Why Nature’s “SciShare” experiment is bad for altmetrics

Early last week, Nature Publishing Group announced that 49 titles on Nature.com will be made free to read for the next year. They’re calling this experiment “SciShare” on social media; we’ll use the term as a shorthand for their initiative throughout this post.

Some have credited Nature on their incremental step towards embracing Open Access. Other scientists criticise the company for diluting true Open Access and encouraging scientists to share DRM-crippled PDFs.

As staunch Open Access advocates ourselves, we agree with our board member John Wilbanks: this ain’t OA. “Open” means open to anyone, including laypeople searching Google, who don’t have access to Nature’s Magic URL. “Open” also means open for all types of reuse, including tools to mine and build next-generation value from the scholarly literature.

But there’s another interesting angle here, beyond the OA issue: this move has real implications for the altmetrics landscape. Since we live and breathe altmetrics here at Impactstory, we thought it’d be a great time to raise some of these issues.

Some smart people have asked, “Is SciShare an attempt by Nature to ‘game’ their altmetrics?” That is, is SciShare an attempt to force readers to view content on Nature.com, thereby increasing total pageview statistics for the company and their authors?

Postdoc Ross Mounce explains:

If [SciShare] converts some dark social sharing of PDFs into public, trackable, traceable sharing of research via non-dark social means (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ …) this will increase the altmetrics of Nature relative to other journals and that may in-turn be something that benefits Altmetric.com [a company in which Macmillian, Nature’s parent company, is an investor].

No matter Nature’s motivations, SciShare, as it’s implemented now, will have some unexpected negative effects on researchers’ ability to track altmetrics for their work. Below, we describe why, and point to some ways that Nature could improve their SciShare technology to better meet researchers’ needs.

How SciShare works

SciShare is powered by ReadCube, a reference manager and article rental platform that’s funded by Macmillan via their science start-up investment imprint, Digital Science.

Researchers with subscription access to an article on Nature.com copy and paste a special, shortened URL (i.e. http://rdcu.be/bKwJ) into email, Twitter, or anywhere else on the Web.

Readers who click on the link are directed to a version of the article that they can freely read and annotate in their browser, thanks to ReadCube. Readers cannot download, print, or copy from the ReadCube PDF.

The ReadCube-shortened URL resolves to a Nature-branded, hashed URL that looks like this:

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The resolved URL doesn’t include a DOI or other permanent identifier.

In the ReadCube interface, users who click on the “Share” icon see a panel that includes a summary of Altmetric.com powered altmetrics (seen here in the lower left corner of the screen):

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The ReadCube-based Altmetric.com metrics do not include pageview numbers. Because ReadCube doesn’t work with assistive technology like screen readers, it also disallows for the tracking of the small portion of traffic that visually-impaired readers might account for.

That said, the potential for tracking new, ReadCube-powered metrics is interesting. ReadCube allows annotations and highlighting of content, and could potentially report both raw numbers and also describe the contents of the annotations themselves.

Number of redirects from the ReadCube-branded, shortened URLs could also be illuminating, especially when reported alongside direct traffic to the Nature.com-hosted version of the article. (Such numbers could provide hard evidence as to the proportion of OA vs toll access use of Nature journal articles.) And sources of Web traffic give a lot of context to the raw pageview numbers, as we’ve seen from publishers like PeerJ:

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 6.26.31 PM.png

After all, referrals from Reddit usually means something very different than referrals from PubMed.

Digital Science’s Timo Hannay hints that Nature will eventually report download metrics for their authors. There’s no indication as to whether Nature intends to disclose any of the potential altmetrics described above, however.

So, now that we know how SciShare works and the basics of how they’ve integrated altmetrics, let’s talk about the bigger picture. What does SciShare mean for researcher’s altmetrics?

How will SciShare affect researchers’ altmetrics?

Let’s start with the good stuff.

Nature authors will probably reap a big benefit in thanks to SciShare: they’ll likely have higher pageview counts for the Nature.com-hosted version of their articles.

Another positive aspect of SciShare is that it provides easy access to Altmetric.com data. That’s a big win in a world where not all researchers are aware of altmetrics. Thanks to ReadCube’s integration of Altmetric.com, now more researchers can find their article’s impact metrics. (We’re also pleased that Altmetric.com will get a boost in visibility. We’re big fans of their platform, as well as customers–Impactstory’s Twitter data comes from Altmetric.com).

SciShare’s also been implemented in such a way that the ReadCube DRM technology doesn’t affect researchers’ ability to bookmark SciShare’d articles on reference managers like Mendeley. Quick tests for Pocket and Delicious bookmarking services also seems to work well. That means that social bookmarking counts for an author’s work will likely not decline. (I point this out because when I attempted to bookmark a ReadCube.com-hosted article using my Mendeley browser bookmarklet Thursday, Dec. 4th, I was prevented from doing so, and actually redirected to a ReadCube advertisement. I’m glad to say this no longer seems to be true.)

Those are the good things. But there’s also a few issues to be concerned about.

SciShare makes your research metrics harder to track

The premise of SciShare is that you’ll no longer copy and paste an article’s URL when sharing content. Instead, they encourage you to share the ReadCube-shortened URL. That can be a problem.

In general, URLs are difficult to track: they contain weird characters that sometimes break altmetrics aggregators’ search systems, and they go dead often. In fact, there’s no guarantee that these links will be live past the next 12 months, when the SciShare pilot is set to end.

Moreover, neither the ReadCube URL–nor the long, hashed, Nature.com-hosted URL that it resolves to–contain the article’s DOI. DOIs are one of the main ways that altmetrics tracking services like ours at Impactstory can find mentions of your work online. They’re also preferable to use when sharing links because they’ll always resolve to the right place.

So what SciShare essentially does is introduce two new messy URLs that will shared online, and that have a high likelihood of breaking in the future. That means there’s a bigger potential for messier data to appear in altmetrics reports.

SciShare’s metrics aren’t as detailed as they could be

The Altmetric.com-powered altmetrics that ReadCube exposes are fantastic, but they lack two important metrics that other data providers expose: citations and pageviews.

On a standard article page on Nature.com, there’s an Article Metrics tab. The Metrics page includes data not only from Altmetric.com, but also CrossRef, Web of Science, and Scopus’s citation counts, and also pageview counts. And on completely separate systems like Impactstory.org and PlumX, still more citation data is exposed, sourced from Wikipedia and PubMed. (We’d provide pageview data if we could. But that’s currently not possible. More on that in a minute.)

ReadCube’s deployment of Altmetric.com data also decontextualizes articles’ metrics. They have chosen only to show the summary view of the metrics, with a link out to the full Altmetric.com report:

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 10.11.47 AM.png

Compare that to what’s available on Nature.com, where the Metrics page showcases the Altmetric.com summary metrics plus Altmetric.com-sourced Context statements (“This article is in the 98th percentile compared to articles published in the same journal”), snippets of news articles and blog posts that mention the article, a graph of the growth in pageviews over time, and a map that points to where your work was shared internationally:

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 3.59.38 PM.png

More data and more context are very valuable to have when presenting metrics. So, we think this is a missed opportunity for the SciShare pilot.

SciShare isn’t interoperable with all altmetrics systems

Let’s assume that the SciShare experiment results in a boom in traffic to your article on Nature.com. What can you do with those pageview metrics?

Nature.com–like most publishers–doesn’t share their pageview metrics via API. That means you have to manually look up and copy and paste those numbers each time you want to record them. Not an insurmountable barrier to data reuse, but still–it’s a pain.

Compare that to PLOS. They freely share article view and download data via API, so you can easily import those numbers to your profile on Impactstory or PlumX, or export them to your lab website, or parse them into your CV, and so on. (Oh, the things you can do with open altmetrics data!)

You also cannot use the ReadCube or hashed URLs to embed the article full-text into your Impactstory profile or share it on ResearchGate, meaning that it’s as difficult as ever to share the publisher’s version of your paper in an automated fashion. It’s also unclear whether the “personal use” restriction on SciShare links means that researchers will be prohibited from saving links publicly on Delicious, posting them to their websites, and so on.

How to improve SciShare to benefit altmetrics

We want to reiterate that we think that SciShare’s great for our friends at Altmetric.com, due to their integration with ReadCube. And the greater visibility that their integration brings to altmetrics overall is important.

That said, there’s a lot that Nature can do to improve SciShare for altmetrics. The biggest and most obvious idea is to do away with SciShare altogether and simply make their entire catalogue Open Access. But it looks like Nature (discouragingly) is not ready to do this, and we’re realists. So, what can Nature do to improve matters?

  • Open up their pageview metrics via API to make it easier for researchers to reuse their impact metrics however they want
  • Release ReadCube resolution, referral traffic and annotation metrics via API, adding new metrics that can tell us more about how content is being shared and what readers have to say about articles
  • Add more context to the altmetrics data they display, so viewers have a better sense of what the numbers actually mean
  • Do away with hashed URLs and link shorteners, especially the latter which make it difficult to track all mentions of an article on social media

We’re hopeful that SciShare overall is an incremental step towards full OA for Nature. And we’ll be watching how the SciShare pilot changes over time, especially with respect to altmetrics.

Update: Digital Science reports that the ReadCube implementation has been tested to ensure compatibility with most screen readers.

Impact Challenge Day 30: Create a comprehensive impact profile at Impactstory.org

Yesterday, we covered all the ways that you can dig up evidence of your impacts online. You learned that metrics for your research exist across more than 18 platforms all around the Web. That’s a lot of data to manage.

What you need now is a single place to view your metrics (and the underlying qualitative data). You also need a way to share your metrics with others. That’s where Impactstory comes in.

Impactstory is a non-profit webapp that compiles data from across the Web on how often (and by whom) your research is being shared, saved, discussed, cited and more.

We automate much of the work of collecting impact metrics, so you don’t have to. And we provide rich, contextualized, Open metrics alongside the underlying data, so you can learn a lot in one place (and reuse most of the metrics however you want).

In today’s challenge, you’ll explore creating a comprehensive impact profile on Impactstory.org. Let’s get started!

Step 1. Explore an Impactstory profile

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One of our favorite Impactstory profiles belongs to genomics researcher Holly Bik. Her profile epitomizes all of the cool things you can do on Impactstory:

  • Discover metrics for your work from scholarly and popular social media
  • Import all of your papers, datasets, software, slide decks, and other scholarly products into a single profile
  • Highlight the scholarship and metrics you’re most proud of in your “Selected Works” and “Key Metrics” sections of your profile homepage
  • Learn who’s talking about your work and what they’re saying by drilling down into the metrics and underlying data
  • Connect your account to third-party services like Figshare, ORCID, and GitHub to get automatic updates & import your new research

Go ahead and poke around a bit on Holly’s profile. Take 5 minutes or so to explore. Go ahead, we’ll wait here.

Not everyone’s profile will look like Holly’s, to be sure. But no matter your career stage, chances are that an Impactstory profile will give you a lot of insight as to your many research impacts.

Step 2. Sign up for Impactstory

Now let’s get you set up with a free Impactstory trial.

You might have heard: we’re a subscription-based service ($60/year or $10/month). But we’re not going to make a hard pitch for you to subscribe.

Instead, you’re going to sign up for a free, 30 day trial, during which you’ll get a better chance to decide if Impactstory is right for you (and worth paying for*). Here’s how:

That’s it! Easy, huh?

Next, let’s walk through the simple steps it takes to get your scholarship onto Impactstory.

* We also offer fee waivers for anyone who can’t afford a subscription.

Step 3. Automate your Impactstory profile

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You’re now on the “Master Import Controls” page.

Next, you’ll be prompted to connect your accounts from across the Web. This will allow you to batch import many of your publications, software, data, and other scholarship that’s hosted elsewhere. And, once connected, we’ll automatically import your new scholarship, as it’s created.

As of this writing, you can connect Figshare, ORCID, GitHub, Publons, Slideshare, and Twitter for auto-importing of data and scholarship. You can also add a link to your Google Scholar profile and import those publications all at once using BibTeX.

