Tracking scientific output can be beneficial to a researcher’s career, says Catherine Chimes.
Contributor Catherine Chimes
Establishing yourself in your field is a challenge faced by many early-career researchers and academics. Accruing status as indicated by traditional methods (such as journal citation counts, public speaking opportunities and, at the pinnacle for some, being awarded tenure) can be fraught with difficulty in more ways than one.
As more and more scholarly work is reviewed, published and made publicly available each year in an increasing variety of formats, one question stands out: what other indicators are there that scholars can utilize to evidence the impact of their work?
Achieving recognition and credit for the work accomplished is crucial to advancing any scientific career. Recent articles have discussed the danger in publishing for publishing’s sake – instead, experts enthuse, the emphasis should be on publicly available, reproducible, robust data and outputs that extend far beyond the journal article.
The ability to demonstrate the resulting research ‘impact’ and ‘engagement’ is increasingly important in competing for funding grants and more senior roles. Funders and institutions want to see evidence of the effects of your work – whether they are societal, economic, or otherwise. In a recent conference presentation, Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government, once again commented, ‘Science isn’t done until it has been communicated.’
For an academic, monitoring and engaging with the online communities showing an active interest in their work can pave the way for future success. By having an insight and understanding into who is talking about and sharing your work, as well as how it is being received, you can begin to establish new networks and identify new collaborators. It allows researchers to better define an outward engagement strategy and ensure their work is noticed by the people they hoped would see it.
Amongst the many elements that are considered to indicate impact, alternative metrics, or ‘altmetrics’, have evolved over the last few years as a way of collating and monitoring the online attention and activity surrounding a research output. They are just one piece of this complex puzzle and are particularly effective as a measure of the type and volume of attention a piece of work receives immediately upon publication. In doing so they provide a proxy for the dissemination and interest in the work long before it is likely to be cited via any traditional methods.
Crucially, altmetrics do not just provide another number; yes, they can tell you that your work has been mentioned in two news stories, blogged about by five different people and shared on Twitter by 20, but the underlying data (the actual mentions themselves) can also show you who is talking about your work, where they are and how they interpreted it.
Such information can be invaluable for adding to funding proposals, online profiles, CVs and job applications to demonstrate the influence of your research. For example you might be able to pick out from the tweets that someone influential in your field has thought it relevant to share with their followers, or identify where it has been picked up by policy makers. Within academic circles, altmetrics can present a collated record of any post-publication peer-review comments, as well as data on the number and demographics of readers who have saved the research to their online reference manager library.
Equally, if your work is attracting attention for a negative reason, this can be quickly and easily identified via the mentions displayed on the details page for your work – giving you a chance to respond to the commentary and better manage how your research is interpreted, as well as your overall digital identity.
Perhaps most importantly for those whom journal articles are not the primary method of communicating their work, altmetrics can be applied to non-traditional research outputs too. This is most easily achieved if the output has been assigned a scholarly identifier (such as a DOI, handle.net identifier, or arXiv ID) – quickly attained by uploading the output to an institutional repository or a platform such as figshare or Dryad.
Publishers have been quick to implement these new metrics – across nature.com articles, for example, you can find the related data on the ‘metrics’ tab of each article page. The progressively widespread presence of this data on publisher platforms means that you can also compare and contrast the different places and audiences that research in the same field attracts attention from, or start to explore the levels and type of engagement for articles published in other journals to determine which might be best to publish with in future.
Understanding how your work is being received, being able to monitor and contribute to the conversation, and developing a strategy to ensure your research gets the best chance to make it’s impact offers the opportunity to stand out from the crowd and better shape your scholarly identity.
Catherine Chimes is Head of Marketing at Altmetric, a Digital Science company that track mentions of research in non-traditional sources to help authors, publishers, institutions and funders monitor and report on the online activity surrounding their work.