Thing 06: Managing your online research networks

Group portrait of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, London.
Richard Earlom
(mezzotint after oil painting by Johan Zoffany, 1771-72),
‘The Academicians of the Royal Academy’, 1773.
National Portrait Gallery, London.

This week, 23 Research Things takes a look at online research networks, such as, Research Gate and LinkedIn. Thing 06 has been written by Mary Stone, Liaison Librarian (Culture & Communication) and members of the Baillieu Library Liaison Team.

Researchers have more options than ever before for connecting with others, whether in the academic community or more broadly. This week we look at some of the most commonly-used online research networks.


Getting started

Academia’s stated mission is ‘to build a completely new system for scientists to share their results, one that is totally independent of the current journal system’. But it’s not just for scientists. Registered users from all disciplines can create a profile in which they identify their ‘research interests’ and use these to follow other users and ‘tag’ their uploaded papers. You can also follow the profiles of other scholars, which is useful to keep up to date with people’s publications. can be especially useful for research students. Not all universities provide their higher-degree students with online profiles, while many other researcher databases rely on publications as a way of constructing a profile. The simplicity and flexibility of allows you to create posts on your general research activities and upload ‘grey’ literature such as conference papers, reviews or opinion pieces. This is useful for all researchers but perhaps particularly valuable for those at the start of their careers. also includes some analytics tools, which can also tell you how many people have viewed your profile, where they are from, what keywords they used to find you (though Google’s encryption settings are now reducing the effectiveness of this), and who is following your own work.



LinkedIn describes itself as ‘the world’s largest professional network’. Its aim is to ‘connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful’. LinkedIn users create a professional profile and connect with others working in the same or a related field. They can also ‘follow’ individual researchers or universities/departments. As LinkedIn is aimed professionals in any line of work, it allows you to interact with other users outside of the confines of academia and often with a more employment-focused slant. Users can identify their own skills and strengths, and other users can elect to ‘endorse’ these, though it’s worth reading John Naughton’s critique of this in The Observer (Naughton, 2012).


Research Gate

ResearchGate was ‘built by scientists, for scientists’, but it now includes researchers from a broad range of disciplines (though the sciences are still strongly represented). It has 4 million users and is very research focused.



Mendeley is a free reference management tool and we will be looking at this aspect of Mendeley in a later post. However, it also incorporates a profile function that can help you organise your own research, collaborate with others online and discover the latest publications. It interfaces with Facebook, and you can sync your Mendeley library to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.


Google Scholar Citations

Google Scholar Citations primarily helps researchers to monitor who is citing their work. There is also an option to publish a ‘user profile’ page. This appears at the top of a Google search for a researcher’s name and shows a list of publications and co-authors. It also includes options to follow an author’s articles or citations.


Considerations and risks

Security and confidentiality

The usual cautions about disclosure of personal information on social networking sites apply equally here: only publish information that you are happy for people to know. The University of Melbourne has its own useful Social Media Guidelines.

Always check the user agreements. It’s important to know who will have access to your data, how long it will be retained and how easy it is to delete an account.



If you have published a paper, you should check the journal’s copyright conditions before uploading it. In 2013, the publisher Elsevier issued take-down notices to when it found that some researchers had uploaded papers in breach of their copyright agreements (see Holcome, 2013 listed in the ‘Further reading’ below).

Many publishers allow researchers free use of the ‘author’s original manuscript’ or ‘author’s accepted manuscript’, but it is important to check any agreement you sign. You must only share material in which you own copyright, or have the appropriate rights to do so. While there are limited provisions under copyright law for material to be shared online, sharing copyright material through these services without explicit or implicit permission from the copyright owner may infringe their copyright.



All of these tools can be useful, but they can also take up a lot of time. Some researchers estimate that it takes 15 to 45 minutes a week per tool to maintain a useful online profile. Is it better to have no profile at all than an out-of-date one?

Some of the best ‘networking’ is completely unplanned; none of these should replace tried-and-true networking options such as conferences, chats in the corridor and coffee breaks.


Try this


Create an account on LinkedIn (you can always delete it later) and look at some examples of particularly active users. Sean Cubitt, Professor of Film and Television at Goldsmiths, University of London is a good example, but there are many others (see Foote, 2013).

Check out the profile of Richard Price, the founder of for a very thorough profile. See if you can find any of your colleagues and researchers working in your area.

It’s worth setting up a full profile on one of these sites (or both, if you’re keen!), if you don’t already have one. Both tend to rank very highly in Google searches, and will make you and your research more visible online. Building an online profile is as much about ‘pulling’ people to your content as well as ‘pushing’ information out there, and about active participation. A completely static profile might never be viewed or followed up. If you’ve already set up a profile on these platforms, you might want to focus on this: how many ‘hits’ are you getting and how much interaction do you have with others? Spend a few minutes thinking about the kind of people it would be useful to connect with and why. Both platforms are able to find contacts from other accounts: for example your email, Facebook or Twitter accounts but be sure that you want to link these accounts! Decide who you want to connect with, but take it a step further and see what issues or goals you might want to contact them about, and send a message or ask a question.


Reflection and integration into practice

All of these tools provide networking opportunities and allow you and your work to be seen by a wider audience. There are pros and cons for each, so it’s worth doing some research before committing to any one tool.

Julia Gross and Natacha Suttor of Edith Cowan University in Perth have provided a good overview of different online research networks (Gross and Suttor, 2013). They conclude with the following salient advice:

Make effective decisions about the platform(s) you adopt, based on who you want to connect with and what you want to do on the platform. No platform is mutually exclusive: each has different strengths and each has different user demographics. ‘Find your audience where they naturally occur.’


Further reading

Foote, 2013: ‘3 Stunningly Good LinkedIn Profile Summaries’, Linked, 7 February 2013 (retrieved 15 April 2014).

Gross and Suttor, 2013: ‘Getting found: Using social media to build your research profile’, Conference Presentation, ECU Research Week 2013, 16-20 September 2013 (retrieved 15 April 2014).

Holcombe, 2013: ‘Riled up by Elsevier’s take-downs? Time to embrace open access’, The Conversation, 13 December 2013 (retrieved 16 April 2014).

Naughton, 2012: ‘LinkedIn endorsements turn you into the product’, The Observer, 30 December 2012 (retrieved 7 April 2014).

Mary Stone, Liaison Librarian (School of Culture & Communication) and members of the Baillieu Library Liaison Team.


Do you have an online research profile and, if so, how useful has it been? As a PhD student, I don’t (yet) have an extensive publishing record that would make for an impressive online profile, but I have found to be extremely useful for making contacts with other researchers in my area. Many users post unpublished conference papers or pre-print journal articles, providing early or unique access to new research and ideas. It also ranks high in Google searches, so the papers that I have uploaded (either in full—with relevant permissions—or as abstracts) get regular hits and from a diverse audience: who knew so many people were interested in portraits of Luigi Boccherini?! My supervisor also finds that an ‘hit’ is often followed by an email from someone—another academic or an interested member of the public—with a query about his research, which then may lead on to other research opportunities. Are you using any of the above profile platforms? Are there others that you would recommend?

Mark Shepheard

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