We’ll use Figshare as an example for how to connect your Impactstory account to other services. To get started:

  • Click on the tile for the service you want to connect (in this case, Figshare)
  • Open a new browser window and get your Figshare author page URL (login to Figshare, click on your name and photo in the upper-right hand corner, click “My profile,” and then copy the URL that appears in your browser’s address bar.)
  • Switch back to the Impactstory browser window. In the Figshare pop-up, paste your Figshare author page URL into the box under “figshare author page URL”
  • Click the green “Connect to Figshare” button
  • You’re now connected!

Impactstory will then auto-import all of your public Figshare products and their metrics, and also update your Impactstory profile weekly with any new Figshare products and metrics.

The instructions above work for ORCID, GitHub, Publons, Slideshare, and Twitter, too. Just login to that appropriate web service to get your URL, username, or ORCID ID, and click the appropriate tile on Impactstory “Master import controls” page to insert the URL.

Step 4. Import your other scholarship to Impactstory

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It’s possible that you’ve got scholarly products squirreled away in places we can’t automatically import from. Maybe you’ve contributed to a GitHub repository that you don’t own, have a standalone website devoted to a research project, or have a video abstract for one of your articles.

No matter what you want to add to your profile as an individual product, here’s how to do it.

From the Main Import Controls page:

  • Click the “Add products individually by ID” link
  • On the next page, paste the identifier(s) for the product(s) you want to track. If you are adding more than one individual product at a time, be sure to add only one identifier per line.
  • Once you’ve added the identifiers for all the products you want to track, click the blue “Import” button. The products will be added to your profile.

Step 5. Step back and admire your profile so far

Now you’ve got all your scholarly products on Impactstory. Let’s take a look at how they look on the genre pages.

From your main profile page, click on the links in the left-hand navigation bar that correspond with the scholarly genre you want to explore.

For example, if you’ve got articles on your profile, go ahead and click on the “articles” link. Here’s what Holly Bik’s Articles page looks like:

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 8.40.08 PM.png

 You can hover over any of the blue or green badges to see the underlying data that document your scholarly and public impacts:

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 8.47.03 PM.png

 Or you can click on any title to see an in-depth description of the article and a summary of metrics. We auto-import as much information as possible, including your full citation and your abstract:

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 8.49.45 PM.png

 Click on the “Full-text” icon to see an embedded version of your paper (and you can add a link to the full-text, Open Access version of your paper, if we didn’t auto-import it for you–more on that below).

Click on the “Metrics” icon to see a drill-down view of your paper’s metrics, along with important context that we provide in percentiles:

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 And you can click through any of the specific metrics to go to the data provider website, where you can explore the underlying data:

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 8.55.43 PM.png

 Back on your profile, you can also click the “Map” icon to learn about where in the world your paper has been bookmarked on Mendeley, tweeted about, or viewed on Impactstory.org:

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 Hovering over any country gives you more information about the impacts that have happened in that country; you can also drill down into each country’s activity using the handy table at the lower-left of the page.

Step 6. Add links to your open access work

Now that you’ve seen all the ways your Open Access work is being reused online, let’s get more of your OA work onto your Impactstory profile.

For any article, dataset, or other scholarly product that’s not already embedded in your Impactstory profile:

  • Go to the main item page
  • Click on the “Full-text” icon
  • You’ll see an option to “Share your article” by uploading a full-text copy of your work or providing a URL.
  • Upload your article or provide your URL, and you’re done!

Step 7. Pretty up your profile

Now it’s time to put the finishing touches on your entire profile.

On your main profile page, add a short bio and a photo of yourself.

On your product pages for your most important research, add keywords and abstracts that’ll help others find your work more easily.

To add the bio, keywords, and abstract, just click on the field you want to edit, type in what you want to add, and then click the blue checkmark icon to save it to your profile.

That’s it! You now have a beautiful, complete Impactstory profile! Congrats!

Step 8. Dig into your metrics & notification emails

Now that your profile is complete, you’ll have 30 days’ worth of free trial to discover new metrics that your work has received.

Impactstory updates your profile with new metrics (and imports new products) on a weekly basis. Any new metrics will appear on your badges like so: Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 9.23.11 PM.png.

We also will send you notification emails on a weekly basis that highlight your top 10 “greatest hits” metrics for the week.

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 Your notification emails will usually include milestone metrics (“You’ve just passed 2,000 views on your Slideshare slides!”) and sometimes it will include incremental metrics for your less popular research materials (“You got 1 Figshare view for your 2001 dataset, ‘Datum Obscurus.’ That brings your total views up to 7.”)

These notifications include contextual information, such as your total number of metrics to date for that item, and what percentile your item’s in, relative to other research products created in the same year or published in the same discipline.

If you’d rather receive your Notification emails more frequently, less frequently, or not at all, you can change your settings at impactstory.org/settings/notifications.

Step 9. Share your success far and wide

Now that you’ve got your Open impact data, how will you use it?

Well, some researchers use altmetrics to document their impact for grant applications and tenure. We’ve also heard of scientists using them for promotion and annual reviews. Consider whether these scenarios would work for you. The latter scenario in particular is a great way to test the water, to see if your supervisors and colleagues are amenable to altmetrics.

You can also share altmetrics-inspired warm and fuzzies with your collaborators. Email your co-authors with a link to your articles on Impactstory, so they can check out the data for themselves. It’s a great feeling when you see in black and white the effect your work’s having on others. Share it! 🙂

We also suggest putting a link to your Impactstory profile on your website or blog, and in your email signature. All super-effective ways to quickly share both your research and your impact with your colleagues.

When sharing your Impactstory data and profile, keep in mind that numbers are only one useful part of the data. You can print out your impact map and include it in an annual review; quote from open peer reviews that praise the quality of your research in your tenure dossier; and learn who’s sharing your work so you can connect with them via social media.

But ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what uses will be the best for you, depending upon your academic environment. Once you decide, let us know! We love to hear how scientists are using their Impactstory profiles.


Many popular data providers including Google Scholar, Academia.edu, and ResearchGate won’t share their data with us (or anyone else) via Open API. So, we unfortunately can’t import metrics from those profiles to your Impactstory account.

It’s also hard for us (and all other altmetrics aggregators) to track scholarly products by URL alone. There simply aren’t great data sources for doing that ever since Topsy got bought out by Apple. We’re continuing to look for ways to get you this data. But in the meantime, we encourage you to mint DOIs for your work, so we can track it.


Now that you’ve got an Impactstory profile, make it awesome! Fill in the gaps in your publication history, add your most impactful work, connect your accounts, and so on. At the very least, information for all of your most important research products should be in your profile.

For your five most important products, add links to the Open Access versions of those works, if they’re available and you have the rights to post them. (If you remember, publishers’ restrictions might prohibit you from posting certain versions of your articles online.)

Once everything’s imported, it’s time to clean up your profile data. We import and clean up a lot of dirty and duplicate data for you, but some things might fall through the cracks. Here’s what to look for:

  • Mislabeled products: add missing descriptive information (journal names, authors, abstracts, and keywords that can help others find your work). It’s as easy as clicking in the area that needs to be updated, adding the info, and then clicking the blue checkmark button to save it.

  • Duplicate products: choose which version you’d like to delete, tick the box next to it, and click the trashcan icon at the top of your profile to get rid of it.

  • Miscategorized products: sometimes, products will end up in the Webpages genre or in other inappropriate places on your profile, due to incomplete descriptive information. To move a product from one genre page to another, check the box next to the item(s) to be moved, then click the “Move” folder icon at the top of your profile, select the appropriate genre from the drop-down menu, and you’re done!

Your final, enjoyable task is to now dig into the data that your Impactstory profile provides. Find unexpected mentions or reuse of your work online. Think about how you might use that data in a professional context. And give yourself a big pat on the back for completing the final Impact Challenge.



You’ve successfully made it through all 30 days of the Impact Challenge! We’re proud of you!

You’re now an Open, web-savvy scientist who’s made valuable connections online and in real life. You’re sharing more of your work than you were before, and have found many new ways to get your work to those who are interested. And you’re able to track the success of your efforts, and the real-time impact of your scholarship.

We’ve had a lot of fun writing these Impact Challenges and talking with all of you who’ve participated. Thanks for joining in! And feel free to reach out if you’ve got ideas for future Impact Challenges.


If you’ve accomplished all 30 Impact Challenges, we’ve got a gift for you and all other FINISHERs!


 The full rules for claiming your shirt can be found here.

Impact Challenge Day 29: Discover when your work is discussed & shared online

You’re engaging other scholars online; they’re discussing your open access work with you and other scientists; and you’ve minted identifiers that’ll let you track your work’s reach on the Web.

Now comes the fun part: measuring your research’s many impacts.

In today’s challenge, we’ll explore how the services you’ve signed up for–Academia.edu, Slideshare, Figshare, and so on–and others can be used to track the impacts of all of your research outputs.

Then tomorrow, we’ll cover our webapp, Impactstory, which brings together many of these metrics into a single, comprehensive impact profile.

Let’s dig in!


Citations are the “coin of the realm” to track scholarly impact, not only for your articles but also your research data, too. You can get citation alerts in three main ways: from Google Scholar, from traditional citation indices, and from newer databases like the Data Citation Index.

Google Scholar Citations alerts

Your Google Scholar profile can be used to alert you whenever your articles receive new citations online. It tracks any citations to your publications that occur on the scholarly web.

If you haven’t already signed up for citation alerts, visit your profile page and click the blue “Follow” button at the top of your profile. Select “Follow new citations” link and enter your preferred email address, then click “Create alert.” Notifications will arrive in your inbox when you receive new citations.

If you want to explore who has already cited you, visit your profile page, and click on the number of citations to the right of the article you want to track citations for:

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On the next page, you’ll see a list of all the papers that have cited you, some of which you’ll be able to click-through and read:

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Remember: Google Scholar indexes citations it finds in a wide range of scholarly document (white papers, slide decks, and of course journal articles are all fair game) and in documents of any language. The data pool is also mixed with respect to peer-review status; some of these citations will be in the peer reviewed literature, some will not. This means that your citation count on Google Scholar may be larger than on other citation services.

Web of Knowledge

Traditional citation indices like Scopus and Web of Knowledge are another good way to get citation alerts delivered to your inbox. These services are more selective in scope, so you’ll be notified only when your work is cited by vetted, peer-reviewed publications.

However, they only track citations for select journal articles and book chapters–a far cry from the diverse citations that are available from Google Scholar. Another drawback: your institution must have a subscription for you to set alerts.

Web of Knowledge offers article-level citation alerts. To create an alert, you first have to register with Web of Knowledge by clicking the “Sign In” button at the top right of the screen, then selecting “Register”.


Then, set your preferred database to the Web of Science Core Collection (alerts cannot be set up across all databases at once). To do that, click the orange arrow next to “All Databases” to the right of “Search” in the top-left corner. You’ll get a drop-down list of databases, from which you should select “Web of Science Core Collection.”

Now you’re ready to create an alert. On the Basic Search screen, search for your article by its title. Click on the appropriate title to get to the article page. In the upper right hand corner of the record, you’ll find the Citation Network box. Click “Create citation alert.” Let Web of Knowledge know your preferred email address, then save your alert.


In Scopus, you can set up alerts for both articles and authors. To create an alert for an article, search for it and then and click on the title in your search results. Once you’re on the Article Abstract screen, you will see a list of papers that cite your article on the right-hand side. To set your alert, click “Set alert” under “Inform me when this document is cited in Scopus.”

To set an author-level alert, click the Author Search tab on the Scopus homepage and run a search for your name. If multiple results are returned, check the author affiliation and subjects listed to find your correct author profile. Next, click on your author profile link. On your author details page, follow the “Get citation alerts” link, and list your saved alert, set an email address, and select your preferred frequency of alerts. Once you’re finished, save your alert.

With alerts set for all three of these services, you’ll now be notified when your work is cited in virtually any publication in the world! But citations only capture a very specific form of scholarly impact. How do we learn about other uses of your articles?

