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Developing a Research Profile

What is a research profile?

Networking is the key to raising and developing a research profile. A research profile links the researcher with the activities that they are involved in as part of their research such as conferences, collaborative projects, teaching commitments, publications, fieldwork, data collection. All this information builds up to create a trajectory of the person's research career. Anything that makes up part and parcel of the process of doing research can also help to boost a research profile. Research profiles will also be used in conference proceedings (to promote conference panels) and also in academic journals (to describe the career of academic contributors). Research profiles work not only on paper but also in person - a researcher with a very prominent research profile will, of course, become well-known by name and reputation in their field.

How to Develop a Research Profile

There are a number of strategies which can be employed which boost a research profile:

1. Describe what you do

Scholars often find it useful to begin by coming up with a way of describing not only themselves but also their research in a way which identifies them within their discipline (or many disciplines). A thesis title, for example, often does not accurately describe exactly what the researcher does. This description should be not only accurate but punchy - just a few words long. For example, some academics might describe themselves as "a cultural historian", "a social anthropologist", "an educational practitioner" or "a business and marketing researcher".

Developing an academic profile is not just about boosting the reputation of the research that is being conducted but also raising the profile of the researcher as a person. The two do go hand-in-hand but are separate - research changes and evolves and researchers are keen to be known as people working in a particular area but with the flexibility to adapt and work on different projects during their career.

2. Focus on building a research community

A research profile is built up gradually over several years. Academics will network throughout their career, both within and outside of academia. At the start of a doctoral project, many researchers focus on developing their profile locally, often in their School, before branching out and making contacts with scholars in other disciplines, Schools or even other Universities. The aim is to build a research community of contacts which can help the researcher to boost their profile and that of their research.

The following diagram illustrates the different layers of a research community that an academic will build over the course of his/her career:

layers of a research community

3. Network both online and in person

Online social networking platforms (or Web 2.0 technologies) now afford excellent opportunities to network with researchers from across disciplines and research communities. Online networking also helps to engage the public and other stakeholders with research. However, networking online is not a substitute for networking in person. Researchers are required to actively seek out opportunities to present their work in different fora. Academic events and conferences are the most obvious way to do this.

Always try to make prior contact with other academics/PhD colleagues. Many conferences publish a list of delegates in advance of the event, including email addresses and contact details. Those who are reluctant to network in person might make use of this list to "Google" some of the other delegates and make a list of those with whom they should speak and email those people in advance of the conference to arrange a meeting. This strategy is very effective and can prevent the embarrassment of face-to-face introductions without any prior contact.

4. Nurture the network

No network will survive unless it is nurtured. This means keeping in regular contact with networks, informing them of updates (eg sending them a copy of an article when it is published, letting them know of any conferences attended, sending them a copy of an academic CV). Networking is reciprocal - that means offering information/advice to contacts as well as asking for information/advice. Social media is a good way of sharing resources and information with contacts. A commitment must be made to update regularly any social media platforms that are used for research purposes. Information that is out of date may be misleading - giving potential employers and contacts the impression that there have been no recent achievements or contributions.