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Research Impact Challenge

Understanding Academia.edu and ResearchGate

Despite some caveats, both Academia.edu and ResearchGate help you make new connections, find new readers for your work, and track how often your work is being read.


Consideration #1: You Are Not the Customer

Similar to many of the other academic social networks we cover in the challenge, you are not the customer when you interact with these companies, even though you may feel like one. Instead, you are the product that these services seek to monetize and/or “offer up” to advertisers. We don’t fault businesses for making money; that is the imperative for them to exist. But we also see Academia.edu and ResearchGate as an extension of those who monetize what many scholars believe should be freely shared.

Importantly, if these companies are bought, sold, or go out of business, what would happen to the content you’ve placed there? This is one reason why it is advisable to first upload items you want to share – articles, preprints, postprints, conference posters, proceedings, slide decks, lesson plans, etc. – to AUrora (which we’ll be covering later in this challenge). LThe items in AUrora are indexed by Google and Google Scholar, so they are searchable, findable, and downloadable by researchers around the world. AU librarians maintain the platform, the content, and the links. Most importantly, maintaining and preserving content is one of the core missions of the AU Libraries. We aren’t going out of business, so your content on AUrora won’t go away either.


Consideration #2: You Might Be Breaking the Law

Another consideration with these particular services is the legality of uploading your work there. Most publishers require authors to sign a publication agreement/copyright transfer prior to a manuscript being published which outlines what you can/cannot do with your own work in the future (we will cover this later in the challenge). Uploading your work – especially a publisher’s pdf – to a site such as Academia.edu or ResearchGate may be a violation of the terms of the publishing agreement, whereas uploading it to an institutional repository may not be (or can be negotiated not to be). Several years ago, a major academic publisher actively went after Academia.edu, requiring them to take down all of the publisher’s content that had been illegally uploaded, much to the surprise and dismay of these authors. And Academia.edu is not the only target. Earlier this year ResearchGate was set to take down nearly 7 million articles or about 40% of their content.


Consideration #3: Understand the Privacy Implications

Finally, some of these sites’ tactics are troubling from the standpoint of privacy and intellectual freedom. Personally and professionally, many find it distressing that a private company, which doesn’t adhere to the same professional ethics as librarians and other scholars do, collects information about who is reading what. Academia.edu, in particular, then offers to share that information with you if you subscribe to their “premium service.” And while their analytics dashboard doesn’t reveal readers’ names, it may provide enough information for you to know exactly who read your work.

You may decide not to pay for Academia.edu’s premium service, but even so – what you view and download will still be tracked. This may not be troubling to you (the “I’m not doing anything wrong, so I don’t care” argument), but we think it sets a bad precedent. What about tracking researchers who study terrorism? Or whistleblowing? Or even climate change? How might people at these academic social media companies create profiles and make judgments about you based on what you are reading? And what will they do with the information they collect, especially if asked for it by government entities?

We’ve posted some additional reading and resources below. And we will continue to cover some of these topics in the future, since they are highly relevant to sharing scholarly work. If you’re still interested in Academia.edu and/or ResearchGate after reading these articles, we’ve gone ahead and included those activities further down below. We’ve purposefully kept these activities brief, at least for now.
 


Make Profiles on Academia.edu and ResearchGate

You know all those things you wish your CV was smart enough to do – embed your papers, automatically give you readership statistics, and so on? Academia.edu and ResearchGate are two academic social networks that allow you to do these things and then some.

They’re also places where your some of your colleagues are spending their time. Actively participating on one or both networks may give you an opportunity to have greater reach with other researchers. And getting your publications and presentations onto these sites legally will make it easier for others to encounter your work. They do this not only through the social network they help you build, but also by improving the search engine optimization (SEO) of your research, making you much more “Googleable.”

Both platforms allow you to do the following:
 

  • Create a profile that summarizes your research
  • Upload your publications, so others can find them
  • Find and follow other researchers, so you can receive automatic updates on their new publications
  • Find and read others’ publications
  • See platform-specific metrics that indicate the readership and reach you have on those sites

Let’s dig into the basics of setting up profiles and uploading your work on these sites.


Getting Started on Academia.edu

Logon to Academia.edu. If you’re a firm believer in keeping your professional online presence separate from your personal one, you’ll likely want to sign up using your OU email address. Otherwise, you can sign up using your Facebook or Google profile. From here, you’ll be directed through the basic signup process.
  
