I am sitting on the train returning to BU after attending a rather dull function in London last night and my mind is racing over stuff as the countryside flashes by the train window. It is funny where peoples mind goes while sitting on the train, there are those in the carriage who have their head down typing frantically at laptops and I-pads, others gossiping with colleagues and friends on route to meetings and days out, others engrossed in the newspapers whose headlines are screaming loudly about last nights penalty shoot out.
My own mind is racing free form over problems with my own research, worrying about the kids, thinking about BU’s regional strategy, interviews this afternoon when back on Talbot, the usual mix of stuff – unfocused, but aware of the passage of time, the approach of deadlines and challenges, all hurtling towards me like the landscape outside. A week ago we launched BRIAN and despite teething problems it is looking good, new stuff to learn and the articulation between it and the VIVO which runs the new staff profiles is an added complication. The idea of a system that can find your publications for its self and output them to the world is cool and the ability to tailor and modify your staff profile more easily, potentially with weekly updates, is all quite exciting. When I started out as an academic twenty years ago you used to get a nice pile of off prints through the post when ever you had published something and one of the tasks I was taught early on was to sit down with your address book and send them out not only to your parents and academic mates, but also to the key figures in your field. Part of raising your own profile and getting read. Those days are gone and paper off prints are largely a thing of the past, but the need to raise the profile of your work with fellow academics remains. Tools like BRIAN, Twitter, Facebook, Academia.edu, and LinkedIn all allow you to do so, even for people like me who feel uneasy about the social networking revolution.
We commissioned some work recently from Elsevier looking at the academic reach of work at BU – who was citing it, where and how often. Interesting stuff which has been passed on to the research leads in each School – why not ask them about it? The message from this work was not great while we do some really cool research at BU, to be honest it is not getting read and cited as much as it should be. We intend to launch a bit of a campaign in the autumn to tackle this issue and help staff understand how to maximize their academic reach and get read/cited more often. Optimizing ones profiles on Scopus, Web of Science, use of social media, using BRIAN to enhance your external profile are all things that we will advise and encourage on. But lurking here is a train analogy inspired by the train I am sitting on.
We are good as academics of working within an existing networks like rail networks – for example South West Trains – our work is read and cited by our colleagues within BU, our academic mates and collaborators, and others in our network. There are other networks out there however – Southern Trains or just now looking out of the window Cross Country Trains – with academics in other countries, national regions, or social/academic networks doing similar work whether or not they identify themselves with the same network or discipline badges as we or not. The key to improving ones own academic impact, getting read and cited is being able to jump between those networks; to be the linking track. It is easier said than done – rail networks meet at stations, which in our parlance are academic conferences, not just those which rally our own discipline but also those of cognate disciplines providing the chance to meet other academics, collaborate and be remembered. The problem is that conferences are a bit like last nights chip paper full of promise when hot with chips but quickly forgotten and confined to the bin when home with a real meal. I suppose I am saying it is often hard to capitalize on the contacts made at conference and ensure your work is remembered. Follow through is essential to make sure these contact see your written work which is what counts. Reaching out directly by cold emails with PDF’s copies of your work is one way, asking to collaborate directly is another, but the one I want to emphasis here is study leave. There is nothing like a period of study leave to build new networks and with the study leaving funding available now as part of the Fusion Investment Fund there is no excuse; the idea way of jumping tracks for a bit. It looks as if the first round of study leave funding will be under subscribed, in contrast to the other strands, but with another opportunity to come in December it is worth perhaps thinking about how one can use such opportunities to jump trains for a bit and widen your academic network?