Data Citation Index

If you’ve deposited your data into a repository that assigns a DOI, the Data Citation Index (DCI) is often the best way to learn if your dataset has been cited in the literature.

To create an alert, you’ll need a subscription to the service, so check with your institution to see if you have access. If you do, you can set up an alert by first creating a personal registration with the Data Citation Index; click the “Sign In” button at the top right of the screen, then select “Register”. (If you’re already registered with Web of Knowledge to get citation alerts for your articles, there’s no need to set up a separate registration.)

Then, set your preferred database to the Data Citation Index by clicking the orange arrow next to “All Databases” to the right of “Search” in the top-left corner. You’ll get a drop-down list of databases; select “Data Citation Index.”

Now you’re ready to create an alert. On the Basic Search screen, search for your dataset by its title. Click on the appropriate title to get to the dataset’s item record. In the upper right hand corner of the record, you’ll find the Citation Network box. Click “Create citation alert.” Let the Data Citation Index know your preferred email address, then save your alert.

Pageviews & downloads

How many people are reading your work? While you can’t be certain that article pageviews and full-text downloads mean people are reading your articles, many scientists still find these measures to be a good proxy. And some repositories like Dryad and Figshare provide this information, too, so you can track the interest in the datasets, slides, and other content you upload.

Publisher websites

Publishers like PLOS display pageview and download information for individual articles on their website, alongside other data like citations and altmetrics.

Let’s take a closer look at PLOS’s pageview & download metrics. PLOS combines pageviews that happen on their website with pageviews and downloads the article receives on PubMed Central in a single view on the top of the article’s page:

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If you click on the metrics tab of the article page, you get more useful information: total views and download numbers by source, over time; a basic impact graph; and a graph of the relative popularity of this article, compared to articles in the same discipline that are published in PLOS:

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Here’s a closer look at the views and downloads grid and graph:

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On articles’ Metrics pages, PLOS also provides other data, including citations from a variety of sources, social media and scholarly bookmarking services.

For PLOS and many other publishers, these metrics are only available on their websites. Some pioneering publishers go one step further, sending you an email when you’ve got new pageviews and downloads on their site.

Publisher notifications

In addition to displaying pageviews and downloads on their websites, publishers like PeerJ and Frontiers send notification emails as a service to their authors.

If you’re a PeerJ author, you should receive notification emails by default once your article is published. But if you want to check if your notifications are enabled, sign into PeerJ.com, and click your name in the upper right hand corner. Select “Settings.” Choose “Notification Settings” on the left nav bar, and then select the “Summary” tab. You can then choose to receive daily or weekly summary emails for articles you’re following.

In Frontiers journals, it works like this: once logged in, click the arrow next to your name on the upper left-hand side and select “Settings.” On the left-hand nav bar, choose “Messages,” and under the “Other emails” section, check the box next to “Frontiers monthly impact digest.”

Both publishers aggregate activity for all of the publications you’ve published with them, so no need to worry about multiple emails crowding your inbox at once.

Not a PeerJ or Frontiers author? Contact your publisher to find out if they offer notifications for metrics related to articles you’ve published.

Impactstory also offers alerts that include this data for PLOS articles, so you’re notified any time your articles get new metrics, including pageviews and downloads. (We’ll talk more about all the data we provide in tomorrow’s challenge.)

ResearchGate & Academia.edu


Both ResearchGate and Academia.edu will report how many people have viewed and downloaded your paper on their site.

You can turn on email notifications for pageviews and downloads by visiting “Settings” (on both sites, click the triangle in the upper right-hand corner of your screen). Then, click on the “Notifications” tab in the sidebar menu, and check off the types of emails you want to receive.

On Academia.edu, the option to receive pageview & download notifications are described as “There’s new activity in my analytics (includes “Analytics Snapshot”)”; on Researchgate, it’s under Scheduled Emails > “Weekly update about my personal stats and RG Score.”

Dryad and Figshare Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 953.png

Dryad data repository and Figshare both display page view and download information on their web sites, but they don’t send notification emails when new downloads happen. You can import your Dryad and Figshare-hosted metrics to Impactstory to get notification emails; more on that tomorrow.

Post-publication peer review

Some articles garner comments as a form of post-publication peer review.


PeerJ authors are notified any time their articles get a comment. To make sure you’re notified when you receive new PeerJ comments, login to PeerJ and go to “Settings” > “Notification Settings”  and then click on the “Email” tab. There, check the box next to “Someone posts feedback on an article I wrote” and select all the options under the “Activity on my articles” section, too.


Any work that’s uploaded to ResearchGate can be commented upon. To set your ResearchGate notifications, login to the site and navigate to “Settings” > “Notifications.” Check the boxes next to “Someone reviews one of my publications” and “Someone bookmarks or comments on my publication.” (While you’re there, you can also check off “One of my publications was cited”–it’ll alert you any time another ResearchGate document cites one of your papers that’s on ResearchGate.)


Reviews can also be tracked via Altmetric.com alerts. Post-publication peer reviews from Publons and PubPeer are included in Altmetric.com reports and notification emails. Instructions for signing up for Altmetric.com notifications can be found below.


Article recommendation platform PubChase can also be used to set up notifications for PubPeer comments and reviews that your articles receive. To set it up, first add your articles to your PubChase library (either by searching and adding papers one-by-one, or by syncing PubChase with your Mendeley account). Then, hover over the Account icon in the upper-right hand corner, and select “My Account.” Click “Email Settings” on the left-hand navigation bar, and then check the box next to “PubPeer comments” to get your alerts.

Social media metrics via Altmetric.com

What are other researchers saying about your articles around the water cooler? It used to be that we couldn’t track these informal conversations, but now we’re able to listen in using social media sites like Twitter and on blogs. Here’s how.

Altmetric.com allows you to track altmetrics and receive notifications for any article that you have published that’s got a DOI, PubMed ID, ArXiv ID, or Handle. It’s a type of altmetrics aggregator, very similar to Impactstory and PlumX.


First, install the Altmetric.com browser bookmarklet (visit this page and drag the “Altmetric It!” button into your browser menu bar). Then, find your article on the publisher’s website and click the “Altmetric it!” button. The altmetrics for your article will appear in the upper right-hand side of your browser window, in a pop-up box similar to the one at right.

Next, follow the “Click for more details” link in the Altmetric pop-up. You’ll be taken to a detailed report of your metrics and the underlying qualitative data.

This report (seen below) shows you not only the numbers, but also lets you read the individual blogs, policy documents, newspapers, and other online outlets that mention your article. The donut visualization at the top-left of the report includes a single, weighted score that attempts to sum up the attention that your work has received. Below the visualization is contextual information that shows you how the article’s metrics compare to those of articles published in the same year, journal, and so on.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 4.24.53 PM.png

At the bottom left-hand corner of the page, you can sign up to receive notifications whenever someone mentions your article online.

The only drawback of Altmetric.com’s notification emails is that you have to sign up for a new notification for each article. This can cause inbox mayhem if you are tracking many publications.

Social media metrics via Impactstory

Impactstory provides many of the same metrics as Altmetric.com, rolled up into a single profile. (In fact, Altmetric’s such an ace data source that we use some of their data to in our reports.) More on that tomorrow!

Software metrics via GitHub

If you use the collaborative coding website GitHub to store and work with research data or software, you can see metrics and enable email alerts for certain types of activities.

As we discussed in our GitHub challenge, GitHub has some good metrics that can tell you how your code is being reused, commented upon, and so on–in real time. Some GitHub metrics that you’ll find on individual repository pages include:

  • Stars: some GitHub users “star” repositories as a means of showing appreciation for your work; others use them as a bookmark, so they can find and revisit your code more easily.
  • Forks: a “fork” is created when another user copies one of your repositories so they can explore and experiment without affecting your original code. It’s a good signal of reuse.
  • Pull requests: When a user wants to suggest changes to your code, they’ll issue a pull request. The number of pull request and identities of contributors can be good indicators of how collaborative your work is and who your high-profile collaborators are.

To enable notifications for your stars and forks, you’ll need to connect your GitHub account to Impactstory–GitHub itself doesn’t report on that just yet.



Though Slideshare is best known for allowing users to view and share slide decks, some researchers also use it to share conference posters. The platform sends users detailed weekly alert emails about new metrics their slide decks and posters have received, including the number of total views, downloads, comments, favorites, tweets, and likes.

Here’s how to view your Slideshare metrics on the Web: on your slide deck’s page, scroll down to find the “Statistics” tab under the description section, then click on it. Here you’ll find all the metrics related to others’ interest in your slides.

Some metrics you might accumulate include:

  • Views on both Slideshare and other websites
  • Embeds, which can tell you how many times and where others have shared your slides
  • Downloads, which can tell you if others have liked your slides enough to save them to their computer
  • Comments, which themselves can tell you what others think about your slides
  • Likes, which as you might guess can tell you if others like your work

To receive notification emails, go to Slideshare.net and click the profile icon in the upper right-hand corner of the page. Then, click “Email” in the left-hand navigation bar, and check the “With the statistics of my content” box to start receiving your weekly notification emails.

Vimeo and Youtube metrics

Vimeo and Youtube both provide a solid suite of statistics for videos hosted on their sites, and you can use those metrics to track the impact of your video research outputs (like your video abstracts).

Vimeo tracks likes, comments, and plays for videos hosted on their platform; Youtube reports the same, plus dislikes and favorites. You can view these metrics beneath the your videos on each platform.

To get metrics notifications for your videos hosted on either of these sites, you’ll need to add links to your videos to your Impactstory profile. More on that tomorrow!


There are so many ways to collect metrics for your work, it’s hard to keep up. And even aggregators that attempt to collect these metrics for you into a single place–like Impactstory, Altmetric.com, and PlumX–don’t collect everything.

We recommend taking a hybrid approach to staying on top of your impacts: sign up for an aggregator that can collect Twitter, blog, Slideshare, Figshare, etc metrics into one place for you, then supplement any metrics they can’t track (for example, Web of Knowledge or Data Citation Index citations) with email notifications from specific services.


Do some serious thinking about what metrics mean the most to you. And with those metrics in mind, sign up for the appropriate notification emails that’ll keep you up-to-date on your impacts.

Tomorrow is the final day of the Impact Challenge, and we’re covering the subject we know the best: Impactstory! See you then!

Day 28: Make your work more permanent and trackable with DOIs

Throughout the Impact Challenge, we’ve touched on the importance of having persistent identifiers like DOIs for your research.

DOIs–digital object identifiers–make it easy for others to find your work by providing a permanent, unique identifier for each research output. That identifier will always redirect to where your work is stored, even if the URL changes, the journal you were published in disappears, and so on. All you have to do to make a DOI linkable is append “http://doi.org/” to the front of a DOI, like “http://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.585t4” for doi:10.5061/dryad.585t4.

DOIs also make it easy to track when and where your research is cited, discussed, shared, bookmarked, or otherwise used across the Internet. DOIs are widely used, understood by most researchers, and well-supported by platforms that track impacts across the Web.

Let’s dig into how you can get DOIs for articles, data, software, and other types of research outputs. It will set you up well for tomorrow’s Challenge, which will cover services you can use to track the impacts of your work using DOIs and other permanent identifiers.

DOIs for articles & preprints

Many journals issue DOIs for journal articles automatically. So, getting a DOI for your articles can be as easy as publishing with a journal that issues them.

If you’re planning to publish (or have already published) in a journal that doesn’t offer DOIs, that’s okay! You can archive a preprint or publisher-accepted postprint (peer-reviewed final draft of the article that’s not the formatted, published version) of your article on a platform that issues DOIs like Figshare, Zenodo, BioRxiv, or ResearchGate. Some institutional repositories also can mint DOIs. Here’s how.

Figshare, Zenodo, BioRxiv & some institutional repositories

All of these services work pretty much the same for issuing DOIs: you upload an article and a DOI is assigned automatically. We’ll briefly walk you through the process here using Figshare as an example.

