A proliferation of reference and publication databases

In the last few months I’ve been organising my publications – partly motivated by the upcoming REF, but also because of a general wish to get more organised. I mentioned the process of getting rid of hard copies of papers in favour of scanned ones in a previous post, and in Tweets over the summer months.

Of course, I already had my list of publications as part of my CV, but now there are many online alternatives. As I am using several of these currently, I thought it might be interesting (and even maybe useful) to discuss them here.

In the build-up to the REF, my university installed some online publications database software. This was supposed to be able to find some of your publications automatically, but only those going back to a certain date, with earlier ones having to be added by hand. Since my first publication was in 1984, there were a lot to add (!), but I considered it worth the effort to ensure that any decisions made by the university were made using correct data! It took several days, but eventually all my publications were safely entered into the database. The software adds new publications automatically as they appear (although it sends an email to confirm it is in fact your publication and not that of a namesake, in my case the other R. Jackson, in Astrophysics!)

With the university publications database being ‘confidential’, something else was needed in order to make publications available to the wider community. For some time I had been keeping an updated list on my personal website, but then dedicated online alternatives started to appear. The first one I used, and still the most useful and usable one in my opinion, is ResearchGate (hereafter referred to as RG). This site enables one to upload a publications list, and PDF copies of the papers as well (provided that there are no copyright issues, although I’ll return to that later). This is really useful, because once your publications are uploaded to the site, they can be quickly and easily accessed and downloaded by anyone, without them having to request a copy. You can follow other researchers, and get notification of their new publications/uploads, and there is the facility to have discussions about papers and topics. There are a few downsides to RG, including sometimes getting duplicate entries of papers if a co-author adds them as well, but this can be overcome by regular checking of your publications list. I tend to ignore the ‘highlighting of skills/endorsement’ aspects of the site,  but this facility is available as well. Also, it it should be said that it is very easy to add publications if you have an electronic copy, as the site software reads some of the details automatically, saving a lot of typing. As for the issue of copyright, some journals and publishers support ‘self-archiving’, and in those cases there is no problem with uploading a PDF copy.

Another site is Academia.edu (AE). This seems to be similar to RG in some respects, but looks less well-structured, at least to me. It is possible to upload papers there, and to follow people. In fact you can link your account to Facebook and/or Twitter so that if a contact on one of these sites joins, you automatically follow them. Currently I direct AE followers who are interested in my work to RG since I don’t see the need for duplication. However if it transpires that AE can fulfill a different and possibly complementary role to RG, I may start using it more.

Then there are also sites, usually with desktop versions and mobile apps, that are designed to help organise publications and to put PDF copies in one location. They can be used individually or within groups of researchers. Probably the best known one is Mendeley. The basic idea is that you have your publication PDFs on, say, a desktop computer, and you open an account on Mendeley which copies your papers to its cloud server. You can then access them on another device, either via the web, or a desktop version (e.g. for Windows), or on an iphone/ipad, by a syncing process. There is currently no native Android app, but there are a couple of good third-party ones. Having used Mendeley for a few years, a new site called Colwiz has started up, and I find it better than Mendeley, plus it has a good Android app which runs well on phones and tablets. The availability of these sites gives one access to publications anywhere, which can be very useful.

I shouldn’t close this post without mentioning that the business-oriented networking site, LinkedIn, can also be used to upload publication lists, and possibly papers as well. But since I use it mainly for communication, I have not looked into that side of its capabilities.

In conclusion, these sites are really helpful in organising publications and ensuring that it is always possible to get hold of a given paper provided you have a smartphone, tablet or PC and an internet connection. Between them, ResearchGate and Colwiz serve my needs well, and the only issue is with the 50 or so of my publications that I still need to scan in, as they were published in pre-PDF days! I hope to complete this task by Spring 2014, in time for the new conference season.

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