Allow me to introduce myself

My university, like many others, is racing to embrace an open future. We are putting stuff into our repository as fast as we can. Each item has a unique identifier, like an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) or a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), so that we know exactly which book or paper we are talking about.

We are also encouraging staff to share their research data, where they can. We are working with the Australian National Data Service (ANDS), through their Cite My Data service, to make sure that these data sets also have Digital Object Identifiers.

Excitingly, these identifiers will link the papers, chapters, artworks, and (insert your favourite research output here) with the data sets. How cool is that? When I write my groundbreaking libretto, drawing on my amazing new data set, everybody will know exactly which dataset was used in exactly which libretto.

And everybody will know exactly which ‘me’ did it, because I’ll have included my ORCID ID, Scopus Author ID, Google Scholar ID, or my (insert your favourite researcher ID scheme here).

Everyone will know, that is, except for my university. My university will just have to guess.

Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Jonathan O’Donnell. I’m not this Jonathan O’Donnell (although it would be really cool to work on the Arctic for the US National Parks Service). I’m certainly not this J. O’Donnell (I wish! He writes beautifully about digital humanities).

You might know me by my ORCID ID (0000-0001-5435-235X), or by my Scopus Author ID (23005925700), or even my Google scholar ID (3pvY_LgAAAAJ). If you know who that is, then you know who I am. Categorically. Unambiguously. Forever.

These three identifiers are examples of unique identifiers provided for free to academics. Admittedly, it is probably unlikely that you use identifiers like these day to day:

Hi, 3pvY_LgAAAAJ. How are you?

Not bad, thanks, Have you seen 0000-0001-5875-8744 around?

We don’t talk like that. Computers do. They do it so that we can disambiguate scholars of the same name. These sorts of identifiers are vital if you have variations to your name or change your name, lose your job, or move to a different institution (or country) or move between academic and #altac careers. I’m only a tiny researcher, so they are really important to me.

They are so important that I’m going to wait right here while you go and sign up for one right now. Go on – I’ll wait.

I don’t know what it is like at your university, but where I work, we don’t actually know who we are. We know what we publish, and we proudly tell the world about it. We know what data we collect, and are increasingly keen to share it with the world. But we don’t have a clue who we are. Or, to be more exact, my university doesn’t know who I am.

Unless you work at my university, you probably don’t know me as RMIT employee number 24323. That’s what my university knows me as. That’s all they know me as. They don’t know me as any of those other identifiers. At the moment, there is no easy way to link my external identifier (ORCID, Scopus, or Google Scholar) to my internal identifier, my employee number (e-number).

So, I’m having an identity crisis. My external identity is blossoming. It is becoming more and more intertwined as computers pick up these identifiers and I build cross-links between them. Meanwhile, my RMIT identity, the identity that pays my wage, is stagnant. External me is reaching out while internal me is stuck forever in its feeble e-number – limited, lost, dead. Go towards the light, e-number! Go towards the light.

It will take considerable work for my university to see the light. They will need to:

  • Decide that they should adopt an external identifier for all research-active staff.
  • Decide what identifier they should adopt.
  • Explicitly link that identifier to the internal identifier, preferably through our Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) server or similar technology.

Making policy is hard. On the face of it, this one should be a no-brainer. By linking internal employee numbers to an external identifier, my university would gain significant advantages:

  • We would encourage all our researchers to adopt an external identifier, which would be a good thing.
  • This would improve the profile of our researchers, in the same way that open repositories improve the visibility of papers and other outputs.
  • It would make it easier for our researchers to measure their performance using alt-metrics.
  • Most importantly for the organisation: it should make the collection of research statistics much easier. Given that we spend an enormous amount of staff time doing this now, that is a clear cost saving for the university.

If it is so smart to do this, why haven’t we done it already? Perhaps we are shy. I don’t think so.

Is it because we are allergic to things that we don’t control? It can’t be that either because we have championed external identifiers for a long time. I remember contacting my university library (probably 20 years ago) to ask for my first International Standard Book Number. I was so excited! In those days, the university library used to be the custodian of blocks of ISBNs and distribute them to staff upon request.

This is what I think it is: we’re allergic to these new technologies that we don’t control, blind to services outside the walls. Also, it is a bit hard to link to different external services, and to keep those links working over time. And it should be noted that identifiers like this are only relevant for staff who may be contributors to research, so they are not a universal solution. They won’t cover all staff. However, they will cover all staff with an academic output, which would be a lot better than the current situation.