  • Login to Figshare and click the “Upload” link in the upper-right corner.
  • Upload the article and click the “Add info” link.
  • Add a description of the file (metadata). Be as thorough as possible when describing it; rich descriptions can make it easier to find your article using search engines.
  • Some journals require that you add a statement to the archived preprint. It’s usually something along the lines of:  “This is a pre-print version of the following article: [full citation pointing to publisher’s website]. It is posted here with the publisher’s permission.” You can usually find the statement on the “Author’s Rights” section of your journal’s website, and some relevant policies can be found on Sherpa/Romeo.
  • Make the article “Public” (select the radio button for Public immediately to the left of the “Save changes” button.
  • On the item record that’s now live on the Web, you’ll see your DOI:

    Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 3.43.09 PM.png

The placement of the DOI will vary depending upon what platform you’ve uploaded it to, but the result will be the same: as soon as you’ve completed the upload process, a DOI will be automatically generated.


ResearchGate recently started allowing users to mint DOIs for articles that don’t yet have one, but it’s not done automatically:

  • Login to ResearchGate
  • On your profile page, click “Add your publications”.
  • Select “All other research” in the pop-up box.
  • Upload your article and add descriptive information, click “Save”.
  • On your item record, click the “Generate a DOI” button at the top-right of the page.
  • Confirm your publication details are correct and that the article doesn’t already have a DOI. Click “Generate a DOI” again.
  • You’ll now see your DOI:

    Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 3.55.30 PM.png

DOIs for data

You can also get DOIs for research data thanks to disciplinary data repositories like Dryad, KNB, and many others found on re3data.org. Plus, some national data repositories like ANDS will issue DOIs for data, too.

When should you mint a DOI for your data? Natasha Simons of ANDS says a DOI should be applied when:

  • the data will be exposed and forms part of the scholarly record [this can be when you’re publishing supplementary data alongside a paper, “opening up” unpublished datasets, or otherwise making your data available to others];
  • the data can be kept persistent [it won’t have to be removed from the repository];
  • and the minimum DataCite metadata schema requirements can be met [you’ll need to provide information on the dataset’s Creator, Title, Publisher, and Publication Year; the Publisher information is communicated by your repository]

Getting a DOI for your data is usually as easy as just depositing your data. Nearly all data repositories that issue DOIs mint them automatically for new deposits.

Many repositories only issue a single DOI for a dataset, even if “versioning” (uploading of newer datasets, with the history of changes to the files preserved on the repository) is allowed.

But if you’ve got data that will be updated over time, you might need to use a repository that will issue a versioned DOI. Versioned DOIs can reflect what version of the data others are citing, making references to older versions of the dataset possible.

Dryad is just one repository that issues versioned DOIs. Here’s how it works:

  • You upload your data to the repository and get your base DOI (e.g. doi:10.5061/dryad.585t4)
  • When you upload a new version, Dryad will create a new suffix to the DOI that points to that particular version of the dataset (e.g. doi:10.5061/dryad.585t4.v2)

If you don’t have a national, disciplinary, or other specialized repository available to share your data, you can always deposit it to Figshare or Zenodo, where a DOI will be minted automatically.

DOIs for software

It’s easy to mint a DOI for your research software if you use GitHub to host your software and the connect it to your Figshare or Zenodo account. Here’s how it works:

  • Choose the public GitHub repository* you want a DOI for
  • Login to Figshare or Zenodo
  • Connect your Figshare or Zenodo account to GitHub
  • Use Figshare or Zenodo to select the GitHub repository you want a DOI for
  • Check that your GitHub repository is set to communicate with Figshare or Zenodo
  • Create a new “release” of your GitHub repository
  • Head back over to Figshare or Zenodo and make sure the full description of your software package appears in the Uploads section, then submit your software
  • An automatically-minted DOI will appear on the item record page. Here’s what that looks like on Zenodo:

    Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 6.00.59 PM.png

In depth instructions to minting DOIs for software can be found on GitHub.

If you’re not on GitHub but want to mint DOIs for your software, you can upload your software and the accompanying documentation as binary files to Figshare and Zenodo, like you did with research data in the step above.

* Confusingly (for those of us more accustomed to data repositories and institutional repositories), GitHub calls specific software packages “repositories”.

DOIs for open peer reviews

An increasing number of journals and peer review platforms are issuing DOIs for open peer reviews.

If you’ve openly reviewed a journal article, there are two main ways you can get a DOI for your reviews:

  • Review for a journal like PeerJ or peer review platform like Publons that issues DOIs automatically
  • Archive your review in a repository that issues DOIs, like Figshare or Zenodo

DOIs will allow others to easily find your open peer reviews and also allow you to track discussions and reuse of your peer reviews across the Web, like you can with other scholarly outputs. That’s a major advantage over private, anonymous peer reviews, which are never seen beyond your editor and the article’s author and can rarely be claimed for credit towards the enormous amount of intellectual work they require.

DOIs for everything else

You can easily mint DOIs for your slide decks, posters, and even your blog posts if you upload them to Zenodo or Figshare, following the instructions outlined above.


Many of the limitations of DOIs are caused by human error. For example, though it’s ideal for your links to your work to use the DOI link (more on that below), you can’t control whether others will actually do it. That’s because research is often shared online using regular, easy-to-copy URLs instead of DOIs.

The best you can do is provide the DOI on the same page where the research output is shared. List it front and center, along with a preferred citation, so that anyone who shares your work will hopefully see it and follow your instructions.

It’s also bad form to create more than one DOI for a research output. So don’t mint a DOI for anything that’s already got one.

The final limitation is that we’re all counting on the publisher or service provider to keep the DOI record up to date with the DOI registration agency (most commonly Crossref or DataCite). And keeping records up-to-date is what ensures that DOIs point to the correct place on the Web (which you’ll remember is useful if URLs change or journals fold).

Most reputable publishers do this, but some publishers and repositories may not be as responsible (for example, as of this writing, as far as we know, ResearchGate doesn’t have a documented preservation policy). If you aren’t sure if the publisher’s archiving policy is up to snuff, ask them about it.


First, mint DOIs for your 5 most important research outputs that don’t already have them. Bonus points if some of those outputs are not articles.

Once you have your DOIs, use them:

  • Put them onto your CV alongside your research products;
  • Update your ArXiv preprint metadata to point to them;
  • Put clearly-labeled preferred citations that include DOIs into your dataset or software documentation; and
  • Encourage others to always link to your review using the DOI resolver link (these are created by putting “http://doi.org/” in front of your DOI; here’s an example of what one looks like: http://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.603v0.1/reviews/2).

Now that you’ve got DOIs for your most important research outputs, we’ll explore how you can use altmetrics and impact tracking services like Altmetric.com and Impactstory to discover how often they’re cited, saved, shared, discussed, and otherwise reused online. Stay tuned!

Impact Challenge Day 27: Track your scholarly social media and website impacts with Twitter, Sumall, and Google Analytics

Throughout this Impact Challenge, we’ve explored many ways for you to get your work to other researchers, the public, and other audiences via the Internet, by making connections at conferences, and other means.

To close out the Challenge, we’ll share four techniques for measuring the success of your ongoing efforts, starting with basic social media and website analytics.

Social media and website analytics like those provided by Twitter, Sumall, and Google Analytics can tell you a lot about who’s following your work, the potential exposure your work has received, and some limited bits about the diverse uses of your work, beyond simple pageviews and download counts.

Let’s dig into four easy ways to explore the metrics behind your website and social media accounts.

Twitter Analytics

Twitter recently rolled out an Analytics feature, which can tell you not only how many followers you have, but also their demographics and how others are using your tweets. Are your tweets being retweeted or favorited very often? If so, what are the characteristics of those tweets with high engagement rates?

The wealth of data that Twitter provides can help you learn more about the audiences you’re having an impact with (Is your work resonating in the countries whose populations you’re studying? What subjects do your followers care most about? and so on). Here’s how to get started with Twitter Analytics:

  • Login to Twitter
  • Click on your picture in the upper right-hand corner and then select “Analytics” from the drop-down menu
  • You’ll see three tabs:
    • Tweet Activity: includes the exposure your tweets has received, the general rates that others have engaged with your tweets, and allows you to explore the activity that individual tweets have received.
    • Followers: breaks down the demographics of your followers, showing a growth chart,
    • Twitter Cards: most useful for advanced academic users who want to promote blog content and rich media. We won’t talk much about Twitter Cards in this post; check out this guide for more information.

Let’s dig into the Tweet Activity and Followers pages.

Tweet Activity

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 4.09.13 PM.png

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 4.11.23 PM.png

The first thing you’ll see on this page is a bar chart of the number of Twitter impressions your tweets have received over the past 28 days. Twitter impressions are the number of times your tweets have appeared in someone else’s timeline. You can think about this metric as being akin to the circulation statistics of a journal you’re published in–it’s not the same as readership, but it gives a sense of your overall exposure.

You’ll also see summaries of your average Engagements on the right-hand side of the screen. How often have others clicked on your links, retweeted and favorited your tweets, and replied to you over the past 28 days? And how many of each of these actions have you received per day, on average?

In the middle of the screen, you’ll see a list of your tweets in reverse chronological order, along with their individual number of impressions, engagements, and engagement rate.

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 4.16.15 PM.png

You can click on “View Tweet details” for any individual tweet to get a drill down view of the metrics:

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 11.02.11 AM.png

And this is where the good stuff lives. The chart at the top of the Tweet details page tells you the times when your tweet was most popular, and below it are the types of actions others took to engage with or share your tweet with others.

Over time, you can use this specific information, as well as more general information about your overall tweet activity, to learn when your tweets get the most impressions and engagement. That way, you can schedule your future tweets to post during similar times when sharing links to your blog posts, journal articles, and other scholarly products, so as many people see your work as possible.

Consider doing an informal analysis of your most popular tweets on a monthly basis. It’ll allow you to see what types of tweets are the most popular with your followers, and you can use that insight to share future links in a similar way.

An easy way to do this informal analysis is to export your Tweet Activity data as a CSV file. Open it up in Excel and use the Sort function to see which of your tweets have the most impressions, retweets, and other types of engagement.

Beyond Tweet Activity, knowing about your followers is a great way to learn the demographics of your audience and what unexpected demographics you’re reaching via Twitter.


Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 11.04.23 AM.png

Much of your Followers page is self explanatory: How many followers do you have overall, and when did you experience a spike in follower growth? What are your followers most interested in? Where are they located? Who else do they follow? And what’s their gender?

You can compare information about your follower rate to information on your Tweet Activity page to see if any particular tweets or mentions can account for a dip or rise in follower growth.

And demographic information can be useful in other ways. For example, if you’re a public health researcher studying drug use among teens in northern Europe, one way to prove that you’re successful at reaching out to that group would be to dig into your Followers data and see where your followers live; who else they’re following and their interests could give you insight as to their age and other demographic information.

Twitter Analytics give you rich data on your specific impacts on Twitter. Sumall, on the other hand, can give you a 50,000 foot view of your impacts across Twitter and other platforms.


Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 4.38.21 PM.png

Sumall is a popular analytics platform that allows you to dig into your Twitter, Facebook, and other social media metrics. For the purposes of this challenge, we’ll explore only the most revealing Twitter and Facebook metrics that Sumall provides, which are:

  • Twitter
    • Mentions: How often did others use your handle to reply to you or comment about you?
    • Mention Reach: How many people saw your name in their timeline?
    • Retweet Reach: How many people saw a retweeted tweet of yours in their timeline?
  • Facebook
    • Post Likes: How often are others “liking” your post? This can give a big boost to your posts’ visibility among others’ friend networks.
    • Post Comments: How often are others engaging with your posts by commenting upon them?
    • Post Shares: How often have others reshared your posts?

Here’s how to explore these (and other) metrics: sign up for a free Sumall account using your Twitter or Facebook login, or by signing up with your email.

You’ll be prompted to connect other social media accounts; I suggest starting with Twitter and Facebook. Google+ and WordPress.com statistics are also available, but not detailed enough to be useful, in my opinion.