First up: posting a publication or two. How do you choose what to share? If you’re an established scholar, this will be easy: just choose your most highly cited paper. If you’re early in your career or a graduate student, choosing might be tougher. A peer-reviewed paper is always a good bet, as is a preprint or a presentation that’s closely related to your most current topic of research.

Got a paper in mind? Now comes the not-as-fun-but-incredibly-necessary part: making sure you have the rights to post it. Most authors don’t realize that they generally sign away their copyright when publishing an article with a traditional publisher. And that means you may not have the rights to post the publisher’s version of your article on Academia.edu. (If you negotiated to keep your copyright or published with an authors’ rights-respecting journal like PLOS Biology, give yourself a pat on the back and skip the following paragraph.)

If you don’t have copyright for your paper, all hope is not lost! You likely have the right to post some version of the article (often the unedited, unformatted version). Head over to SHERPA/RoMEO and look up the journal you published in. You’ll see any and all restrictions that the publisher has placed on how you can share your article. We’ll be explaining more about SHERPA/RoMEO in Chapter 11, but luckily it’s an easy enough tool to use before then.

 
If you can post your article (or your preprint or postprint), upload it to Academia.edu by clicking the green “Upload” button near the top of the window and navigating to the publication you want to upload.

Once it’s uploaded, hit the big blue “Continue” button, and you’ll be asked if you’re uploading a published or unpublished work. The title of your publication will then be automatically extracted. Make any corrections necessary to the title, and add co-authors and an abstract. Note that if your co-authors aren’t already on Academia.edu, the only way to add them is to provide their email address and Academia.edu will send them an invitation to join the site. Add “research interests,” which are  keywords that will help others find your publication. Select the type of publication from the drop down menu, and then click “Save and Finish.” From there you’ll be taken to a full-page ad asking if you’d like to upgrade to the Premium version of Academia.edu.
  

Fill Out Your Profile

Now it’s time to add your OU affiliation and interests to your profile. Adding an OU affiliation will add you to a subdomain of Academia.edu which will allow you to more easily find your colleagues. The site will try to guess your affiliation based on your email address or IP address; make any corrections needed and add your department information and title.

Then, add your research interests. These are also important; they’ll help others find you and your work.

Connect With Others

Now let’s connect with your colleagues who are already on Academia.edu. You can either connect your Facebook account or an email account to Academia.edu, which will search your contacts and suggest connections.

You now have an Academia.edu profile! You can continue to spruce it up by adding more publications, as well as adding a photo of yourself, other research interests and publications, and connecting your Academia profile to the other services we’ve covered like ORCiD, GoogleScholar, Twitter, and LinkedIn. See how this might be coming together?!?


Academia.edu Homework

Now that you have a profile, set aside half an hour to explore two uses of Academia.edu:
 

  • Exploring “research interests” in order to discover other researchers and publications; and
  • Getting more of your most important publications online; and

Research interests: On your profile page, only your first research interest is visible (followed by a number in parenthesis, which represents how many additional research interests you have). Hover your mouse over your research interest to make the others appear, and then click on one of them. You will be taken to a page with uploaded papers tagged with the same research interest.

Towards the top of the page, notice you’re on the “Papers” view. There’s also a “People” view that will take you to the profiles of scholars with similar interests. For the search results that appear, take some time to explore the profiles and papers of others who share your interest(s) and follow anyone that looks interesting.

We’re willing to bet you’ll find scholars and papers that you weren’t aware of before. You can also use the Academia.edu search to look for research interests outside of the ones you’ve got listed in your profile and explore those search results too.


Upload more papers & presentations: click the “Upload papers” tab at the top right corner of your screen and upload at least two more papers or presentations that you think are worthy of attention. Remember to abide by any copyright restrictions that might exist, and also be sure to add as much descriptive information as possible, which will make it easier for others to find.


Make a Profile on ResearchGate

Next, we’ll help you with the other major player in the scholarly social network space, ResearchGate. ResearchGate claims 15 million users, and it will help you connect with many researchers who aren’t on Academia.edu. It can also help you understand your readers through platform-specific metrics, and confirm your status as a helpful expert in your field with their “Q&A” feature.

Given ResearchGate’s similarity to Academia.edu, we won’t rehash the basics of setting up a profile and getting your publications online. Go ahead and sign up, set up your account (remember to add detailed affiliation information and a photo), and add a publication or two.

Got your basic profile up and running? Great! Let’s drill down into those three unique features of ResearchGate.

