Developing your online identity as a researcher

Digital identity as a researcher is becoming increasingly important, at least if you want others to take note of the research that you have conducted. We all know now that you can’t simply publish in a journal, and expect lots of key people to automatically find out and take note. But how does one actually take charge of one’s own digital identity as a researcher?

Here in the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of Liverpool, two of us who are engaged in research have recently undertaken an informal project to review our own digital identities, and to support our colleagues and others in taking their own initiative in this area. Tunde Varga-Atkins is a Learning Technologist, with researcher interests around both learner experiences with technology and visual research methods. Peter Kahn is Director of Studies for the University’s fully-online EdD in Higher Education. His research interests centre on applying critical realist perspectives to the study of higher education.

There is certainly plenty of good advice out there, as with the short course at Imperial College London, Collaborating and building your online presence, or the 23 Things self-directed online course from the University of Oxford on using digital tools in academia. But it’s one thing that such resources exist; it’s quite another to take the course or read the material, and then act on it. This is especially true when one is trying to establish a digital identity that reflects the various roles one has to undertake, taking in both development and research. Rather than concentrating so much on these resources, we reviewed each other’s digital identity and also looked at the digital identity of several other researchers. Our emphasis was on understanding the actions that we ourselves, and others, have actually taken.

Examples

Dr Paul Ashwin from Lancaster University, for instance, has an online identity that includes a presence on various institutional sites, as well as Google Scholar, ResearchGate, LinkedIn, Academia.edu and others. Just type ‘Paul Ashwin’ into Google. It’s evident that one key underlying thread behind his online presence is to signpost viewers towards his research work, helping to disseminate it more widely. Paul evidently secures a good number of downloads on ResearchGate, for instance. It makes a difference to have full-text versions of one’s research available. Twitter postings, though, give a wider view on Paul’s activity, whether by commenting on news items, or the programmes with which he is involved. Paul himself comments:

“I try to be consistent across sites – although I go through phases with them. With my online presence I am trying to get the ideas I am working with to a wider audience. I am also trying to take people back to my webpage as the key place for my material. So far my digital identity tends to highlight my academic outputs; in the future (time allowing) I would like to use more journalistic forms to do this.”

Similarly, the digital footprint of Professor Rhona Sharpe from Oxford Brookes University comprises profiles on Google Scholar,  LinkedInAcademia.edu, Twitter and slideshare.net, just to name the highest hits after a quick Google search. We observed Rhona’s open, collaborative way of working. She frequently uses Google docs and other open tools to collaborate with others as well as to disseminate her work. For instance, she regularly tweets items linked to news or events or, uploads her presentations to slideshare.net and then presents from the web version. This is also a good way of promoting wider visibility to her work as the Evaluation of Learners’ Experiences of e-learning Special Interest Group (ELESIG) convenor, evidenced by the high number of views of some of these slides.

Conclusions and moving forward

One of the lessons that I (Peter) personally learnt in undertaking this short project was that there are ways I can take further advantage of the social aspects of social media. Twitter is not just a means to post up interesting information that others might look at; I could use it in real time to interact alongside a conference, for instance, or retweet more often. I’m also now looking to find ways to ensure that one aspect of my digital identity serves other aspects of it. Setting up an account with Research Gate was also much easier having just set up a Google Scholar profile – something that I picked up on from looking at Paul Ashwin’s identity. I was able to import wholesale the bibliographic details for my publications from my new account on Google Scholar. Habits on the web also influence one’s identity, as someone moves on to related material. There is no reason why a greater presence on slideshare.net shouldn’t lead to further uptake of interest in my journal papers and books.

Working together with Peter as digital investigators (of ourselves and others), I (Tunde) had it even more confirmed that social media can be so useful in nurturing my professional network, widening my knowledge, and allowing others to see what I am up to. I was keenly reminded that digital profiles need to be kept updated on a regular basis: I had a few profiles e.g. on slideshare.net and ELESIG.ning.com that were not recent and did not reference my latest work (I have since updated them!). As I can be sporadic about using some of my social media platforms, I have developed a checklist that I will look to follow in future:

    • Review my social media profiles (Twitter, slideshare.net, academia.edu, Research Gate, Google Scholar, ELESIG.ning.com) on a regular basis e.g. 6 monthly;
    • When going to a conference or workshop: continue to connect with people during and after the event;
    •  After going to or organising an event: within 2 weeks of it, summarise it in a blog post and tweet; ask for others to contribute.
    • After publishing an article or report: upload or link to it in academia.edu, slideshare.net, ResearchGate and Google Citations; follow it with tweets and blogs; connect with people whom I referenced to tell them about it. (Someone did it to me and I thought it was a great idea!)
    • Have a more thorough look at LinkedIn and how others have used it to raise their research profile.

Our short project has certainly triggered each of us to take further action to extend our online presences. And hopefully, also, it will stimulate you in a similar direction. What guides your own digital identity as a researcher? Do you have approaches to share, or platforms that you favour? Please add your comments to our blog post.

Peter Kahn and Tunde Varga-Atkins, Centre for Lifelong Learning University of Liverpool