Once your social media accounts are hooked up, you’ll see the main Sumall interface. The Sumall interface is a bit buggy and suffers from some usability issues, but it is nonetheless illuminating for gaining quick and dirty insights into your metrics via charts and summaries.

On the left hand side of the screen are different metrics you can click on to add to the chart. The chart itself takes up most of the middle of the screen.

The chart lacks labeled X and Y axes; you have to hover over individual data points to see the dates at which particular metrics occurred and what those metric counts were:

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 4.43.51 PM.png

Below the chart is summaries of the data points you’ve added to the chart for the specified date range:

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 4.53.44 PM.png

At the top of the screen, you can set date ranges by clicking on the underlined dates. This allows you to compare data over certain periods:

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 4.52.51 PM.png

All of the metrics that Sumall provides give you a good overview of the reach your work has had, and how engaged others are with you in general on various platforms. Sumall isn’t as good as Twitter or the next two types of metrics providers at telling you about the performance of your specific posts.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a powerful platform that can tell you a lot about the traffic that your professional website and blog have received.

To get started, you need to sign up for a free Google Analytics account, then insert a small file onto your website that helps track your website’s traffic: how many people are visiting your site, where are they coming from, how long are they staying, what’s the most popular content on your website, and so on.

Hooking Google Analytics up to your blog is very easy if you’re running a WordPress blog: here’s a tutorial on how to do it in under 60 seconds.

Google Analytics provides a number of out-of-the-box reports that can be useful for learning about your site’s visitors and the content that’s most popular, as summarized by the University of Minnesota’s Academic Health Center:

  • Audience overview report provides an at-a-glance overview of all the key visitor metrics for your site.
  • Acquisition overview report provides an at-a-glance overview of visitor-source metrics for your site.
  • Behavior overview report provides an at-a-glance overview of the key pageview metrics for your site.

Let’s take a closer look at each report.

Audience Overview Report

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 5.09.21 PM.png

How many visitors have you received, and where do they hail from? Do visitors from certain countries stay longer on your website? How about visitors who’re using a mobile browser versus a desktop browser? Knowing more about our visitors’ demographics can tell us how good of a job we’re doing at engaging certain communities, and also clues like “Are visitors to my website who’re using mobile browsers leaving because they’re having a hard time reading on their mobile phones?”

Acquisition Overview Report

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 5.22.23 PM.png

Are more people searching for your site than they are being referred to your site from Twitter and Facebook? What social networks are sending the most traffic your way? Digging into this report, as well as drill-down views beneath the “Acquisition” section of the left-hand toolbar, can give you insight into how you might better promote your website or blog using social media.

Behavior Overview Report

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 5.15.27 PM.png

What are the most popular pages on your website or blog? Above, we’ve screencapped traffic for our blog over the past month. We see on the bottom right the most popular pages, as well as a summary of traffic just below the overall traffic chart. This can not only tell you the content on your website or blog that’s most eligible for resharing on social media as “evergreen content,” but also can tell you whether blog posts aimed at engaging the public are working.

For a comprehensive list of Google Analytics resources, check out KissMetrics’ link roundup.

What these platforms can’t tell you

None of these platforms expose much of the underlying, qualitative data like, “In what context was I ‘mentioned’ on Twitter?” or “What did all those Facebook comments actually say?”

So, be sure to use the data you’re gathering carefully!


Explore your Twitter Analytics data and sign up for Sumall or Google Analytics. After a few weeks’ worth of metrics have accumulated, dig into the data with these questions in mind:

  • Have there been spikes in engagement or traffic after I shared certain types of content?
  • What do these services tell me about the demographics of my readers, visitors, and followers?
  • How do those demographics differ from what I expected? How are they similar?
  • How might I use the data these sites provide to document my engagement efforts for professional purposes?

Tomorrow, we’ll dig into a key way to make use of your academic work trackable across the Web: minting permanent identifiers.

Impact Challenge Day 26: Expand your co-authorship base

In today’s challenge, we’ll share another way to increase your impacts beyond the Internet: co-authoring with a diverse group of colleagues.

Co-authoring is becoming increasingly common in many fields, for good reason: co-authoring “makes research more fun, productive, and efficient,” helps researchers “develop new ideas, extend our methodological toolkit, and share the workload,” allows senior researchers to share their expertise with younger scientists, and results in papers that some say contain stronger ideas and writing.

Co-authorship is also about bringing your own expertise to the table. Working with diverse co-authors can gain you a wider network of colleagues and increased connections in your field. And, if it’s done well, it secure you important allies at all career stages. After all, you never know where your grad students or postdocs will end up some day!

Plus, when you publish with a broad group of people, you help break down the “old boys network” while increasing the reach of your work — citation counts are higher for papers with gender and ethnically diverse co-authors.

Let’s learn more about what types of co-authors you can recruit a more diverse group of collaborators, how to work well with others, and some of the benefits and drawbacks of co-authorship in general.

What to look for in a co-author

In general, there are some things you should look for when recruiting co-authors outside of your own research group:

Complementary strengths

Are your potential collaborators excellent on theory, whereas you’re the computational methods wiz? Does a postdoc in your group know the ins and outs of R, while a PhD student you mentor can bang out a top-rate literature review in 24 hours? Having collaborators who possess complementary strengths to your own can make it easy to divide and conquer writing a better paper in less time.


Does this person respond to emails in a timely manner and deliver on promises? Knowing up front when you can count on someone takes a lot of the headaches out of collaboration.

And does this person’s working style jive well with your own? C. Titus Brown points out that he often ends up collaborating with others who aren’t big on computational biology, but that their shared, relaxed approach to writing is what makes their partnerships successful.


Good co-authors are also those who challenge you to do your best work. Researcher Bob Hinings describes his best and longest-lasting collaborator thusly: “[I find] that other people are interesting and usually have better ideas than I do so I can build on their contributions and get great satisfaction from the process, even though at times it can be challenging. Royston is always full of ideas and it is a challenge to keep up with him.”

Collaborators with these characteristics can be found not only in your lab or university, but in other countries, different disciplines, and at many stages of their career. Let’s now dive into some ways you can look to diversify your group of collaborators.

Types of co-author diversity

Career stage

You can choose to co-author with scholars of your same career stage, more senior scholars, or with scholars who are junior to you. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, as CrookedTimber blog documents:

It is important for a junior scholar to show clearly his or her distinct contributions to a field and by co-authoring with senior scholars, some will be inclined to dismiss the work as that of the senior researcher…[When working with students] the junior scholar becomes the senior author due to his or her seniority as compared to the student co-author(s).

Co-authoring with junior scientists allows you to also mentor those with less experience. Consider giving full co-authorship credit to students who’ve helped on a project, rather than relegating their credit to the Acknowledgement section of your paper. It’s an easy way to diversify your co-author list while giving students a major leg-up.

That said, don’t make someone an author just to be nice. Respect the norms for your field and its written ethical guidelines. Many junior scholars bring their own strengths to the table. Ask them to take the lead on recording a video abstract, blogging about your study, or drafting a press release–your paper may be stronger for it!


There are many good reasons to co-author with scientists from outside of your field (and even outside of academia): they can help your work reach different audiences, give an outside perspective on your field of study, and find ways to apply research in a clinical setting, among others.

For example, studies on sustainability science and data curation by hydrologist Praveen Kumar and information scientists Beth Plale and Margaret Hedstrom have been published from different perspectives in different venues. (Their work was both presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in 2013 and published in the International Journal of Digital Curation.) Some may worry that this constitutes “double dipping” (publishing the same work twice) but if done properly, the focus and content of the two products are very different and get disciplinary information to their communities of interest.

And as the Dean of Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions points out, collaboration can move research into practice, developing clinical technology and saving lives.

Gender & ethnic diversity

National Cancer Institute’s Kenneth Gibbs Jr eloquently explains the argument for diverse research teams on the Voices blog:

[W]hen trying to solve complex problems (i.e., the sort of thing scientists are paid to do), progress often results from diverse perspectives. That is, the ability to see the problem differently, not simply “being smart,” often is the key to a breakthrough. As a result, when groups of intelligent individuals are working to solve hard problems, the diversity of the problem solvers matters more than their individual ability. Thus, diversity is not distinct from enhancing overall quality—it is integral to achieving it.

And the literature backs him up: one recent study has found that gender diversity on research teams leads to better quality publications. Another study found that ethnically diverse teams are more creative and produce higher quality ideas than ethnically homogeneous groups (albeit among a sample population of undergraduates). Papers with ethnically diverse co-authors also tend to get more citations, too.

But perhaps the best argument for having a gender- and ethnically-diverse group of collaborators is summed up in this tweet:


A final way to consider diversity is in the context of research outputs. You can “co-author” not only journal articles, but also presentations, software, and other types of research outputs.

Impactstory co-founder Heather Piwowar once found a diverse group of collaborators by putting out a call on Twitter for others interested in organizing a panel for the ASIS&T Annual Meeting in 2011. The panel was fun, very successful, and allowed her to work with a more diverse group of researchers than she had anticipated.

And collaborators on genomics researcher Holly Bik’s Phinch project are industry software developers, not other researchers, which has led to the development of a beautiful data visualization app for large biological datasets.

So how do you find diverse co-authors? Let’s explore some strategies.

How to find diverse co-authors


Communications researcher Philip N. Howard suggests tapping your mentors for co-authorship opportunities:

The first step in finding opportunities to co-publish is to let your faculty mentors know that you are available to help if they ever get such invitations. Faculty sometimes receive unsolicited invitations to write an article or contribute a book chapter. Since faculty often plan long-term writing agendas, they may decline an unexpected invitation. They may be more likely to accept such an invitation if they know they can share the research and writing tasks with a co-author.

Mentors may also be able to connect you with colleagues who are interested in a similar subject who might be in need of a collaborator with whatever skills you possess (computational methods, quick-but-thorough literature review writing, mastery of Stata, and so on).

Conference buddies

Remember all those interesting researchers whose work you admire that you met while hustling at conferences? They can make great collaborators. Shoot them an email to say hello, and share an idea or two you’ve been thinking on to see if they want to collaborate.

Social networks

Take a look at your social networks on Twitter, ResearchGate, and LinkedIn. After being on social media for a few weeks or months you’ll have met scientists in your network whose skills complement your own. Don’t be afraid to reach out to potential co-authors with an idea for a paper or project.


The final–and most challenging–way to find co-authors is to “cold call” a researcher that you want to collaborate with but haven’t met yet. Reach out to them via email or phone, send them an idea for a paper or two, and ask if they’d like to collaborate.

As a PhD student, Impactstory co-founder Jason Priem once emailed a researcher he admired with a request to co-author, offering to do the grunt work of writing a literature review. He was accepted onto the paper and now has a co-authorship credit with a respected researcher, broadening his co-authorship base and experience.

If you’ve got something to offer–a great idea, a complementary skill, or the ability to do something the lead author doesn’t want to do–you can find opportunities that aren’t readily apparent.

Making co-authorship work

So–you’ve got your co-authors lined up and ready to write. Now what?

Tseen Khoo of the Research Whisperer blog says all of the following are required for a successful co-authoring experience:

  • A feasible, agreed-upon schedule for drafting and deadline for completion.
  • A strong leader for the paper, someone who takes final responsibility for its proofing and submission (even though the actual tasks may be devolved to someone else…).
  • Proper version control. That’s why I emphasise the serial process of sending it around the team. When X has done their bit, they send it to Y (cc’ing the others), who then sends it to Z (cc’ing the others). Don’t fiddle with the writing till you are the one the document is sent to.
  • All members of the team to be committed to adding value to the publication, and doing their bit.

In the next section, we discuss co-author agreements, which can help you articulate the schedule and responsibilities that Tseen describes. Version control can be managed via email and Microsoft Word as described above, or by writing your paper on GitHub, WriteLaTeX, or Authorea.

Be sure to also avoid gift and ghost authorship (the practice of giving authorship credit to people who didn’t contribute to the paper)–both are still practiced by some academics but are heavily frowned upon by publishers.

