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The Digital Student: Research networking

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Research Networks vs Social Networks

Research networks are a sub-set of professional social networks. They have much of the same functionality as professional networks but also offer research specific tools. This includes specialist Q&As, data sharing, research sharing, comment, suggested reading and disciplinary networking. This functionality has had a notable impact on research as it allows geographically diverse researchers to network and discuss very specific and niche areas of research. This helps to build inter-disciplinary boundaries and facilitate international networking.

The tools these websites provide forms a new wave of research collaborative and dissemination. Some of the research networks are purposefully anti-establishment and were created as opposition to existing publishing techniques. As such, a lot of these websites embrace the principles of open source publishing and work towards providing unrestricted access to scholarly research. However, unlike true open access sources, they often require users to register for a free account to gain access.

One of the most important tools that most research networks provide is knowledge discovery. While traditional databases allow users to search for articles, research networks feature social curation of papers into themes. It is always worth checking these sites as part of your literature searches. You may discover papers that the University of Hull does not subscribe to.

While these websites can be incredibly useful tools for researchers, it can be argued that they can be a waste of valuable time if not engaged with correctly. As with all social networks, these websites can be used on a daily basis to network or they can be used only when needed. It is therefore the choice of the researcher as to how they engage. It is also important to consider that all content on these websites and networks is not peer-reviewed (unless it is a shared paper from an academic source such as a journal. For this reason, it is important researchers are critical in their use of these tools.

Academics talk about using social media

A lot of PhD students and researchers aim to continue their career in academia. Here three academics talk about how their use of social media:

List of academic networks

Here are some of the world-leading research networks.

ResearchGate is a social networking site that enables researchers to share papers, ask and answer questions, and find collaborators. As well as the regular profile and messaging tools, it offers researchers the ability to follow research interests, share their data, comment and view access stats. The website features a proprietary metric to measure scientific reputation. It is called the RG Score and it works by analysing how "your research is received by your peers" ( is a platform for academics to share research papers. The company's mission is to accelerate the world's research. As well as the regular profile and messaging tools, it offers researchers the ability to create sessions asking for comment and critique of their work, follow research interests, comment and access analytics.

Mendeley is first and foremost a bibliographic management tool. Alongside the functionality for managing papers and citing them, it also has a series of knowledge discover tools. There are some social tools enabling researchers to develop a profile, specify research interests, share bibliographic information and send messages.


Figshare is a repository where users can make all of their research outputs available in a citable, shareable and discoverable manner. Figshare allows users to upload any file format to be made visualisable in the browser so that figures, datasets, media, papers, posters, presentations and filesets can be disseminated in a way that the current scholarly publishing model does not allow.


JiscMail helps groups of individuals to communicate & discuss education/research interests using email discussion lists. There are thousands of JISCMail lists that you can subscribe to - it is worth checking with researchers in your field to see if there is anything relevant. These lists work by creating a special email address for subscribers. When any subscriber sends an email to this address, it sends it to everyone on the list. This allows discussions and debates to develop across the subscription community.

Academic blogs

Blogs are discussion or informational websites that consist of discrete entries ("posts") typically displayed in reverse chronological order. A large number of academics, researchers and doctoral students publish posts to blogs. This makes them a useful source of information and networking (via the comments tool). As blogs can have single or multiple contributors, posts are usually tagged with the authors (user)name.



While covered on the social network page, Twitter also serves as a useful academic network. Check out this Twitter Guide for Academics.


While covered on the professional network page, LinkedIn also serves as a useful academic network. Check out this guide on How to become an academic networking pro on LinkedIn.

Where should I start?

The list details the top research networks. The popularity of these networks varies by locale and discipline so it is worthwhile choosing the most appropriate for your area of research. If you are not sure where to start, it is usually a good idea to see check what staff in your area are using.

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