How researchers can promote a better online presence

10th June 2022

As a researcher, what is the value of promoting yourself online? And how do you go about building your online presence?

A man wearing glasses sat at a desk in front of a computer smiling

Dr Nabil-Fareed Alikhan is a Bioinformatics Scientific Programmer in our Core Bioinformatics group. Here Nabil-Fareed shares his experience and insight on the value of being visible online and easy resources to help you develop your online presence.

“Over the years I have attended several seminars and courses that talk about online marketing, networking and personal branding. Although these methods are effective, they often are based on a presumption that there is an ultimate transaction that occurs between you and your audience. This can seem at odds with how scientists interact.

In the research community we are not really trying to “sell” anything. This might make some of the advice for developing visibility online seem irrelevant. As a scientist, what is the value of promoting yourself online?

The value of being visible online

I believe there is scope in an online presence for every researcher no matter what career stage you are in because people do look for you online, whether you are a professor, technician, postdoctoral researcher or  PhD student.

If you have publications, presentations, and posters then people interested in your work will look for more information about what you do. People might find you through association, through your lab group and institution webpages.

As an aside, having this information online and organised is also helpful for you when you need to fill in applications for funding or positions.

In any of these cases, people’s motivation is to find out more about you professionally. What have you worked on? What can you do? When people do look for you, they will make one or two attempts but they will not go to the ends of the Earth to reach you. If the information is not forthcoming, they will likely move onto someone else.

If I am operating as a recruiter for a job, I want to know if they meet the requirements for the role I am recruiting for. If I saw this person giving a talk, I might be looking for more details of their methods in a particular publication of theirs. There are many more scenarios.

Having an online presence helps others understand you and your research better and encourages people to approach you for collaboration, job offers, funding allocations and other opportunities.

Introduce yourself 

Our first step in building an online presence is to have the information about ourselves readily available when people search for us.

Providing this information is not boasting, it is a statement of fact. It is giving information to someone who requests it. Think of it as a digital introduction.

The way you introduce yourself in person is the same kind of information you want to convey when someone searches for you online. If I have a short conversation with someone at a conference, I may ask about things like their current institution, their major research interests, their former institutions, where they did their PhD, what they are technically good at and how to contact them. I might later look for an easy list of their publications, posters and presentations.

Working from my experience, I become aware of someone through one of the more established discovery methods – list of speakers at a conference, a CV of someone applying for a job with my institute, a poster posted online, an author on a publication I like. This is the starting point, stage 1, I see the name and I likely see the affiliation. I do not do an online search for “Experts in microbial genomics looking to collaborate”.

I see this name, I copy it into a search engine, and look at the first six or so results.

What do your search results look like for you? Aside from websites, what images, videos or news articles are associated with these results? The third step is usually I would click on one of these top six sites and quickly skim what I see. What do you see for yourself?

Resources to promote a better online presence

Building an online presence can sound all very daunting, and you may think this means that you need to write a website, and start blogging, do social media, and spend lots of time on your digital persona. You do not. As scientists, we are lucky that there are a number of existing platforms that help us make a digital introduction.

Your organisation’s website

This is the best place to give a general introduction.

Most research organisations have a website where they generate a profile page about you. The information here is considered reputable because the information is backed by a large organisation. You will find that these pages tend to be the first result on search engines.

You should expand this information with a short biography about yourself, your research interests, a professional picture and a contact method. You can usually have links to other websites like your social media accounts, portfolio of your publications and so on. Your organization has spent a lot of time developing the website and building their “brand”, why not leverage this for yourself?

You as a staff or student probably do not have the power to just change the content and often you will need to send the desired text to someone for it to be updated. On the other hand, you don’t have to worry about formatting the website yourself.

Google Scholar

If you have at least one publication or preprint, Google Scholar is your next port of call. It provides a clean and sleek website with a list of all your publications with links to all the sources. It also includes useful options like exporting citations. You can also make minor corrections, like merging identical publications and preprints into one entry.

The signup is very easy and you do not have to add publications to it yourself as it crawls all the information from elsewhere.

When you create a Google Scholar profile your profile will rank highly in the Google search results. I often use someone’s Google Scholar profile to understand what they work on just by skimming the abstracts and titles.

ORCiD.org

ORCiD.org is an online service that provides a unique identifier for authors of scientific articles. This helps detangle issues where author’s names are not unique. It is similar to Google scholar as it catalogues all your publications but you can add extra information like your education, work history, awards/funding, and peer review contributions.

It works like a short CV, and it is useful to link to in your staff profile as I mentioned above or in your email signature. Like Google Scholar it automatically updates your publication history so it is not difficult to keep up to date.

Most journals allow you to specify an ORCiD when you submit a manuscript to them, and they provide a link to the ORCiD profile on the website for the paper. This allows people to see you as an author and click through to your portfolio. Some publishing groups have made providing ORCiD a mandatory part of their submission process.

Publons.com

Publons is another online portfolio for your research. This catalogues your publications like Google Scholar and ORCiD but this provides two major benefits that the other two do not.

Firstly, Publons is linked to Web of Science, a database of scientific literature and analytics. The people behind Web of Science are the ones who calculate a journal’s Impact Factor. Having this account allows you to make minor changes to your publication record, like if you’ve published under slightly different names and want to link them all together.

The second benefit is that you can input your peer-review activities here. If you link your ORCiD here, then this information will be synchronized across both sites. 

Twitter

In my field of microbial bioinformatics, Twitter is the social media of choice. Tweets from users are usually public so this allows conversations between researchers who may not have an opportunity to interact elsewhere. 

People with a shared interests come together with minimal effort, like using a hashtag for a conference. You can promote research and ideas, job opportunities, and memes as you like.  

What to do if you have no publications

Most of my suggestions so far expect you to have some publications to show, but there are still options for you if you do not have any publications.

You can publish your slides from presentations or posters online via services like figshare.  

Or you can create some blog content about something you are working on. It can be something like talking about a particular method.

If you have an interesting protocol you’ve created, you can publish it on protocols.io., which are indexed on your ORCiD.

If you’ve written a programming script, you can put it up on github or similar.

Perhaps your project is sensitive and you can’t actually talk about it at all. In that case, you may want to try writing short reviews of publications you’ve read.

What is important here is to create something visible so people can see what you are all about.

These options can be linked on the staff profile or on other sites. In anything I’ve suggested, you should check with your supervisor or organisation if they are happy with you releasing it online.

If you want to hear more about this with different points of view, we talk about this on the microbinfie podcast in episode 66 – scholarly communications for bioinformaticians.