Updated: Apr 15, 2021
Increasingly, researchers are expected to be part of online networks. If you can't be found through a search engine, you're severely limiting opportunities for others to find you and your work, and online presence can be a significant part of research impact. What's more, if you know how to search and exploit these networks, you gain access to thousands of researchers around the world.
These are currently two of the most popular networks for academic researchers. There are many others, but these are among the most established (both founded in 2008). You can create a profile, share your publications, monitor statistics of readers and connect with other researchers in your field, though the advanced functionality differs between the two. It is useful to note that both Academia.edu and ResearchGate profiles feature highly in Google searches. Both are great places to makes contacts, create a professional-looking profile to link to on your CV, and to regularly update your research activity.
Academia.edu allows you to write update posts on your activities, upload papers and other documents which might include ‘grey’ literature such as conference papers, as well as link to your journal articles. It can also tell you how many people have viewed your profile, what keywords they used to find you, and who is following your work. You can also follow the profiles of other scholars, which is useful to keep up to date with people’s publications.
ResearchGate does most of the things that Academia.edu does, but also creates opportunities for research collaboration between users. For example, users can post messages that can be public or private. It also supports conversation strings between users which focus on a research interest or paper, and you can ‘follow’ a research interest, in addition to following individual users. It has a blogging feature for users to write short reviews on peer-reviewed articles. ResearchGate also suggests connections, based on mutual research interests. Users can also post questions which get sent to users with relevant expertise. It has private chat rooms where researchers can share data, edit shared documents, or discuss confidential topics. Participants can get a higher "score" which ranks their "reputation" by providing popular answers to questions and other metrics.
Something to consider:
Although there are undoubted benefits to sharing your research topics with others in the field and making yourself more visible, do be aware of what you are signing up for. Recently, Academia.edu has attracted criticism for its attempts to monetise how members use the site – offering a ‘premium’ service for a fee and ranking papers in searches according to the status of users. Be aware that despite the .edu address, this is a .com company that generates revenue through your involvement. This doesn’t mean that it is not a useful or reputable service, but there are questions remaining about how our data is used. Be selective about what you upload – for example, some people will post links to their research on the site, but not upload the whole paper.
ResearchGate remains in discussion with major publishers about copyright issues surrounding material uploaded to the site. Scholars must be careful that if they make their research available for free they are not contravening agreements already signed with publishers. You are also likely to receive frequent emails inviting you to join research collaborations with a rather low hit rate for appropriateness.
Some people think that these issues are less to do with Academia.edu and ResearchGate particularly and more a reflection of the academic publishing industry generally. Some alternative platforms exist, such as ScholarlyHub. These alternatively currently have less reach, so will do less for boosting your profile, but will certainly offer opportunities to network, share research and establish your professional image. Controversial times, and perhaps something for you next blog post…
You may also want to consider setting up a Google Scholar profile for yourself. As well as using Google Scholar to search for publications and citations, you can now create a profile (public or private). This can make you easier to contact for those seeking your research. Profiles allow you to automatically or manually add links to your publications, and you can create a ‘library’ by tagging interesting articles on google scholar for later reading. You can list your research interests, see metrics on citations of your own work, and set up email alerts.
Signing up is quick and easy, though you do need to have a gmail account, as well as give your university email address for verification.
You can install a google scholar ‘button’ on your browser, which allows you to switch a search from normal google to google scholar, save and format citations, and find the full text of articles via their title.
If you already have a profile, consider ‘cleaning it up’ and these tips for maximising impact; like most things, it requires a bit of care and attention to get the most out of it.
As with anything Google, the tools can be incredible useful and easy. Do, however, weigh up how comfortable you are with how your data will be used, especially if it is integrated with your other accounts. Be aware of some of the limitations, as with any platform.
Google scholar has an expanding range of features, including helping you with updating your citations.
You’re not required to set up an account on one of the professional networks to finish this Thing, but it is recommended. If you already have an account, do take the opportunity to update it. It’s important to keep all profiles like this up to date, so that they reflect your research activities and progression to potential readers.
Different research disciplines may have different preferences for one network or the other; ResearchGate is generally preferred in the Sciences, while Academia.edu is more popular in the Humanities. Google scholar works well across the disciplines, though has more limited functions.
Why not ask your pod which networks they use? Alternatively, you could try Googling the names of some of the prominent researchers in your field to see which network pops up as the most popular.
Once you’ve worked out which network is best, create an account. Getting an account is simple, and you can register from each tool’s home page. Make sure you fill in your profile fully. Upload/register your academic papers to your profile. Once you’ve signed up, try adding colleagues or other contacts.
If you’re blogging about your 23Things experience, we’d also love to hear about how you found / find these networks. Have you made connections through them? Did you find you had more or fewer citations than expected?
If you’re using different networks to the ones mentioned here, we’d love to hear about them on the forum.