Researchers need a digital presence

Information on who you are and what you do must be easy to find online.

“Digital work is new academic work which cannot be left undone,” says Professor Maryanne Dever.

“Digital work is new academic work which cannot be left undone,” says Professor Maryanne Dever.

Academic work has profoundly changed in a short period of time. New research skills include having a presence in online academic communities, including Twitter. Such factors as how many times your research is downloaded and shared on social media are increasingly important indicators of research impact, says Professor Maryanne Dever from the University of Technology, Sydney.

“Employers, research funders and people looking for a research partner must be able to understand who you are as a researcher, what you do and where you are headed in your research career. Having a clear research narrative is very important,” Dever says.

The first step is to create a profile on an online service for researchers, one where your profile remains even if you go to work at another university, for example. Such services include, among others,, Google Scholar, ORCID and ResearchGate.

The profiles are not only meant as digital IDs; they can be used for networking purposes and defining your position in the academic community.

The University of Tampere Doctoral School invited Maryanne Dever to give a lecture and a workshop on researchers’ digital profiles. In the workshop, doctoral researchers were able to create their own online profiles.

False modesty is often an obstacle when researchers write their profiles. Many young scholars think that self-promotion is only acceptable for researchers in established positions. According to Dever, the opposite is true.

“These are the tools you can use in order to make it easier for people to find you and your work. Especially young researchers should start building their digital profiles right from the start.”

These days, research is very much alive in digital form.

“A digital version of your research is starting to be much more important than the hard copy. We are not very far from the point when publishers will stop publishing scientific journals on paper,” Dever explains.

Social media can help research to find an audience. Dever was at first sceptical about Twitter, but changed her mind after establishing a Twitter profile for a journal she edits and finding out how much it increased interaction with the audience.

“Twitter clearly offers far-reaching opportunities for academics. It is one of the fastest and most efficient means to tell other people what is happening in your research.”

The change in how research is conducted has happened quite quickly, and there is no use trying to ignore these developments. Instead, everyone can choose how they appear online, says University Lecturer Pirjo Nikander from the University of Tampere Doctoral School.

“Researchers can choose if and how they communicate about their research in digital environments, and every researcher naturally makes his or her own decisions. One must master the different channels, but it is also important to grasp the preferred style one should use in these new media.”

Personal branding is still a strange idea for many Finns. However, one can think more simply: a researcher is doing a job in which he or she believes. What is there to stop him or her from communicating about it to a wider audience?

“The classical, slightly outdated idea about cooperation between a researcher and the media is that the media contacts the researcher and then twists the researcher’s words and uses them for their own purposes,” Nikander says.

“The new digital opportunities open up an arena where the researcher can in the main define how the research is talked about in public.”

“I say ‘in the main’ because digital media can be pretty unpredictable. However, it is quite simple to correct the information published online, and the researcher also has the opportunity to participate in the discussion that follows the initial publication.”

The Doctoral School has arranged lectures and courses on popularising science and social impact, one of the three tasks of universities. Maryanne Dever’s was the first lecture on digital profiling. In future, digital presence will be talked about as a part of research skills throughout doctoral studies.

“This is motivated by the fact that the more our doctoral and other researchers can be seen in different digital environments, the more visibility the University’s gains,” Nikander explains.

Universities worldwide are making an effort to increase their researcher’s visibility in digital environments. Professor Dever thinks that investing in this matter may give the University of Tampere an edge compared to other Finnish universities.

“The University of Tampere has clearly started to build its own research profile both in Finland and internationally. If researchers in Tampere are seriously committed to developing their digital presence, they can quickly make a head start compared with the competition in Finland,” Dever says.

Tips for researchers on building an online profile
* Check what you find when you google your name.
* Create a profile on at the very least. This profile is search engine friendly so it will appear high up in the search results when someone is looking for information about you. Other recommended services include ORCID, Google Scholar and ResearchGate.
* Set up a profile page on your own organisational website.
* Remember to update your profiles. Old news and half-finished profiles do not give a good impression.
* Use Twitter and the opportunities presented by blogging.

Text: Tiina Lankinen
Photograph: Jonne Renvall