Your Research Identity: a Thayer Winterim Short Course

Your Research Identity: a Thayer Winterim Short Course

During the December 2016 break (Winterim), the Thayer School of Engineering offered a series of 5 non-credit, skills-based short courses. Librarians from Dartmouth’s Feldberg Library and the Scholarly Communication Program submitted a proposal for a course titled Your Research Identity, which was included in this year’s Thayer Winterim Short Course offerings. The goal of the course was to build students’ understanding of how to manage their identity as academic researchers in a fast-evolving publishing landscape. Your Research Identity was held on December 6 and 7, 2016 and was co-taught by Emily Boyd, Barbara DeFelice, Jim Fries, Jen Green, and Janifer Holt. Eleven students participated, each representing diverse departments and varied stages of their academic careers, with most working towards a PhD. 


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A key message throughout the two days circled around the idea that we each have a digital identity–whether or not we’ve spent time thinking about it or maintaining it. Information about us, observations about us, conversations about us, are all likely happening online whether or not we are participating in them. Students, professionals, scholars, and others should be knowledgeable about what the vast number of online tools and resources are saying about them and how they and their professional work are being presented online. To help illustrate this point, we asked the students to perform a search of their own names and the share with the group the variety of places they found mention of themselves. Of course, the usual suspects emerged, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and one student was surprised to find that she had a Twitter account of which she was not aware. Some were surprised to find outdated information about their current institutional affiliation.

Since our personal computers respond to our previous search behaviors and prioritize results that are personal to each user’s searching patterns, we asked students to partner up and search for each other’s names. One issue that the students discovered when they searched their partner’s name was: how can you tell which scholar is the one you are looking for when the search results produce many scholars with the same name? Through these two exercises, the students understood that there is more than one side to managing one’s research identity. Not only should we be aware of what a Google search produces, we need to also ensure that the information about us is accurate, easily found, and distinctly and uniquely connects us with the work that we do.


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There are many ways to accomplish all of this. An important step that scholars can make is to create and populate an ORCID, which each of the students to during the session. ORCID is “an open, non-profit, community-driven effort to create and maintain a registry of unique researcher identifiers and a transparent method of linking research activities and outputs to these identifiers.” Unique identifiers like ORCID help:

  • make sure that you get credit for your work
  • reduce time in identifying your scholarly output
  • enable your ability to keep track of and report your work with funders, publishers and institutions
  • make it easier for you and colleagues to accurately find your scholarly work

Beyond disambiguation, establishing a website is a good idea since it allows the scholar to lead the conversation and take some control over how and what to communicate about themselves and their work. A website can also be a good place to leverage social media services because it provides a place to which sources like LinkedIn and Facebook can be linked. This is important because Google innovation centers around the idea that it is not so much the page itself that tells you what it’s about, but all the pages that link to it. So, a personal/professional website should be a home base to which every other source pertaining to one’s identity or work links. From Google’s perspective– the more sites that link to a page, the more authoritative it is, and the higher it rises on search results.


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  • A note about social media — we spent a bit of time talking with the students about how to manage their Facebook privacy settings to benefit their professional identity. Many of us are hesitant to share our Facebook profiles with our colleagues, but the reality is that if you have a Facebook profile, your colleagues and others are likely to search for you there. Many of the students were not aware that there is a tool within Facebook that allows you to view your profile as a public user. Doing this helps you understand what exactly is shared beyond your circle of friends and then modify your privacy settings accordingly.

A key point throughout this conversation was that every type of social media one might use should be reinforcing the place that you want people to go (a personal website, department website, etc.). Therefore, we should all be involved in prioritizing the things that we want people to know about us.  

So, there is a conversation happening about us and our work somewhere, and the question is, are we engaged in the conversation? The answer should be yes. It’s easy to say that we don’t have time to manage our online presence (too many places, too many passwords) in a way that puts us in control of our own story, but it’s more important than it is difficult, especially as it pertains to one’s research identity. The end goal of the course was to set the students on a path towards creating the kind of digital identity and web presence that they want.

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