The tricky bits

There’s no shortage of screeds that outline the many potential drawbacks to co-authoring papers:

Credit for authorship is starting to see some progress: some journals require specific articulation of author contributions (like this statement for this paper) and the recently released CRediT taxonomy may fix this problem altogether, once widely adopted.

And it may sound hokey, but the near-magical fix for most of these problems is simple: create a co-author agreement that puts into writing the roles, division of labor, and a set of standards that everyone will agree to abide by (like “responding to an email within 48 hours”, and so on). Elsevier Connect blog has posted a co-author agreement template, if you want to give it a try.

Co-authorship agreements are generally not legally-binding contracts, but instead ways for everyone to clarify the “rules of engagement” before a major writing project begins.


Brainstorm ideas for writing projects and a list of potential co-authors. If you want, you can divide the list into “low hanging fruit” and “dream co-authors” to make it easier to write.

If you’ve got the bandwidth to take on a new writing project right now, reach out to your potential co-authors in one of the ways described above and propose a collaboration. Otherwise, keep your list handy for a rainy day, when you’ll have the time to take on a new project.

And if you don’t have a diverse network of colleagues on your scholarly social media sites, you can start to fix that right now–start following 10 new people today.

Impact Challenge Day 25: Mentor other scientists

Even if you’re at the beginning of your research career, you can be a mentor.

Mentoring is a wonderful way to pay-it-forward, passing on knowledge and skills to younger generations of scientists. Mentors can help other researchers navigate tricky grant application processes, handle complex political situations in the lab, and connect with diverse colleagues and potential collaborators.

How does mentoring affect your impact? Well, impact isn’t all about citations and prestige–it’s about the effect you have on others, too.

And mentoring isn’t always the “wise professor helps student” scenario that many imagine it to be. PhD students can be mentors to other students, researchers can “peer mentor” other researchers, and increasingly scientists at all stages in their career are using the Web to mentor each other.

In today’s challenge, we’ll mostly tackle the latter type of mentoring: leveraging social media to advise and support other researchers.

First, let’s define mentoring.

Mentoring, loosely defined

Mentoring is often defined along the lines of “train[ing] or advis[ing] the mentee…so that they can work more effectively and progress,” but it’s so much more than that. And mentoring also no longer fits the rigid “wise professor helps student” scenario that I mentioned above.

In general, mentoring is about:

  • Listening carefully and giving impartial advice
  • Connecting junior researchers with opportunities
  • Helping others without the expectation of anything in return

And there are a number of specific activities that mentors tend to offer. National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity’s Kerry Ann Rockquemore defines those as:

  • Professional development (time management, conflict resolution, project planning, grant writing, basic organizational and management skills).
  • Access to opportunities and networks (research collaborations, funding , etc.).
  • Emotional support (to deal with the stress and pressure of the tenure track and life in a new location),
  • A sense of community (both intellectual and social).
  • Accountability (for research and writing).
  • Institutional/political sponsorship (someone to advocate their best interest behind closed doors).
  • Role models (who are navigating the academy in a way they aspire to).
  • Safe space (to discuss and process their experiences without being invalidated, questioned, devalued and/or disrespected).

Did you notice how most of these activities can be done by anyone, at nearly any stage of their career?

If you’re a graduate student, you can mentor undergraduates. And if you’re an early career researcher, you can do the same for graduate students, and senior researchers can do the same for you. Plus, researchers of similar standing with differing backgrounds can “peer mentor” one another. It’s all about paying it forward.

We tend to think about mentoring as only being face-to-face rap sessions, but the truth is that the Internet allows us to mentor people we’ve never met through a variety of means. The first of which is the idea of “distributed mentoring.”

Getting started with ‘distributed mentoring’

Distributed mentoring is a movement started by Diana Kimball to open up the practice of mentoring beyond the confines imposed by physical location. According to Diana, you can be a “distributed mentor” by creating a space on your website where you proclaim your interest in mentoring others over the Internet on a variety of topics.

Those who are interested in being mentored can read through your list and contact you via email to begin the process. You can “meet” via video chat or over the phone, as often as you’d like.

But distributed mentoring isn’t done in just one way. You don’t have to join Kimball’s movement to be a distributed mentor in essence. Instead, you can seek out others on social media who are in need of help.

There are many places on the Web where you can find junior researchers hungry for guidance. We’ll highlight three: Academia Stack Exchange, ResearchGate, and Twitter. Let’s break down how you can use each platform to help others.

Academia Stack Exchange

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Academia Stack Exchange is a spin-off from Stack Exchange, a popular computer programming Q&A site. On Academia Stack Exchange (Academia.SE), users can ask about most aspects of academia: how to format a CV, the etiquette of handling a reference request from someone who never showed up for class, where to find certain types of data or articles, and so on–the sorts of questions a mentee will often ask.

But there’s more to Academia.SE than that. Basically, the site works like this: someone posts a question and others answer it. Members of the Academia.SE community can vote answers up or down, based on quality. Points are assigned based on both what you contribute (questions, answers, edits, and so on) and whether others have voted your content up or down. And you accumulate points over time, gaining reputation, badges, and the ability to do more things on the site as your points increase.

Here’s how to use Academia.SE  for distributed mentoring: browse Academia Stack Exchange by topic (and also wander over to other Stack Exchanges, like this one for Chemistry or this one for Math) to find questions that match your expertise. And once you’ve signed up for an account, you can begin to answer questions.

If you’ve chosen to use your real name when signing up–which I recommend–others will be able to recognize your contributions. But whether pseudonymous or not, you’re still helping others, which is the whole point of mentoring.


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Until now, we’ve mostly talked about ResearchGate as a platform to share your scholarship. But it also can be used to reach out to and help other scientists.

ResearchGate’s Q&A feature allows scientists to pose a question to others that have listed certain skills and expertise in their profile, and anyone matching those skills can answer.

Here’s how it works: under the “Topics” section of your profile, you can add and edit subject areas you’ve got expertise in. Then, on the Q&A section of the site, ResearchGate will prompt you with questions it thinks you can answer, based on the Topics you’ve listed in your profile.

Because ResearchGate is closely linked with your scholarly identity, it’s easy to get recognition for your contributions. Points are also added to your RG score based on the number of questions you answer, which gamifies the experience for a bit of fun.

Some have praised ResearchGate’s Q&A feature over that of similar services, but others criticize the site for the “useless” questions posed in the Q&A. You’ll have to judge for yourself whether the questions posed in your area of expertise are worth answering, and what value you can get out of engaging others on the site.


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Twitter can be used for all kinds of mentoring and support activities, especially when using and following hashtags.

Hashtags like #madwriting can be used for accountability: many share their writing schedule with others like you’d share your “days since my last cigarette” with friends–to hold you to a promise of productivity and responsibility.

General hashtags like #phdchat, #gradchat, and #ecrchat are often used by students and early career researchers to pose questions and ask advice, as are hashtags for disciplines. Check in on these hashtags regularly and answer any questions that arise or offer to share your experience and advice. Not everyone will be interested, but many will appreciate your willingness to take a few minutes out of your day to help them.

The same goes for those that you’re already following on Twitter. Read through your homepage Twitter stream each time you login to see if anyone you’re following could use advice or support; and support them in any way you can, to the extent that you’re comfortable doing so.

One downside of using Twitter to mentor can be the sheer amount of unrelated tweets you have to sift through to find the stuff worth chatting about. Hashtags are a partial answer to that question, but right now, there’s not much you can do to fully solve it.

Limitations of distributed mentoring

It can be hard to create a safe space for others using very public forums like those mentioned above. Similarly, it’s difficult–and potentially risky–to offer access to opportunities and networks to someone you don’t know very well.

One way around these problems is to make initial connections on public-facing social media sites, if you want to, then exchange private contact information and continue mentoring via email, videochat, or telephone.

If you’re a stranger to a potential mentee, go slowly — mentoring can get complicated fast, and overcommitment and overinvolvement helps no one. To start with, it’s better to offer too little of yourself than too much.


Choose two platforms to experiment with as a distributed mentor. Then, sit back and “lurk” for a while, spending your time reading previous Q&As to get a feel for how it works on each platform, and answer at least one question on each platform. Additionally, consider setting up a “/mentor” section of your website and formally joining the Diana Kimball’s Distributed Mentoring movement.

Impact Challenge Day 24: Hustle at conferences


Are you missing out at conferences? You might be if you’re just attending and not connecting.

Conferences are a fantastic place to meet the biggest names in your field, make connections that can lead to later jobs, and “gain insight into some of the ‘less-obvious’ aspects of how things work in the academic world — various norms, conventions, as well as some of the social and political dimensions.”

Conferences also are a great opportunity to be a helpful expert, connecting the dots via social media for other attendees as well as people who are monitoring the meeting from afar.

In today’s challenge, you’re going to learn some ways to hustle at conferences and make plans for future meetings.

But first things first: you’ve got to attend the right conferences.

Choose the right conference

There can be dozens of conferences aimed at researchers in your field. Here’s how to find your best options:

Ask a trusted colleague or advisor: they can tell you what the most popular conferences are, or the ones that are most appropriate for someone in your area of study or stage in your career. Take their recommendations with a grain of salt, though: if you’re studying something they’re unfamiliar with or working on an interdisciplinary problem, they might not know of all the best opportunities.

Browse scholarly society websites: some of the most important conferences are organized by scholarly societies. So check out the websites of any scholarly societies that are big in your field to see if they have annual meetings or related events listed.

Search Lanyrd: Lanyrd is a platform for announcing your intent to attend and speak at meetings, and discover meetings in your area of expertise. You can sign up for free by connecting your Twitter or LinkedIn accounts, and Lanyrd will helpfully show you what meetings others in your network are attending. You can also search the platform by subject area.

Search WikiCFP or Nature Events: both of these sites provide comprehensive lists of science meetings from around the world. You can browse by subject area on both, and Nature Events even lets you export conference information to your calendar. These platforms are less social media-oriented than Lanyrd.

Once you’ve got your meeting options, how can you know the right ones are to attend? Science recruiter David Jensen suggests four filters to use when deciding whether to attend a conference:

  • Relevance of the topic to your current work and future goals. If you have the option, choose a meeting in your current or future field with a broad range of attendees, including people from industry and government.
  • The quality of the speakers. The quality of the speakers determines the quality of the audience, which determines the quality of the networking opportunity.
  • Visibility. While you can make a ton of contacts at a big meeting if you do it right, you’ll be more visible at a smaller meeting. An opportunity to present at a more intimate meeting is often very meaningful.
  • Can you afford it? …At a big meeting, you can skip the presentations and get an inexpensive “exhibits only” badge. Ask the organizers if they need volunteers to work the social events desk or help attendees with their projection equipment. Many meetings have reduced rates for students, and some even have awards to cover the cost of meeting-related travel.

Got some conferences in mind now? Good–now let’s dig into how you can make the most of ‘em.

Plan ahead


Dig into the session schedules available on the conference website, and try to identify any “must see” talks by topic well ahead of time. It’ll keep you from missing out on important subjects related to your work, and provide valuable opportunities to make meaningful connections.

In addition to searching the schedule by topic, keep an eye out for the names of researchers you want to meet. Conferences provide many opportunities to connect: poster sessions, before and after presentations, at cocktail hours, and so on. If there’s anyone you want to meet who’s presenting, this meeting will be your chance!

You can also find out who’s just planning to attend by connecting your Lanyrd account with Twitter and LinkedIn. Lanyrd will search for members of your network and let you know what meetings they’ve RSVP’d to. Of course, this only works if your network is on Lanyrd. An alternative is to ask your colleagues via social media whether they plan to attend.

Make some dates

Once you have a sense of who’s going to attend, reach out via email or social media to arrange an informal meetup. The Next Scientist’s Julio Peironcely suggests cold-emailing with the following information:

Use for your email a self-explanatory title (don’t just say “Hello”). Use something like “Meeting at conference XXX dinner to discuss BLABLA?”.

