It is not enough anymore to just publish your research, consider it job done, and move on to the next project. It can be said that research that is never shared nor read, might as well not exist in the first place. Efficiency demands that any intellectual product we produce needs to be as effective as possible in order for us to survive in an increasingly competitive world. Yes, research should be motivated by altruism and the greater good, but it also needs to find value beyond our narrow research interests, in order to raise ourselves and our institution.
In practical terms, good quality, recognized research serves a ladder of purposes. At the level of researcher it increases academic standing, chances at promotion, and opportunities to co-author with other researchers, and the possibility of more funding for future research.
One level up, the group effort by the researchers in a department can raise the respect and prestige of that department, leading to more funding, and the attracting of more students and more highly-rated applicants for faculty positions.
Finally, at an institutional level, NUST can make a case for more government support. NUST can also compete more effectively against national and regional universities. And by doing everything we can do correctly, we might see NUST rise in the World University Rankings.
Why this self-serving reach for success? In this era of financial constraints and pandemics, we need to start adopting some corporate traits to ensure not only our survival, but also our growth. And this is still an altruistic view, as our students will benefit the most. And successful graduates better serve Namibia’s national interests.
Quality: the research output needs to be of the highest academic standards. The methodology applied, the ethics followed, and the grammar used. Good articles have an uncanny way of being published in well-known credible journals, and of attracting citations from other researchers. As golfing legend Gary Player once said, “The harder I practice, the luckier I get”.
Transparency: in order for scientific research to be credible, it needs to be repeatable. Someone else should be able to take your method, and have enough data to both repeat your research as well as achieve similar results. More frequently, journals and research funders are demanding that researchers not only publish their research, but also make their research data publicly available. This fairly recent practice, is known as RDM (Research Data Management). RDM requires that you publish your questionnaires, spreadsheets, lab notes, and more for scrutiny. There are free online platforms where you can upload your research data, e.g. Figshare and Open Science Framework, and you can look at the NUST Library web site for more information as well.
Identity: you may have heard the word “ORCID” bandied about, and not really known what it means. ORCID is a non-profit organization that allows researchers to join for free. In turn, you get a unique ORCID ID that helps to disambiguate different versions of an author’s name; different authors with the same name; and translations of names into different scripts. This unique ID (much like a passport number) allows for certain recognition/acceptance with other organisations like universities, funders, and publishers. By supplying your ID to these entities they can be sure of who they are working with, and what your background is (you control this information). Increasingly both research funders and publishers (like Public Library of Science) require that authors have and supply an ORCID ID with their articles. Joining ORCID is very easy, however if you want help, ask your Faculty Librarian.
Keep track: when children leave the home, it is nice to think that the parents want to keep track of their lives. Much like said children, a researcher should want to keep track of his/her articles that have been published, and the impact they are having out there. The current metric for measuring performance at the researcher level is the h-index, and this score is what you are often required to supply to management as part of performance appraisal. In very basic terms, it is how often your articles are cited in a given time. For a more thorough explanation of the method and formula, look up “h-index” in Wikipedia. The tool that the Library provides for you to look up your h-index, is the SCOPUS database. SCOPUS has very good tools for analyzing research at different levels, over time, geographically, and more. It does so by indexing over 30,000 academic journals, and extracting data from them. The first and most important step to a decent h-index score, is to publish your research in a journal indexed by SCOPUS, otherwise it will go unseen and unscored. SCOPUS is strict about which journals it accepts for indexing, and it has nothing to do with money, as many Open Access journals are also indexed. Instead it depends on the credibility of the journal and those who maintain it. SCOPUS is easily accessed from the Library’s database list, otherwise ask your Faculty Librarian for assistance or finding out if an intended journal is indexed by SCOPUS.
Your library: most academic libraries host institutional repositories that contain research generated by that institution, and NUST Library is no different. We have the Ounongo Repository in which we upload articles, presentations, speeches, reports, and more generated by faculty, staff, and students of NUST. The purpose is to serve as an institutional memory for NUST, as well as showcase our research to the world. However, we cannot force anyone to supply items for uploading, thus we make appeals and hope they do not fall on deaf ears. Any items supplied are carefully catalogued by librarians (adding metadata), and once uploaded, these items become searchable. But not just searchable within in NUST. Ounongo Repository regularly gets crawled and indexed by search engines like Google, thus making any research articles you supply to the Library far more visible and searchable to the entire world. If you would like more information on Ounongo, or give us any items for uploading, please contact your Faculty Librarian.
Networks: there is still great value in creating and maintaining personal networks with colleagues both inside and outside of NUST. Attending conferences is one of many ways to do this. However, technology has brought us new and incredible ways for building virtual networks. Whether using more formal platforms like Research Gate or LinkedIn, or less structured channels like Facebook and Twitter, increasingly researchers are using social media to promote their work before, during, and after their research is completed. Social media is also a great way to find like-minded people with whom you can share information or co-author the next article. And even if you look at social media with disdain, the truth is that the squeaky wheel gets the most attention. You paid a lot for that smartphone in your pocket, make it work for you!
Altmetrics: traditional bibliographical metrics measure things like journal impact factor, or a researcher’s h-index, which is vital in the academic community. What about the impact research is having on the world via other channels, like news, streaming videos, or social media? A new metric was born in 2010 with the express aim of trying to measure this impact, and it is called Altmetrics. Because of technological developments like web 2.0 and APIs, it is possible to see what impact you are having in a more immediate fashion, and on a broader audience. Future employers, funders, and other organisations are increasingly taking note of Altmetrics for evaluating research.
The article with the highest Altmetric score in 2019 (of 12,815), was “Few-Shot Adversarial Learning of Realistic Neural Talking Head Models”. This article was mentioned in 91 news items, 17 blogs, 1 policy source, by 54,897 Tweeters, 8 Facebook pages, and by 2 Redditors, and 95% of the demographic who viewed information about this article, were members of the public, not academics!
Which should I do? Do them all. Do good research; publish your research data too; get an ORCID ID; keep track of your past publications; publish in credible journals; contribute to the Ounongo Repository; and build your networks, both personal and social. Oh, and try to get Internet famous. This is the way of working the system and staying relevant in academia today.