How to be the grad student your advisor brags about

Your advisor is ridiculously busy–so how do you get her to keep track of all the awesome research you are doing? Short answer: do great work that has such high online visibility, she can’t ignore it.

Easy, right?

But if you’re like me, you actually might appreciate a primer on how to maximize and document your research’s impact. Here, I’ve compiled a guide to get you started.

1. Do great work.

To begin with, you need to do work that’s worth bragging about. Self-promotion and great metrics don’t amount to much if your research isn’t sound.

2. Increase your work’s visibility.

Assuming that you’ve got that under control, making your “hidden” work visible is an easy next step. Gather the conference posters, software code, data, and other research products that have been sitting on your hard drive.

Using Figshare, you can upload datasets and make them findable online. You can do the same for your software using GitHub, and for your slide decks using Slideshare.

Want to make your work popular? Consider licensing it openly. Open licenses like CC-BY allow others to reuse your work more easily, advancing science quickly while still giving you credit. Here are some guides to help you license your data, code, and papers.

Making your work openly available has the benefit of allowing others to reuse and repurpose your findings in new and unexpected ways–adding to the number of citations you could potentially receive. These sites can also report metrics that allow you to see often they are viewed, downloaded, and used in other ways. (More about that later.)

3. Raise your own profile by joining the conversation.

Informal exchanges are the heart of scientific communication, but formal “conversations” like written responses to journal articles are also important. Here are three steps to raising your profile.

  1. Engage others in formal forums. You may already participate in conversations in your field at conferences and in the literature. If you do not, you should. Presenting posters, in particular, can be a helpful way to get feedback on your work while at the same time getting to know others in your field in a professional context.

  2. Engage others more and often. Don’t be a wallflower, online nor off. Though it can be intimidating to chat up senior researchers in your field–or even other grad students, for that matter–it’s a necessary step to building a community of collaborators. An easy way to start is by joining the Web equivalent of a ‘water cooler’ conversation: Twitter. There are lots of great guides to help you get started (PDF).  When you’ve gained some confidence and have longform insights to add, start a blog to share your thoughts. This post offers great tips on academic blogging for beginners, as does this article.

  3. Engage others in the open. Conversations that happen via email only serve those who are on the email chain. Two great places to have conversations that can benefit anyone who chooses to listen–while also getting you some name recognition–are disciplinary listservs and Twitter. Open engagement also lets others to join the debate.

4. Know your impact: track your work’s use online.

Once you’ve made your contributions to your discipline more visible, track the ways that your work is being used and discussed by others online. There are great tools that can help: the Altmetric.com bookmarklet, Academia.edu’s visualization dashboard, Mendeley’s Social Statistics summaries, basic metrics on Figshare, Github, and Slideshare, and Impactstory profiles.

See the buzz around articles with the Altmetric.com bookmarklet

The Altmetric.com bookmarklet can help you understand the reach of a particular article. Where altmetrics aren’t already displayed on a journal’s website, you can use the bookmarklet. Drag and drop the Altmetric bookmarklet (available here) into your browser toolbar, and then click it next time you’re looking at an article on a publisher’s website. You’ll get a summary of any buzz around your article–tweets, blog posts, mentions in the press, even Reddit discussions.

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One of our favorite altmetrics visualization suites can be found on Academia.edu. In addition to a tidy summary of pageviews and referral sources for your documents hosted on their site, they also offer a great map visualization, which can help you to easily see the international reach of your work. This tool can be especially helpful for those in applied, internationally-focused research–for example, Swedish public health researchers studying the spread of disease in Venezuela–to understand the consumption of articles, white papers, and policy documents hosted on Academia.edu. One important limitation is that it doesn’t cover documents hosted elsewhere on the web.

Understand who’s reading your work with Mendeley Social Statistics

Mendeley’s Social Statistics summaries can also help you understand what type of scholars are reading your research, and where they are located. Are they faculty or graduate students? Do they consider themselves biologists, educators, or social scientists? If you’re writing about quantum mechanics, your advisor will be thrilled to see you have many “Faculty” readers in the field of Physics. Like Academia.edu visualizations, Mendeley’s Social Statistics are only available for content hosted on Mendeley.com.

Go beyond the article: track impact for your data, slides, and code

The services above work well for research articles, but what about your data, slides, and code? Luckily, Figshare, Slideshare, and Github (which we discussed in Step 2) track impact in addition to hosting content.

To track your data’s impact, get to know Figshare’s basic social sharing statistics (Twitter, Google+, and Facebook), which are displayed alongside pageviews and cites.

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To understand how others are using your presentations, use Slideshare’s metrics for slide decks. Impact is broken down into three categories: Views, Actions, and Embeds.

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For code, leverage Github’s social functionalities. Stars indicate if others have bookmarked your projects, and Forks allow you to see if others are reusing your code.

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Put it all together with Impactstory

So, there are many great places to discover your impact. Too many, in fact: it’s tough to visit all these individually, and tough to see and share an overall picture of your impact that way.

An Impactstory profile can help. Impactstory compiles information from across the Web on how often people view, cite, reuse, and share your journal articles, datasets, software code, and other research outputs. Send your advisor a link to your Impactstory profile and include it in your annual review–she’ll be impressed when reminded of all the work you’ve done (that software package she had forgotten about!) and all the attention your work is getting online (who knew your code gets such buzz!).

Congrats! You’re on your way.

You’re an awesome researcher who has lots of online visibility. Citations to your work have increased, now that you have name recognition and your work can more easily be found and reused. You’re tracking your impact regularly, and have a better understanding of your audience to show for it. Most importantly, you’re officially brag-worthy.

Are there tips I didn’t cover here that you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments.

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