The first paragraph of your email is your elevator pitch, short and to the point. [More on that in a moment.] After reading the first paragraph, the scientist you are [contacting] should already know if he [sic] wants to meet or not. Leave the details for the rest of the email…

The rest of the email could contain some of your achievements. Describe also what’s in for the other person to meet with you.

For contacting colleagues you’re already familiar with, 99u suggests reaching out to your contacts beforehand and proposing “grabbing an early breakfast together, lunch, or drinks during the conference. Encourage each person to invite 1-2 people that they deeply respect, thus broadening the potential of the meeting.”

Prepare an elevator speech

Consider this scenario: you find yourself standing in line for coffee with the conference’s keynote speaker, who also happens to be someone you’d love to collaborate with. How do you pique her interest in the 30 seconds you’ve got her full attention?

That’s where an elevator speech comes in. An elevator speech (also called an “elevator pitch”) is a short, practiced explanation of who you are and what you study. Having a pitch ready for situations like the one described above can save you from fumbling when you’re put on the spot.

Biologist Catherine Searle proposes the following framework for creating your elevator pitch:

  • Introduction – Explain who you are. This is sometimes unnecessary if you have already struck up a conversation.

  • Hook – What is the major question/problem you study? You can also start with an observation (e.g. I noticed this pattern in communities with more predators and I thought that predation could be driving dynamics).

  • Solution – How are you answering this question? For example, you could describe your use of field surveys, experiments or modelling. You may also talk about why you use a particular system.

  • Summary and benefits of this knowledge – What have you found? Why is this work useful? What are you looking into next? Try to draw it back to your hook.

  • The stage of your career (optional). For example: “I’ll be finishing my PhD this spring and will be looking for a postdoc position.” This can be useful if you are about to transition to a new stage in your career; the listener may be a potential advisor or collaborator.

Use this framework to write out a brief elevator speech, then practice giving it. Practicing will help you eliminate awkward phrases, nail the flow, and memorize your main points. Remember to keep it short! You can always elaborate incrementally after you’ve got their interest.

If you’ll be presenting a poster at a future meeting, you’ll also want to create and practice a poster pitch, too.

“Never eat alone”


CC-BY-SA Thomas Wanhoff

There are heaps of opportunities to meet others at conferences, and some of the best happen around the dinner table: formal conference meals, informal “birds of a feather” lunch meetups, and even impromptu “tweetups” for coffee or drinks.

Conference-hosted meals can give you a chance to become acquainted with people you otherwise might not meet. Worried about the mechanics of meeting new people? Julio Peironcely suggests simply asking if an empty seat is taken, sitting down, and starting with small talk about the conference food before moving on to discussing research.

He also offers the following “can’t fail” questions you can use to keep the conversation from stalling before you finish your first course:

  • What is your research about?
  • Do you have some exciting results so far?
  • How is it to do research in your group? Pros, cons?
  • How is it to live in your city?
  • What were the toughest moments in your PhD?
  • What are your scientific plans?

Meeting organizers might also designate tables for “birds of a feather” discussions, so you can meet others interested in similar topics. (That’s how I met Jason face-to-face for the first time–at a “birds of a feather” luncheon about altmetrics!) This can be an easy way to find like-minded colleagues.

You can also use mealtime to arrange informal meetings with colleagues, including those you emailed in the “Make some dates” step. Use conference downtime to arrange meetings over coffee or drinks; arranging an impromptu “tweetup” can also be a fun way to meet new people.

The title of this section is taken from the popular networking book, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I highly recommend it for learning more networking strategies.

Attend the poster session

Poster sessions are great for meeting people. Think about it: a room full of scientists standing near their posters for hours, hungering to talk to others about their research. It’s the perfect time to network and a good place to refine your networking skills. Use the prepared questions suggested above to get the conversation started. And be prepared to hand out business cards to those you meet who could be good collaborators. (More on business cards below.)

Carpe colloquium

You read that right: seize the conference! Take opportunities for socialization that arise, even if they don’t fit into the rubric of what you’re “supposed to do.” I once made a new friend and valuable contact at a New Orleans-based conference by hunting down beignets when I was supposed to be in a talk.

You should do the same. Forego a keynote presentation to do some impromptu hacking on research code; strike up conversations with poster presenters and invite them to grab a coffee when their poster session ends; linger in the conference hallway to continue a debate that started over lunch; and just basically make the most of your time at the conference by building great relationships.

Curate the conference for others

By tweeting and blogging about the meetings you attend, you can not only recap important sessions for other attendees, but also share information with those who were unable to attend.

Liveblogging and livetweeting from sessions are popular ways to curate content as the meeting unfolds; you can also recap the entire conference after the meeting ends.

Keep in mind that some conferences have banned social media coverage of their meetings, and some presenters might not want you to share their findings before they have a chance to publish them in a peer-reviewed journal. Check before you blog (and tweet)!

Business cards


Be sure to bring business cards with you when you attend conferences. (And yes, even grad students should bring cards!) They’re a quick and easy way to share your contact information with others.

You can order business cards online at Moo.com, or hit up your local copy shop, which often offers competitive prices. Moo cards have design templates, so if you’re not artistic, you don’t have to worry about designing anything–you can just choose a design, type in your contact information, and click “Buy.”

One downside to these cards is that it can be easy to forget the face that goes with a name once you return from a conference. 99u proposes beating this by writing “action items” on the back of any cards you collect; for example, “Add on LinkedIn” for a generic new acquaintance or “Introduce to Dr. Smith – reagents hookup” for a friendly vendor you intend to follow up with.

Always follow up

You don’t have to do this for everyone you meet, but for the best connections you made at a conference, it’s nice to send an email saying, “Hello, I really liked your talk” or “Thanks for the constructive criticism about my poster, it will help me improve my study.”

The Addgene blog points out that it’s also useful to stay in touch after the meeting so you can meet up at next year’s conference. “Once is just a meeting, but having lunch twice turns a stranger into a friendly colleague.”

You can use LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media platforms for ongoing interactions–the occasional comment, “like” or retweet will keep you at the top of their mind. Do it while you’re still at the conference, or right away when you get home. Otherwise, it’s easy to forget! And that’d be a waste.


Hustling at conferences can be difficult if you’re an introvert. (Heck, it can sometimes be hard if you’re an extrovert!) I’d suggest starting small–maybe doing only 2 or 3 things I’ve suggested above during your next meeting–and building up from there. Check out The Postdoc Experience blog for more tips aimed at introverts who need to network.

Another challenge comes in the shape of a cocktail glass. If you don’t drink, booze-based networking opportunities can perpetuate a culture of exclusion, making it very hard to connect with other researchers in a meaningful way. You can avoid this issue by joining in the event without drinking (to the extent it’s comfortable to you), planning ahead to informal meetings, and taking full advantage of “birds of a feather” meals and coffee breaks to socialize.


Unless you’re attending a conference tomorrow, you won’t be able to act on the advice in this guide immediately.

Instead, read this guide carefully and start preparing for the next meeting you’re going to attend. Plan out who you’ll try to connect with, prepare your elevator pitch, order some business cards, and so on. That way, you can come out swinging when those conference doors open.


Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving, so we’ll be taking the day off from the Impact Challenge. See you on Friday!

Impact Challenge Day 23: Make connections and promote your work on science listservs


Listservs–group email lists related to a particular subject–are a relatively low-tech way to get your research to a broader audience of your peers than social media can. Even the most traditional, technology-averse researchers can often be found on listservs, which is a big advantage for the medium over Twitter, Academia.edu, and other academic platforms.

Why are listservs so popular? Because all you have to do to reach hundreds, if not thousands, of your colleagues is send an email. This means all of the interaction happens in an environment you are already very well-acquainted with: your email inbox.

Scientists all over the world use listservs in many ways: to pose questions to other experts in their field; to share new research that’s of interest to their discipline; to announce conferences and calls for papers; and to support one another virtually.

By being an active and responsive member of listservs in your field, you can make a name for yourself as a helpful expert. And this in turn can help other scientists learn about you and your research.

In today’s challenge, you’ll learn the best three ways to use listservs to make a name for yourself and share your research.

First, let’s get you onto a listserv or two.

Finding the right listserv

Listservs come in countless flavors. They can be related to any subject under the sun–from entire disciplines like this computer science listserv to as specific a topic as this confocal microscopy listserv. They also cater to speakers of many languages and scientists at all stages of their careers.

So, how can you find the right listserv for you? Here are the three best ways to hone in on your listserv(s) of choice, ranging from easiest to most difficult:

  • Search your scholarly society’s homepage: Many scholarly societies host listservs dedicated to researchers at particular points in their career (student, postdoc, faculty, and so on) or the many sub-disciplines within their field. Browse the homepages of the most popular scholarly societies in your discipline to see if they host listservs. You don’t necessarily have to be a dues-paying member of a society to join, but oftentimes you do. These listservs tend to be the most widely used in many disciplines.
  • Ask a colleague: I’ve always found it helpful to ask colleagues what the most useful listservs they follow are. Colleagues at a similar point in their careers as you are can give the best recommendations: they’ll tell you the best listservs to follow for job announcements, where to find the best new publications, and what listserv audiences are especially kind and engaged when answering questions. And mentors or senior researchers can help you find the listservs that the bigwigs in your field monitor.
  • “Deep googling”: The final way to find relevant listservs is via search engine. Brainstorm keywords related to your discipline and also your specific area of study, a particular type of analysis, and so on. Then search for the term (plus the words “listserv”, “google group,” or “email list”) on your favorite search engine and see what turns up.

No matter whether the listservs you find are expert recommended or discovered by searching, you should always evaluate whether they’ll be right for you. For each, take a look at the listserv’s archive. You can determine their relevancy to you by researching:

  • How active the listserv’s members are (if no one’s posting to it regularly, the listserv is likely dead in the water),
  • The quality of who’s posting (are the field’s “big names” contributing or only researchers you’ve never heard of?), and
  • The type of content being shared (is it only “call for papers” announcements or are others also discussing and sharing regularly?).

Ways to use your listserv

Once you’ve subscribed, you should first “lurk” for a few weeks. That is, just read through the messages that are posted without responding. Lurking will help you get a sense of what type of content is regularly posted and how others tend to interact (are they curt, kind, etc?). The listserv’s guidelines will often spell out what can and cannot be posted, as well.

There are three main ways professional listservs can be used to forge meaningful connections with others: sharing content, posing & answering questions, and inviting debate.

Sharing content

Any time you are reading a paper that might be of interest to others in your field, email the paper’s citation to the listserv, along with a link to where the paper can be found (an Open Access version is particularly helpful), and what you liked about it. Others will appreciate the recommendation; it helps them sort the wheat from the chaff when deciding what papers to read.

And papers aren’t the only type content you can share: links to news articles, conference websites, datasets, open source software, and anything else you think others in your field would want to know about are good things to send along.

Promoting your own research is encouraged, too. If you’ve recently published a study (or created software, released data, etc) that’d be of interest to others in your field, send it to your listserv. But don’t only send your own work along: it can come across as self-promoting, and it won’t have as much weight as if you’re well-known for sharing quality content in general.

Posing & answering questions

Listservs can be a good source of crowd-sourced knowledge. Researchers often post questions to professional listservs along the lines of:

  • “What’s the melting point of isoxazole? I can’t find it in Reaxys.”
  • “I’m trying to find that Axel and Smith paper from the early 2000’s related to alluvial flow, does anyone have the proper citation?”
  • “I’m new to the field and looking for a few good studies on GIS, engineering, and rock formations along the upper Mississippi River. Any recommendations?”

So, don’t be afraid to pose thoughtful questions to your listserv. Any disciplinary question you’d ask a colleague is appropriate for posting to a listserv.

And you should also answer questions that others pose. People appreciate helpfulness. Connecting others with the knowledge they seek will make a name for you as both knowledgeable and charitable.

Inviting debate

Debate can be both challenging and super rewarding. It’s “challenging” in that it can be difficult to do diplomatically over email. It’s “super rewarding” in that, if done well, your name will be come synonymous with smart, well-argued rhetoric (at least for members of the listserv).

