Share your data, share yourself

This is the third post drawn from a talk that I gave last year at the University of Melbourne Researcher@Library event. Thanks to all involved!

A beautiful old door, with a big old lock and a tiny little new lock.
Old door, new lock, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

In the first of these articles, I talked about breaking out of your university bureaucracyThe second was about breaking funding boundaries. Both of those were written from the point of view of someone sitting securely within an organization, trying to break out.

But sometimes you end up working outside your organization. It might be because you choose to leave, or (more likely) because your organisations doesn’t want you anymore. It doesn’t matter how successful you are as a researcher and a lecturer if your whole area is wiped out in a restructure. Or you might be a casual or adjunct, paid by the hour, who is only tentatively linked to one or more universities. Or a researcher on a limited term contract, fueled by soft money, with no certainty of work next year.

Modern universities preserve no loyalty to their staff. As a result, I don’t think that we need to feel much loyalty to our universities.

Whatever the reason, you should push your identity out beyond the boundaries of the organization where you work, or build up one if you are independent. Here are three useful ways to do that, beyond social media.

Secure your ID

One of the most important things that you can do to protect yourself against your next university restructure or contract cancellation is to get an ORCID and put it on everything that you do. ORCID stands for ‘Open Researcher and Contributor ID’ and it unambiguously identifies who you are, as an scholar.

Brian Kelly is someone who knows how brutal university life can be. He wrote about ORCID in January 2013 and had his contract cancelled three months later. Nowadays, his ORCID clearly shows that the Brian Kelly who worked at UKOLN is the same Brian Kelly who worked at Cetis. That’s very handy.

When your university has its next restructure, and is very apologetic but has no place for you anymore, you’ll be very happy that you can carry your work with you via your ORCID.

ORCID is also handy for those people who change their name when they get married or divorced, those people who live in two cultures and so have two names (such as a Chinese name and a non-Chinese name). It is very handy for those people, like Brian, who have a common name.

If you are wondering, my ORCID is:

Note that you don’t necessarily need to preen your ORCID page like you might with an page. This is not somewhere that people will necessarily come to find your work.

The main game with your ORCID is put it on everything you do. Put it on your research papers. Put it on your open data. Put it on your funding applications. Put it on your business card (if your university will allow that). Put it everywhere you put your name. ORCID on all the things!

Then watch the magic happen. Publishers, funding agencies, data repositories, and others will use your ORCID to link all those things together. People won’t have to hunt so hard for your stuff. When you change names, universities, or languages, your identity will travel with you. It won’t be quick, but it will happen.

Set up your profile

At the same time that you are setting up your ORCID account, please set up your Google Scholar profile. Google Scholar is the place where most people will find your research. While your colleagues might be following you on or another networked repository, strangers will find you on Google Scholar.

People who are working outside the academy can also find your work that way. Policy makers, industry people, and members of the public all now have much better access to research through this platform.

If you have a Google Scholar profile, people can easily see all of your work in one place. That means that once they find something that’s useful for them, they can click on your name to find all your publications. You can make it easy for them.

This is how it works:

Imagine you are searching for scholarly information about mobile commerce in Australia. Your Google search might look like this:

If Google shows you the same thing that it shows me, then the names J ODonnell (that’s me), BE Mennecke, A Enders, T Bhatti and others should be hyperlinked. Those authors have set up their Google Scholar profiles. If you click through, you can see a curated list of publications for each of them. Easy, isn’t it? As opposed to all those other authors who haven’t set up a Google Scholar profile – can’t click on their names, can’t find all their publications as easily!

Note that you will need to curate your Google Scholar profile. Google helpfully tries to find all your articles, but it really just finds all the articles by people with your name. If only there was some clever system that Google could use to disambiguate all those authors…

Unfortunately, Google hasn’t adopted the magic of ORCID yet. Following the example of Brian Kelly, I’ve added my ORCID to my name. It is an ugly hack. Hopefully Google will provide a more elegant solution sometime soon.

Your Google Scholar profile will also make it easy to see your Google citation count. All your citations in one handy list. That makes it easy when I tell you to add them to the publication list on your grant application. It also makes it easy to find out who is citing your data, which is the way you find out who your academic audience is.

Share your data

Google will show your publications, but what about your data? Once you have set up your ORCID, you should put it on your data (as well as your publications, of course). Then, as much as you can, you should share that data on open repositories such as Figshare, or a national service such as the Australian National Data Service (ANDS).

Services like Figshare starkly showcase the differences between institutional data repositories and open data repositories. They are based on different ethos and that results in very different approaches.

Your organization believes that research data produced by employees belongs to them. They want to preserve that data, to track it and manage it like an asset. As such, sharing beyond the boundaries of the organization might be a feature of the repository (or not), but it won’t be central to it.

Open data repositories like Figshare are built with sharing as a central feature. It is intrinsic to the idea of the service. You can store data there without sharing it, but that isn’t the central rationale of the service. It makes it easy to share your data and to work with others on shared data sets.

It also makes it easy to find your data again in ten years’ time, when you have moved organizations three times and you no longer have access to the material on the organizational data repositories.

Sharing your data is a public good. You should do it because it is the right thing to do, rather than because it will help your career. The world has plenty of problems. Sharing your data will help people to find solutions to those problems much faster than pretty much anything else you can do. It will allow people to find solutions to those problems in ways that you would never think of, and to other problems where you would never imagine that your data might apply.

The people who use your data probably want to do the right thing, too. By putting your ORCID on your data, they can cite it properly and unambiguously. Which is only right.

Margaret Henty wrote a series of articles on how and why you should share your data. If you aren’t on-board the data-sharing train already, you should read her posts:



  1. While applauding everyone making the most of ORDID’s potential, I challenge Jonathan on ‘loyalty’. We are talking about an organisation that has paid someone and developed someone and given them a platform on which to build links and funding (remember whose name is on your email signature and whose details are in your ARC Research Environment section!). I still have a sense of loyalty to clients I had decades ago. I wouldn’t breach their confidence, would advocate for them despite all the years gone by and foster relationships still on those connections.
    So let’s not position ORCID as a mechanism for disloyalty. There are myriad positive reasons for it.


    • Thanks, Miriam.

      That is true. I certainly wasn’t trying to position ORCID as a mechanism of loyalty or disloyalty.

      I was thinking of two situations when I wrote that:

      • The enormous structural and personal dislocation that occurs when universities undertake restructures. Restructures exhibit a logic all of their own, overriding length of service, personal circumstance, and sometimes even talent and demonstrated value to the organisation.
      • Sessional staff, who form the majority of academic staff at many Australian universities these days. Their position is precarious. They are paid by the hour and receive no pay for the three months at all over summer break. They are generally excluded from decision making (including decisions that effect their work), from training and development, and from the life of the university in general. They often work at multiple universities just to make ends meet. They can be sacked virtually without notice and often don’t know if they have work until a week or two before semester starts.

      Neither of those situations promote a sense of loyalty to the organisation.

      I’ve worked at RMIT for most of my working life. I’ve worked with great people, both managers and co-workers, and have maintained contact with many of them across changes of roles, employers, careers and lives. Those loyalties are personal.

      Even though I’ve been here for almost 15 years (on and off), I hold no illusions that RMIT would toss me aside in a red hot second if the organisational imperative demanded it. The modern organisation holds little loyalty to employees.

      You are absolutely right that there are a lot of other reasons for getting an ORCID besides change of employer. But it is one very important one.

      Thanks for helping me to clarify that.


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