Being a digital academic

Jenny Delasalle's picture


What is a digital academic?

Academia is digital: we live in the digital age, and practically all scholars use digital media, to some degree or another. So what do we mean by the phrase “digital academic”? It is rather like the concept of the digital native whereby information sharing is sped up, shared more broadly, and appears in new formats and channels - in ways which have the potential to disrupt traditional academic processes. The digital academic makes the most of new digital tools including social media, enabling them to connect with not only the right academic audiences but also beyond, to achieve impact and engagement for their research.

One important aspect of both an academic career and of the online, digital world is the creation of a good reputation. In the academic world your reputation is tied up with your publications or outputs and there is an imperative for all of your work to be properly attributed to you. That’s where ORCiD has such an important role to play. Even if you change your name, or publish in journals with different naming conventions, you can use ORCiD to tie all of your outputs to your digital identity, making it easier to take care of your reputation.

Another important aspect of building a reputation is being present where others can come across you and your work. This often takes place at academic conferences and through publishing in the most well-known journals in your field. However, the digital world offers other spaces for scholars to be present, in other ways. Social media, in particular, offers advantages, especially to early career researchers who may struggle to find the budget to attend academic conferences and who also need a quick kick-start in building their reputations. Beyond this, social media offers you an opportunity to reach new audiences, breaking down the walls of the “ivory tower”, engaging others and demonstrating the importance of your research. It can take you beyond the academic imperative to investigate for the sake of investigations, and at the same time it can support you in widening your academic reach across disciplinary and national boundaries. This broad reach can be really important in building useful collaborations.

Why the emphasis on “collaboration”?

The digital space enables people not only to make new contacts but also to work together. Many tools have been created to support collaborative writing and reading, and there are also many specialist online tools to support sharing activities. However, the real driving force is collaboration, which research funders often recognise and so encourage. Among other benefits, collaborative working helps you to:

  • Inspire and motivate each other through shared interests
  • Spread the workload
  • Bring different expertise to the research
  • Learn new skills from each other
  • Provide honest but critical feedback throughout the research process
  • Tap into each other’s networks for further opportunities – such as grant applications

The right research collaboration takes time and effort to build, but it begins with making the first contact. Growing a large network and then investing in getting to know your contacts will take time, but in the digital space you can take a few shortcuts, such as expanding your network through piirus.ac.uk, finding out more about people through their online digital profiles, and learning from those who share their own experiences and recipes for collaborative success in blogs and social media.

Become a digital academic

If you are present in the digital world, but not sure that you’re using it to its fullest potential, then perhaps there is more that you could do, to become a digital academic. Often, the first question is: where should I have an online profile? The true digital academic has a profile in many different digital spaces to suit different needs, and those who do it best link those profiles and presences together, just as you publish in multiple journals and link all your outputs to yourself through ORCiD.

One of the digital spaces where you can create a presence (and link to your ORCiD record) is at piirus.ac.uk, which is based around researchers’ collaboration needs. It is one of the easiest and quickest places to create a digital profile, and as soon as you create one, potential collaboration matches are suggested to you from within the piirus.ac.uk network.

You can find introductions to some other digital spaces, ways to link your profiles together, and more about how to manage your scholarly reputation in the digital space in the Digital Identity Health Check, which piirus.ac.uk created in order to support researchers. Because piirus.ac.uk is provided by the University of Warwick and, therefore, part of the Higher Education sector, its core aim is simply to support researchers by connecting you to great opportunities.

Are you a digital academic? Which digital spaces do you choose to use, and what purposes do they serve? We’d love to hear  your stories!