Besides that, there needs to be a fight an evaluation of corporate solutions (a la Elsevier and Google) versus open solutions (a la ORCID), and whether the business case is worth the effort. For the record, I think that it is absolutely worth the effort, and that open beats corporate every time.

However it happens, I think linking to an external identifier is inevitable. When it happens, the triangle will be complete. When I write my groundbreaking libretto, which is built upon my wonderful data set, everybody will be happy.

  • People will know exactly what data I have drawn upon.
  • They will know exactly which research output I have created.
  • And they will know exactly who I am.

Everyone will know, including my employer. I will be able to stand up and be counted.

Addendum – 9 May 2014

On Twitter, the wonderful @Wragge alerted me to a list of UK projects that are working with ORCID. This is really exciting to see.

Addendum – 17 May 2018

Exactly four years later, I’ve just linked my RMIT employee identifier (e24323) and my RMIT student number (s9501990) with my ORCID identifier (0000-0001-5435-235X). Now, in theory, RMIT can categorically state that the student that is me and the staff member that is me are one and the same person. That’s nice.


  1. Great post! You capture much of the frustration that researchers often feel re: external systems that “get it” vs internal, university systems that don’t.

    We had to complete annual reports at IUB, where I’d have to spend days on end pasting in all my citations from my CV to a clunky, homebrewed interface. All the compelling information about those citations–who was citing them, what they were saying, etc–was lost because our FAR (Faculty Annual Reporting) system didn’t connect to things like ORCID or Impactstory/Altmetric/PlumX.

    One thought on why more universities aren’t adopting and integrating these identifiers–it may not be allergies so much as fear of researcher backlash against external, Taylorist systems (which is unfortunately how some researchers see initiatives like ORCID, altmetrics, etc).


    • Thanks, Stacy

      Taylor aside, I think that some of it is just lag. It takes time to work out how to use the data (which is where people get nervous, and sometimes rightly so) and how it will flow into organisational systems. It takes way more time to work out a policy than it does to add a field to a database.

      But I still don’t get why universities haven’t started moving down this track. It is a no-brainer.

      Maybe they are – maybe there are bunch of organisations out there now that are moving towards integrating ORCIDs and AltMetrics into their internal systems. I can always hope. Let me know if you come across any.


  2. I love your work Jonathan! I cannot for the life of me, understand why we (not just RMIT this is a sector wide issue) ‘invest’ so much in keeping our public achievements hidden from the public.

    I also do not get why we do not use ‘open source’ research profiles such as ResearchGate and Academia to keep track. They are real time, do not need a (very large) back office to upload to and the researcher can benchmark themselves readily (if that is what they want to do).

    The reporting requirements in our ‘quality’ (read compliance) structure are becoming onerous and expensive. They duplicate efforts and they distract from the main game. They do not add value, either to our students or our research outcomes.

    Being accountable is much easier using the cloud – so keep up the good work. It is only through questioning extant systems, that we might be able to get to a better place.


    • Thanks, Linda

      Wouldn’t it be good if we just took at tenth of the money that we spend on the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) collection and gave it to ResearchGate or to do the collection for us.

      We would still get the information that the government needs, and all of our information would be published automatically.

      Sounds good to me.


  3. Dear Research Whisperer, I would like to know whether there is any international academic website that allows researchers to identify academic institutions/ organizations/companies relevant to the research topic/interests/expertise. I have found extremely hard to track down research jobs that are suitable to researcher’s relevant expertise. Looking forward to hearing more about researchers jobs and networking in the future. Kindest Regards Zoe

    Date: Mon, 5 May 2014 22:01:41 +0000 To:


    • Hi Zoe

      Thanks for your question. I don’t know of a Website that does exactly what you are describing. I don’t look for jobs very often, so I’m probably the wrong person to ask. Instead, I’ve kicked it on to our followers on Twitter.

      Is there a site to identify academic orgs or companies relevant to research topics? Seeking research jobs that are suitable to expertise.

      — Research Whisperer, on Twitter, 9 May 2014


  4. I am reminded of the movie Brazil.

    ” Your very own number on your very own door…Congratulations DZ-015, welcome to the team”


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