority on network structure on Academia.edu.
Results of the study indicated that a user’s number of connections and
position within the network was dependent on academic seniority. Senior
academics tended to have more connections and a more prominent position
within the network in comparison to junior researchers. Professors also
had a stronger tendency to only follow people who they knew personally
in real life and were less likely to try and make new connections on the
site. In other words, professors enjoyed a privileged position within
the network, even though they were not actively trying to network as
much as students.
However, it is possible that this advantage is not due to academic
seniority, but to a higher user group activity. In a study by Megwalu
(2015), students were more likely to register on Academia.edu, but
post-docs and faculty members had the highest number of logins over a
ten-month period, making them more frequent users than students. In
another study conducted by Thelwall and Kousha (2014), the authors
discovered that students tended to list more interests then faculty, but
that faculty listed more books and papers and were cited more often
than students. Also, senior researchers received substantially more
document views and profile views than junior researchers. This study
confirms previous research by Almousa (2011), where faculty were found
to be more active and uploaded more documents than any other group in
all three disciplines studied.
Why medical sciences and health sciences?
While many studies have examined disciplinary differences in the use
of academic social networking sites, very little research has examined
the scholarly communication practises of health and medical researchers
on these sites. In one study conducted by Oh and Jeng (2011), the
authors looked at participation in Mendeley groups by discipline.
Results of the study showed that Medicine was the third largest member
group and had a high level of group member participation. In another
more recent study by Mohammadi, Thelwall, Haustein, and Larivière
(2015), the authors found that non-academics (medical professionals)
read more clinical medicine articles on Mendeley than academics.
Thus, more research is needed in order to see whether scholars in
the health and medical field are using academic social networking sites
for scholarly communication. To address these gaps that persist in the
literature, this study sought to answer the following research questions
by focusing on faculty and graduate students in two disciplines –
Medical Sciences and Health Sciences – on Academia.edu:
relationship between academic seniority and altmetrics score (# of
profile views, # of followers) on Academia.edu?
Summary of Findings:
were the most active user group on Academia.edu. In both Medical
Sciences and Health Sciences, more faculty members than graduate
students registered for an account on Academia.edu (See Figure 2 &
Figure 3 below). Faculty members also added significantly more documents
to their profiles than did graduate students in both Medical Sciences
and Health Sciences.
more active on the site, faculty members did not necessarily enjoy a
more privileged position within the network. While Health Sciences
faculty had significantly more profile views and followers than graduate
students, Medical Sciences graduate students had more profile views and
followers than faculty members. Also, the number of documents listed on
a user’s profile page had little bearing on the number of profile views
and number of followers that they received.
differences between Medical Sciences and Health Sciences, Health
Sciences was the more active user discipline. Health Sciences faculty
members and graduate students uploaded more documents to their profiles
(699 : 621 total documents respectively) and received more profile views
and followers than their Medical Sciences counterparts. The most
notable difference between the two disciplines is evident when comparing
the number of profile views received, as members from the Health
Sciences community had nearly three times as many profile views as those
in Medical Sciences (See Figure 4).
Conclusions:This study has provided insight into the scholarly communication
practices of health and medical disciplines on Academia.edu. Results
indicate that there are large populations of Medical Sciences and Health
Sciences users on Academia.edu and that these scholars are using the
site to network and collaborate with others, to share their research,
and to keep up to date in their fields. In other words, researchers in
the health and medical field are using academic social networking sites
for scholarly communication. More research is needed, however, in order
to determine the extent to which the site mirrors existing academic
structures (i.e. the faculty – student advantage) and social networking
patterns (age, gender, etc.). Further studies should also examine why
these scholars register for an account on Academia.edu over (or in
addition to) other more specialized social networking tools available to
non-academics in the health and medical field (i.e. Sermo, Medscape,
MDLinx). Web-based applications for scholarly communication evolve
rapidly and disciplinary norms are constantly changing, as are the
communication preferences of scholars on these sites. More research is
needed in order to understand this ever-shifting landscape.
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Almousa, O. (2011, December). Users’ classification and usage-pattern identification in academic social networks. In Applied Electrical Engineering and Computing Technologies (AEECT), 2011 IEEE Jordan Conference on (pp. 1-6). IEEE.
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Gruzd, A. (2012). Non-academic and academic social networking sites for online scholarly communities. Social media for academics: A practical guide, 21-37.
Jeng, W., He, D., & Jiang, J. (2015). User participation in an
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