Find other researchers & publications

Finding other researchers and publications on ResearchGate works a bit differently than on Academia.edu. ResearchGate automatically suggests research interests and connections for you based on who you’ve cited, who you follow and what discipline you selected when setting up your profile.

Therefore, key to creating a robust network is uploading papers with citations to be text-mined and searching for and following other researchers in your field. Until you’ve done this, ResearchGate can be a bit of a struggle to use effectively.

Searching for other researchers in your field is easy: use the search bar at the top of the screen and type in your colleague’s name. Click on your colleague’s name in the search results to be taken to their profile, where you can explore their publications, co-authors, and so on, and also follow them to receive updates and suggestions for similar scholars. Here we’ve searched for and found Carl Dahlman:
  
ResearchGate also text-mines the publications you’ve uploaded to find out who you’ve cited. Using that information, they add both researchers you’ve cited and those who have cited you to your network. Your network also includes colleagues from your department and institution. You can view and interact with your network down the right side of your profile page where you’ll see them broken up into:
 

  • Following
  • Followers
  • Cited By
  • Cites
  • Top co-authors

Again, you must actively follow others and upload your work  in order for your network to appear in this way.
 


Click on the blue “Follow” to follow a scholar whose work you already know. Or click on the  author’s name to be taken to their profile. On the author’s profile you can explore their publications, and if you find an interesting one just click the paper title to read the paper. This makes adding new colleague to your network a snap and finding new papers a breeze!


​ResearchGate Score & Stats

If you’re into metrics, the ResearchGate score and stats offer lots to explore. The ResearchGate score is an indicator of your engagement on the site: the more publications and followers you have, plus the more questions you ask and answer, all add up to your score. We’ll use Carl Dahlman’s profile as an example again:

  
ResearchGate also helpfully provides a percentile (seen above on the right-hand side), so you know how a score stacks up against other users on the site. The score isn’t normalized by field, though, so beware that using the score to compare yourself to others isn’t recommended.

Some other downsides to be aware of: ResearchGate scores don’t take into account whether you’re first author on a paper, they weigh site participation much more highly than other (more important) indicators of your scientific prowess, and don’t reflect the reality of who’s a high-impact scientist in many fields. So, caveat emptor.

All that said, ResearchGate scores are fun to play around with and explore. Just be sure not to take them too seriously.

The ResearchGate stats (viewable only on your own profile page when you are logged in) are also illuminating: they tell you how often your publications have been viewed and cited on ResearchGate (recently and over time), what your top publications are, and the popularity of your profile and any questions you may have asked on the site’s Q&A section.

A similar caveat: like Academia.edu stats, ResearchGate stats are only for content hosted on ResearchGate, so it can’t tell you much about readership or citations of your work that’s hosted on other platforms. And since it’s likely that your entire field isn’t active on ResearchGate that means ResearchGate stats aren’t representative of your full impact.


Limitations

We’ve covered many of the limitations of Academia.edu and ResearchGate in the first section of this chapter. But there is yet another one. It has been pointed out that Academia.edu and ResearchGate are information silos – you put information and effort into the site, but you can’t easily extract and reuse it later. This is absolutely correct. That’s a big downside of these services and a great reason to make sure you’ve claimed your ORCiD.

One solution to this drawback (and the ones mentioned above) is to limit the amount of time you spend adding new content to your profiles on these sites, and instead use them as a kind of “landing page” that can simply help others find you and three or four of your most important publications. Even if you don’t have all your publications on either site, their social networking features may still be useful to make connections and increase readership for your most important work.


​ResearchGate Homework

Set up your ResearchGate profile and add at least three publications you think deserve attention. Next, search for at least five colleagues or well-known scholars in your field and follow each of them. Once you’ve established a network, take 10 minutes to explore them and their publications.

Next, try out a broader search in ResearchGate by searching for a key word in your discipline. Below, we searched for “ocean acoustic environment” and found researchers, publications,  projects, questions, and more:


For better or worse, you’ve now claimed your professional presence on two of academia’s biggest social networks and learned how to use them to find other researchers and publications. More importantly, you’ve optimized your profile so others can find you and your research more easily, thereby increasing potential exposure for you and your publications. You also have two new sources of metrics that will give you another way to show how often you’re read and cited.

Whew! Pat yourself on the back if you made it this far!

This guide is based on the "30-Day Impact Challenge" by Stacy Konkiel and used here under a CC BY 4.0 International License and the OU Impact Challenge which is also licensed CC BY 4.0.  Many thanks to those authors for creating and sharing these materials.