What Digital Tools Should an Academic Researcher Use to “Connect” to the Net?



Unbeknownst to many people, academic researchers are subject to constant pressure and competition. From the time a student decides to apply for graduate study, a subtle and permanent state of alert begins to produce relevant publications, gain recognition among peers, increase the number of citations and references, and at the same time succeed, whenever possible, in having a voice and influence in the field of study.

It seems that researchers are now faced with the dichotomy of becoming bestsellers and writing for an open public (although for many it means losing credibility) or trying to maintain the support and backing of highly regarded academics (although for others, this means the end of self-criticism and the “creative destruction” proper to research.)

Depending on the purpose of the research, there are digital tools and communities that can, without doubt, open new horizons to help researchers escape from this dichotomy. To effectively use any digital platform it is crucial to have clear objectives: what do we want to do when we use apps, social networks or technology? Find new literature? Access databases? Connect to other researchers? Outsource or finance experiments?

Today we will share some digital tools that can help us “connect ideas” and create networks that go beyond simple dissemination:

1)       A blogging I go:

Although I personally am a strong advocate of the use of blogs as a method for disseminating new research ideas, the truth is that they are not necessarily the ideal means for “connecting” with other experts. As the economic blog Marginal Revolution once pointed out in What kind of blog post produces the most comments? , the most commented blogs (as in any publication) are provocative and controversial, and naturally produce immediate answers for and against. While blogs can be an ideal medium for visibility, not all academics are necessarily good communicators, and they can make the mistake of transferring the “density” of a scholarly article to a blog which in the end will attract few readers.


2)       LinkedIn vs. ResearchGate

It is very common to confuse the functionality of these two platforms, and in fact they are quite similar. ResearchGate, like LinkedIn and Facebook, is a social network with the characteristic that it “filters” its members so that all are academic researchers. In ResearchGate users can follow any research interest or follow a person individually. The platform allows users to write short comments on research and “connect interests.” It also has private chat rooms where scientists can share data, edit shared documents, and discuss subjects in private.

While the concept sounds great, the fact is that only about a sixth of the users have completed their profile, and most of them are located in Europe and North America. However ResearchGate is the perfect platform for medical doctors and biologists since it has one million active doctors and 210,000 active biologists.

LinkedIn, in contrast, is a social network that sells professional “networks.”  It now has 400 million users in over 200 countries and its ultimate goal is to reduce hiring transaction costs. Because of its awesome range, some academics take advantage of the visibility offered by the platform to share, through the function of the blog, some of their already published academic papers.


3)       Visibility among Academics:

If the idea is to share technical documents and connect with other experts, which in the end expands horizons, I recommend Academia.edu, a platform with more than 25 million users where previously published articles can be shared and classified by area of interest. The company recently announced that it would add a “Session” feature where users can share research in progress, and invite their colleagues to send suggestions and comments before delivering the product for review.

Another large platform is ORCID which like Academia aims to connect researchers. The difference is that ORCID provides two basic functions: a register to obtain a unique identifier and an API that facilitates system-to-system communication and identification, which means a little more confidentiality. The interface is less friendly than Academia, but in the end, it’s up to the user.

In conclusion, what digital tools should academic researchers use to “connect” to the net? It all depends on your goals. If you’re looking for reach, open audience and you consider yourself a good communicator, the answer is a blog to which you must devote time and effort, as well as sharing it in your LinkedIn.

If what you want is a very specific audience to help you through the research process and even facilitate your “peer review” Orcid or Academia will probably be more useful.

But if what you have is insatiable intellectual curiosity and like to follow different research topics as well as sharing your own projects, ResearchGate is definitely the solution you are looking for.

The only thing it seems a researcher should not do in these times of radical connectivity is … stay isolated.


Do you know any more frequently used apps that simplify your academic work? Do you want to know more about digital tools?

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The Author

Beatriz Navarro

Beatriz Navarro

Beatriz is a lawyer and international affairs professional who specializes in sociopolitical analysis to shape public policy in Latin America. Before joining the Research Department team, she was the Ministry of Finance Attaché for Strategic Affairs to the Embassy of Mexico in the United States and a consultant for the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAr Initiative) at the World Bank. As the strategic communications specialist, Beatriz creates and executes high- impact communications and digital strategy campaigns by translating the vast knowledge of the experts into accessible narratives. Her goal is to inform a wider audience of the most relevant issues affecting development in the region. Beatriz holds a BA in Law from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) and a Master’s degree from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

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