A good way to invite debate is to share and comment upon a paper you’ve recently read. Others will often chime in with their own thoughts and questions; respond carefully and thoughtfully to everyone who has replied to you. Keep in mind that the point of inviting debate is to add value rather than flaunt your own intellectual prowess. No one likes a know-it-all 🙂


Listservs have some noteworthy drawbacks. Chief among them is the volume of email they tend to generate–it’s often too much for subscribers to handle. You can mitigate this by either creating an email filter that keeps messages out of your inbox, or opting to receive the listserv messages in a digest format that’s sent daily or weekly (rather than one-by-one).

Email volume can make participation in listservs challenging. It can be difficult to keep up with the onslaught of messages, especially if you’re subscribed to more than one listserv. “Batching” your responses can help you save time–set aside time once a week to read through messages and respond to any where you’d add value.

The final limitation to listservs is that they can sometimes be politically tricky to navigate. It’s not uncommon for a message to be misinterpreted and cause hurt feelings or, worse, start a “flamewar”. And researchers have found that gender differences can be exacerbated by listservs.

In this case, knowledge is power. If you receive a response that’s rude, take a step back and remind yourself that

a) email can be a challenging medium, and it’s possible that your interpretation of a message is different from the sender’s intent;
b) taking the high road is always a “win”–you’ll retain your professionalism, even if others don’t; and
c) you don’t have to respond to messages immediately.

Sometimes waiting 24 hours can help lessen the sting you’re feeling and make it easier to compose a thoughtful, measured response to even the harshest criticisms.

How to unsubscribe

There will likely come a time when you’ll want off of a listserv. Don’t email the entire listserv with a request for removal–it’s a common mistake that pollutes thousands of inboxes with unwanted email.

Instead, look for unsubscribe information at the bottom of your email, or perform a web search to find unsubscribe instructions instead. Sometimes, unsubscribing can be done with the click of a button on the listserv website; other times, you’ll need to email the list moderator to be removed.


Find, join, and start lurking on at least three listservs that are relevant to your area of study.

Then, set up filters in your email, so the listserv email you get is channeled into a folder, away from your inbox. Here’s how to set up notifications for Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and Outlook.

And your final task is to batch your reading and responding to listservs. Scan your listserv emails at least once a week at a designated time and respond to any conversations or questions that you think you can add value to.

Impact Challenge Day 22: Get your research to the press

Your next Challenge is to get the word out about your research to the press. Doing so can help you gain wide exposure for your articles and, in the case of applied research, get your studies into the hands of patients, policy makers, and other populations that need it the most.

Today, we’ll cover how to connect with your university’s press office to get your work to the mainstream media, how and why to build relationships with journalists, and how to prepare for a great media interview. But first–what is a press officer and what do they do?

What the heck is a university press officer?

University press officers help you communicate your studies to the public. They usually do this via press releases, which filter and translate your super technical papers into language the public can understand. After all, “the average reader knows what bleach is but won’t connect their experience with your article on sodium hypochlorite if you don’t clearly state that what you’re working with in lay terms” (FigureOne blog).

And press officers often have valuable contacts in the mainstream media, which makes it much easier to get your articles coverage in newspapers, the radio, and internet publications.

It’s good to recognize if you’re dealing with a salesman” up front–you may want to reign them in a bit, providing some of the filtering and ‘this is why this matters’ parts of your research on your own. if you’ve got a journalist, though, you can leave more of the decision on what’s press-release-worthy to them

Be aware of “salesman” press officers. These are press officers that just want to get your story into the news, even if it’s misrepresented or irrelevant to the public. Research communications consultant Dennis Meredith points out that working with “salesman” press officers will likely just get your work increasingly ignored over time.

Instead, be on the lookout for “journalist” press officers–someone who understands the value of nuanced and well-placed coverage of your research. Working with “journalist” press officers can help get your work better, more relevant coverage, according to Meredith.

It’s good to recognize if you’re dealing with a “salesman” up front–you may want to reign them in a bit, providing some of the filtering and ‘this is why this matters’ parts of your research on your own. If you’ve got a “journalist,” though, you can leave more of the decision on what’s press-release-worthy to them.

You can build relationships with journalists, too

Not everyone will have a press officer available to help them get their research to the press. It’s useful to build one-on-one relationships with journalists for this reason. Ecologist Jacqueline Gill suggests,

The next time you read a particularly good (or bad) piece, make a note of the byline. Keep a running list of people whose coverage you like, and those you’d rather not talk to…Join Twitter…and start following science writers. Participate in the online conversations, in blogs,  article comments, and in social media.

Gill also says that scientists shouldn’t be afraid to approach journalists directly or, in some cases, “be your own science journalist.” Check out her blog post on the subject for more practical ideas.

What warrants a press release?

Usually only research that would be of interest to lay persons is considered worthy of a press release. Oxford University Press defines “press release-worthy” as:

[a] journal article [that] contain[s] one or more of the following:

  • New research in the field of study
  • Research that sheds a new perspective or alternate perspective on research that received news coverage in the past
  • Research that relates to current news stories and interest, e.g. Syrian politics
  • Publication coincides with an anniversary or date of interest
  • Research in the public interest, e.g. elderly care abuse or pregnancy screening
  • A call to action or a definitive statement of change, e.g. ’the government should do this…’

And it’s usually only a journal article that warrants a press release. One study found that “71% to 83% of the respondents agreed that ‘scientists should communicate research findings to the general public only after they have been published in a scientific journal.’”

Some people feel that any paper published in a glam mag–that is, Nature, Cell, Science, PNAS, and other big-name journals–is worthy of a press release. But no matter where you’ve published, if you’ve written an article that you think could be of interest to the public, contact your press officer to see if they think it’s worth publicizing.

What should be in a press release?

The main job of your press release should be to get the attention of journalists. After all, they’re the critical bridge between you and the public.  Liz Neeley of COMPASS points out,

Done well, press releases can offer researchers the chance to tell their stories on their own terms and alert interested reporters to a story they won’t want to miss. Done poorly, they are usually ignored – and, at worst, they can even distort the story of the science they attempt to share.

Luckily, you’ve got a great source of material to work from: the outline of the video abstract you’ve created for the Impact Challenge!

A title: short and relevant

Make it snappy but not eye-rollingly cutesy or so pithy that it doesn’t make sense. One way to do that is to consider what your paper’s title might have been if you had written it for a newspaper rather than an academic journal. Your title also shouldn’t overreach the data, according to Liz Neeley of COMPASS.

Include an embargo, if needed

If your paper isn’t yet published, you may be required to include an embargo date and time at the top of your press release, so journalists know to hold the news until you’re ready. Check with your journal to learn if they impose embargoes, and if so, what they are.

Then you gotta hook ‘em

Your press release, like your video abstract, should include a hook that quickly summarizes why your research is relevant to their lives. Oxford University Press recommends that your hook includes “an identifiable audience, main point of focus for the release, and headline for the article.” Another way to think about your hook is a 1-2 sentence explanation of your research that inspires your audience to continue reading.

Writing a solid body for your press release

In Dennis Meredith’s excellent “Anatomy of a news release,” he outlines important components of the rest of your press release:

  • An inverted pyramid style that summarizes the key concepts first, with background relegated to later in the release
  • Concise explanations of the scientific concepts
  • Caveats about the research
  • A broader perspective on how the findings fit into the research field
  • Full credit to all the participants
  • Reader-friendly use of technical terms. For example, definitions on first usage and use of only those terms necessary to tell the story
  • Vivid analogies and descriptions of concepts and experiments

Check out Dennis’s full list of recommendations on his website.

Contact information

Journalists are going to want quotes and possibly even longform interviews, so be sure to include the lead author’s contact information or that of an agreed-upon media representative from the research team.

Awesome images and other media

AAAS’s Bethany Halford points out that “people like looking at cool stuff.” If you’ve got images, video, figures, or other graphics from your study that’d make your press release visually appealing, include them!

How to prepare yourself for talking to the media

Assuming you’ve nailed your press release, journalists are now knocking on your door, wanting to interview you about your research. Here’s how you can make sure you have a successful interview.

Identify your main objective

What is the single most important message you want those who read or hear your interview to come away with? AAAS recommends that you “prepare a single communication objective and two or three secondary points you want to make,” and I’d agree. Keeping a single message in mind can keep you from veering off-topic or getting lost in the details of your study when talking with a journalist.

Flesh out your talking points

You’ll need to also have talking points ready, so you don’t repeat yourself when attempting to communicate your take-home message. The FigureOne blog explains:

It’s important to have a set of talking points prepared ahead of time so you can clearly spell out the important details of your work without too much fumbling. The fastest way to get misquoted is to be unclear when you describe what you did and why it matters.

The American Geophysical Union has a helpful worksheet that you can use to formulate your talking points; complete it and keep it handy when conducting your interview.

Practice, practice, practice

The more you practice, the better you’ll get at artfully explaining your talking points. Have a friend or colleague help you rehearse, if necessary. And keep Ed Yong’s advice about giving comments to journalists in mind when rehearsing.

Say yes to the press!

Now that you’re well-practiced, it’s time to start talking to journalists about your work.

Be sure to respond quickly to press inquiries. Journalists are often on deadlines that require you to respond within hours, not days or weeks. Rearrange your schedule if necessary so you can check your email and phone messages more often than normal, and make time to respond to inquiries you receive.

The Scripps Research Institute points out that you don’t have to respond immediately to all inquiries, however:

When you receive a media request, feel free to ask the reporter for background: What is the focus of the piece? Who else are you speaking with? What is the format (eg. live or taped)? If an interview request catches you by surprise, arrange to call the reporter back so you have time to gather your thoughts and do a Google search on the reporter, outlet and other background.

Trust your gut when deciding to respond to journalists based on their reputation and the publication they’re interviewing you for.

Now get out there and start talking! Give your interviews, monitor the media for the final results, and give yourself a pat on the back for doing the complicated and sometimes intimidating work of speaking with the press!

After you’ve finished interviewing, you can offer to fact-check articles and be generally available for follow-up questions. But don’t expect the right to review the articles before they go to press; that’s just not how science journalism works.

The very real fear of misrepresentation

Many scientists are wary of talking to journalists for fear that they’ll be misquoted or their research will be misrepresented through errors or omissions in news articles. Science argues that researchers have more control over this issue than they may realize:

“The quality of an article does … not only depend on the skills of the journalist but also on the source,” Scherzler continues. “One should, therefore, do everything in one’s power to ensure that the journalist understands what one is trying to communicate and that he has received all the information required for a good article.”

You won’t be able to prevent all errors, but by being a well-prepared and rehearsed interview subject and working with a press officer that’s an expert in media affairs, you can nip some of these issues in the bud.

Also, keep in mind that there’s a difference between lack of precision and outright misrepresentation. Often scientists need to get comfortable with the former when speaking to a broader audience–the public tends not to be specialists, and the important thing is that they get the main story, not the nitty-gritty details.

Oversimplification of your research can be frustrating, too. Scientists “can’t overstate the uncertainties on the one hand, nor neglect to mention dangerous or unpleasant possibilities on the other,” points out biologist Steve Schneider. “Our job is to provide the context,” he says, and often that can be done by having prepared, correct metaphors and examples that help illustrate a concept for the journalist and the public.


Do some research to find out who your institution’s or department’s press officer is. Consider reaching out to introduce yourself to him or her, and possibly offering to provide quotes or expertise in your research area, should they ever need it. That way, when you have an article that’s ideal for sharing with the public, you’ll already have a friendly relationship with your press officer, which can make things go much more smoothly.

It’s also a good idea to practice communicating your research to the public. Use the AGU communications worksheet to write talking points for an older study of yours, so you can get a feel for the practice.

Another great resource that’s worth reading ahead of engaging the press is Escape from the Ivory Tower by Nancy Baron.

And if you’ve got a study that will be published soon and is ideal for sharing with the public, get in touch with your press officer now to get your research out into the media ASAP!